Current Events in March 2020

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    Woom bikes USA recalls bicycles

    The bicycle’s front fork can loosen and detach

    Woom bikes USA of Austin, Texas, is recalling about 5,500 Woom model 4, 5, 6 bicycles.

    The bicycle’s front fork can loosen and detach, posing fall and injury risks to the rider.

    The firm has received two reports of the fork becoming loose or detaching in the U.S. No injuries have been reported.

    This recall involves Woom bicycle models 4 (20-inch), 5 (24-inch) and 6 (26-inch), sold in red, blue, green, purple and yellow.

    The model number is on the top tube of each bike, and “Woom” is printed across the bottom tube of the bicycle frame.

    The bicycles, manufactured in Cambodia, were sold online at us.woombikes.com from August 2018, through March 2019, for about $450 (woom 4), $480 (woom 5) and $500 (woom 6).

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled bicycles and contact the firm for a free repair kit for the front fork. The firm is contacting all known purchasers and providing a free repair kit including installation instructions.

    Consumers may contact Woom bike USA toll-free at (855) 966-6872 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) Monday through Friday, by email at usa@woombikes.com or online at us.woombikes.com and click on “Service” at the top of the page and “Recall Notice” for more information.

    Woom bikes USA of Austin, Texas, is recalling about 5,500 Woom model 4, 5, 6 bicycles.The bicycle’s front fork can loosen and detach, posing fall and i...

    FDA warns that some coronavirus scams could be deadly

    The agency is concerned some victims might forgo proper medical care

    Scams directed against consumers usually are aimed at robbing them financially, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that some coronavirus (COVID -19) scams could result in victims’ death.

    The agency has expressed concern at the large number of scams purporting to offer diagnosis, treatment, and even a cure for the virus. The FDA points out that only clinically administered tests can detect the virus and, as yet, there are no approved treatments or cures.

    “Some people and companies are trying to profit from this pandemic by selling unproven and illegally marketed products that make false claims, such as being effective against the coronavirus,” the FDA said in a press release. “These fraudulent products that claim to cure, treat, or prevent COVID-19 haven't been evaluated by the FDA for safety and effectiveness and might be dangerous to you and your family.”

    Warning letters

    In early March, the FDA joined the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in sending warning letters to seven companies that the agencies said were marketing unapproved products, deceptively claiming they could treat the coronavirus.

    The FDA has now ramped up its level of concern as scammers have become bolder in their claims and target more people. The agency is particularly concerned that products marketed with deceptive and misleading claims might stop or delay people who buy them from getting appropriate medical attention if they get the virus. That, the FDA says, could result in serious illness and even death.

    “It's likely that the products do not do what they claim, and the ingredients in them could cause adverse effects and could interact with, and potentially interfere with, essential medications,” the FDA said.

    Red flags

    Here are some red flags that could indicate that an ad or promotion for a coronavirus product is false or misleading:

    • It claims a food item or dietary supplement can protect against COVID-19

    • It offers a test you can take at home to check for the presence of the virus

    • It offers a drug to protect against or cure the virus

    • It offers any type of vaccine

    Remember, only medical professionals can treat the virus; so far, there is no silver bullet that can kill it. Fortunately, the majority of cases of the coronavirus are relatively mild, with symptoms similar to a cold or the flu.

    However, mild cases have been known to get worse, so seeking medical attention early improves the odds of a speedy recovery. 

    Scams directed against consumers usually are aimed at robbing them financially, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that some corona...

    Senate approves $2 trillion coronavirus aid package

    Here’s what it does for consumers and businesses

    In a unanimous vote, the Senate finally reached a compromise and approved a nearly $2 trillion emergency spending bill to help consumers and businesses cope with the economic damage from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

    The measure now heads to the House, where a vote -- and approval -- is expected by Friday. Here are some of the main provisions of the bill:

    Direct payments to individuals

    The bill calls for spending $301 billion in direct payments to the American people. It breaks down largely the way it did in earlier drafts of the legislation, with households receiving up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child.

    However, the bill dictates that consumers who earn more money will receive less. The payments begin to be reduced at $75,000 of annual adjusted gross income, and they aren’t available at all for top wage earners.

    The money will come from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the form of an extra tax refund since the IRS already has everyone’s income data and can get the money flowing quickly.

    Expands unemployment benefits

    Congress will spend $250 billion to increase the amount of unemployment checks, extend the time period they can be received, and cover more workers.

    Instead of 26 weeks, people put out of a job by the pandemic will receive benefits for up to 39 weeks if needed. The measure increases the payment by $600 a week for the first four months.

    In addition to covering payroll employees who lose their jobs, the measure takes the gig economy into consideration. Independent contractors and freelancers are also eligible for benefits. 

    Small business loans

    Small businesses will get a $349 billion lifeline in the form of small business loans. To sweeten the deal even more, loans used to pay rent, utilities, and payroll won’t have to be repaid if the business meets certain conditions.

    Airlines

    Specific industries, such as the nation’s airlines, have been devastated by the coronavirus, with more pain likely to come in the future. Congress will spend part of a $500 billion tranche to provide loans and loan guarantees to airlines and other industries deemed critical to national security.

    Airlines and cargo carriers will receive $29 billion to help them make up for the loss of business. In addition, they’ll get up to $39 billion to cover employees’ wages.

    States

    State and municipal governments are struggling with a dramatic loss in tax revenue while still providing services. The measure sends $150 billion to states, with larger states in terms of population getting the most.

    In the case of states with large cities, those cities will get a slice of the state’s funding directly, without having to apply to the state.

    Hospitals

    Congress has set aside $340 billion in supplemental spending. Of that amount, $117 billion will go to the nation’s hospitals, including Veterans Administration facilities. Both have been on the front lines as health care professionals have tried to care for the growing number of COVID-19 cases.

    The massive bill also contains provisions to help farmers, support mass transit, and bolster pharmaceutical researchers seeking treatments and vaccines.

    In a unanimous vote, the Senate finally reached a compromise and approved a nearly $2 trillion emergency spending bill to help consumers and businesses cop...

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      Coronavirus update: $2 trillion going to consumers and businesses, U.S. deaths now exceed 1,000

      Hospitals in virus hotspots are struggling to keep up

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University: (Previous numbers in parentheses)

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 69,684 (55,568)

      Total U.S. deaths: 1,049 (809)

      Total global cases: 495,086 (441,187)

      Total global deaths: 22,295

      Senate approves massive aid to consumers and businesses

      Unanimous votes in the U.S. Senate are rare these days, but all present lawmakers said “aye” when a $2 trillion spending measure to address the coronavirus (COVID-19) came up for a vote.

      Likely of most interest to consumers, the measure sends every American a check and extends and increases unemployment benefits. House approval is expected tomorrow. Get the details here.

      U.S. Deaths now over 1,000

      It’s a tragic milestone, but coronavirus deaths in the United States have moved past the 1,000 mark to 1,049. Fatalities have increased rapidly over the last few days, but the U.S. still trails Italy, Spain, and China when it comes to that metric.

      The U.S. numbers aren’t likely to improve anytime soon. A number of health officials have predicted U.S. coronavirus deaths won’t peak until three weeks from now at the earliest.

      Hospital tipping point

      In major cities and coronavirus hotspots, hospitals are struggling to treat all their patients. The Wall Street Journal reports that some New York City hospitals have been forced to move patients to facilities in other areas and create makeshift morgues using refrigerated trucks.

      Some New York hospitals have so many critically ill patients that they have begun diverting ambulances to other locations. Efforts are underway to build a temporary hospital in a large conference center in Manhattan. While new cases are still increasing, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says there’s been a slight decrease in the number of hospital admissions.

      California catching up to New York

      New York is not the only state to see a surge in reported coronavirus cases. In California, the number of cases is doubling every three to four days, according to CNN.

      Statewide, the number of confirmed cases surged past 3,000 early today. Comedian Kathy Griffin tweeted that she has been hospitalized in Los Angeles with serious coronavirus symptoms. 

      FDA says coronavirus scams could be a matter of life and death

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning all consumers not to fall for claims that a particular product can protect against or even cure the coronavirus. It says none of these things exist and anyone who says they do is running a scam.

      The agency is especially worried that people will buy these products -- which include dietary supplements and purported tests -- and not seek medical attention if they get the virus, leading to serious illness and even death.

      Around the nation

      • Illinois: The City of Chicago has closed Lakefront Trail and other parks and beaches until further notice. The action came as Mayor Lori Lightfoot expressed irritation at residents who refused to honor her shelter-in-place request and crowded into recreational areas over the last few days. 

      • Texas: State health officials are expressing hope that an early spring in the state will help slow the spread of the coronavirus. They cite a new study by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which found that 90 percent of the virus transmissions through Sunday occurred in areas with a temperature from 37 to 63 degrees.

      • Tennessee: Attorney General Herbert Slatery III has filed an emergency petition asking the Tennessee Public Utility Commission to prohibit the utilities it regulates from disconnecting service for nonpayment during the State of Emergency invoked by Governor Bill Lee. Slatery noted that several utilities had already announced moratoriums on cutting off service.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University: (Previous numbers in parentheses)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 69684 (55,568)To...

      Amazon’s policy on ‘essential items’ -- business killer or public necessity?

      Third party sellers are scrambling to find ways to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic, but one Amazon mentor says their panic is overblown

      Amazon’s decision to make “essential items” -- household staples, sanitizers, baby formula, and medical supplies -- its priority during the COVID-19 pandemic is facing some pushback from both sellers and customers.

      There’s no question that the people most vulnerable to the virus should get first dibs on products like toilet paper and sanitizing wipes, but America’s dependence on Amazon -- coupled with Amazon’s unpreparedness to deal with the retail impact of the outbreak -- may be the straw that breaks the online retailer’s back.

      When the company was strapped with the top-down decision to stop accepting all other items at its warehouses (until April 5) and only deliver what it considers essential, it probably looked good on paper. However, in reality, Amazon was painfully understaffed and probably didn’t consider all the non-essential items people forced to work at home might need -- including things like a computer docking station that would make life easier for displaced workers. It may have also underestimated how frustrating it is for consumers used to two-day delivery to have to wait for delivery.

      Little did Jeff Bezos know how right he was when he sent a memo to the world stating that “there is no instruction manual for how to feel at a time like this, and I know this causes stress for everyone.”

      Devastating to sellers?

      “They aren’t allowing anything now to be sent in that isn’t Medical or Household until April 5th. This is going to kill us,” vented one user in Amazon’s seller forum, when Amazon announced its decision.

      In that one fell swoop, Amazon sellers were sent scampering to other selling platforms where they could sell their “non-essential” items to consumers, sooner rather than later. 

      “People are not going to want to order items when they won’t ship for a month,” Bernie Thompson, an electronics retailer who makes -- or did make -- his living off of Amazon told Wired. 

      However, one Amazon seller mentor holds the opposite opinion. "Yes, shipments may be delayed by a day or two, but this is not devastating Amazon or its sellers, “ Kale Abramson, the co-founder of Nine University, which teaches people how to open a third-party Amazon business, told ConsumerAffairs. 

      “And now, China is open for business. Once Amazon works out the kinks, hires more people, it will be like nothing ever happened by mid-April,” he said.

      Getting out from behind the 8-ball

      As best they can, the merchants who make their living off of Amazon and non-essential items are helping each other cope with the situation within the seller’s forum to find ways around the issue.

      The fix that seems to be getting the best reception is changing from “fulfillment by Amazon” (FBA) to “fulfillment by merchant” (FBM). Changing over is a hassle for a mom-and-pop business that counts on Amazon to take care of warehousing and fulfillment, but as one forum member said, “(FBM) may not be as convenient (as FBA) but you will survive.”

      Amazon rolls back some restrictions

      How does Amazon find a way out of this predicament ? Actually, it’s already starting to by rolling back some of the original restrictions it placed on sellers.

      “Given the material impact that COVID-19 has had on many of our sellers, we have taken steps to proactively mitigate the impact of this event on the health of your Amazon seller account by relaxing our policies for shipping-related Performance metrics,” Amazon posted on its seller forum.

      “Specifically, we will take into account any COVID-related disruption as it relates to late shipping or needing to cancel orders due to factors outside your control. While we always aim to deliver on our customer promise, our goal is to help you manage your business through this difficult period.”

      As one seller responded, “Welcome news, indeed, in these troubling and uncertain times.” 

      Amazon’s decision to make “essential items” -- household staples, sanitizers, baby formula, and medical supplies -- its priority during the COVID-19 pandem...

      State attorneys general call for tougher policies to prevent online price gouging

      Lawmakers say online retailers need to do more to protect consumers during the coronavirus crisis

      Attorneys general from 33 states are calling on Amazon and other major online retailers to implement measures to deter price gouging in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. 

      The unexpected health crisis has led to a surge in demand for products, including hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and face masks. The shortage of such products has spurred an increase in sellers listing the items online at much higher prices than normal. 

      In a letter to companies, the group of state attorneys general said retailers “have an ethical obligation and patriotic duty to help your fellow citizens in this time of need by doing everything in your power to stop price gouging in real-time.” 

      “We are in the middle of a national public health crisis and the last thing folks should be worrying about is someone charging insanely high prices for necessary goods like cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers, or medicines,” said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. 

      “While Virginia law offers protections for folks against price gouging, online marketplaces like Amazon, Facebook or Craigslist must be regulated by their parent companies to make sure people aren’t taking advantage of this crisis,” Herring continued. “We must all play our part in making sure that everyone has the things that they need during this unprecedented time and that includes putting a stop to price gouging.”

      Price gouging protections needed

      The joint letter was published the same week that Amazon announced that it recently booted nearly 4,000 sellers off of its site for violating its fair pricing policies by “seeking to profit off the COVID-19 crisis.” 

      The state attorneys general acknowledged some of the actions taken by platforms to crack down on the tactic. However, they said consumers were already impacted by the initial presence of the overpriced items and implored online sellers -- including eBay, Facebook, and Amazon, among others -- to implement tougher policies to prevent price gouging. Consumers should also have a way to report potential violations, the group said. 

      Following the release of the letter, Facebook stated that it is “focused on preventing exploitation of this crisis for financial gain.” 

      “Since COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency, Facebook has removed ads and commerce listings for the sale of masks, hand sanitizer, surface disinfecting wipes and COVID-19 test kits,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC. “While enforcement is not perfect, we have put several automated detection mechanisms in place to block or remove this material from our platform.”

      Attorneys general from 33 states are calling on Amazon and other major online retailers to implement measures to deter price gouging in the midst of the co...

      U.S. Senate doles out $58 billion to keep airline industry flying in wake of the COVID-19 disruption

      Senators are warning the airlines that the money better be spent as intended

      The struggling airline industry got a much needed sigh of relief on Wednesday. The U.S Senate offered the airlines an unparalleled aid package totaling $58 billion to assist in covering lost income and wages that crippled them as an extent of the coronavirus pandemic.

      While some consumers may think that the airline industry is flush with cash thanks to the billions it takes in every year from baggage fees and the like, the industry was looking at global loss of nearly $250 billion in revenues stemming from the outbreak. That’s about 12 billion checked bags the airlines would have to charge for to try and make up for that loss. 

      Congress tracking how money is spent

      On the Senate floor, legislators made it clear that the relief fund better not be toyed with.

      “There are so many more things we need to do, and while I support the elements of supporting the aviation industry in this package, I wish we would have gotten more requirements on the airline industries for the grant section of this bill,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)

      “I personally believe that in the future in a healthier airline industry, they should pay money back to the Federal Government. We certainly should be protecting the workforce during this time period, and that is what is most important—to make sure that an airline doesn’t take money from the Federal Government or go into bankruptcy and shortchange the workers and the workforce, as has been done in previous packages for them.”

      When Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) took to the floor, he stood shoulder to shoulder with Cantwell, telling the two million airline employees that their "collective bargaining rights will be protected, and airlines will not be allowed to spend any grant money on stock buybacks or CEO bonus pay for the life of the grant plus 1 year.”

      There’s still work to be done

      U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow noted that no legislative package was going to entirely eliminate all of the negative impact from the coronavirus. However, he says that the deal "gives the travel economy a fighting chance to weather the eye of the storm and prepare to quickly lead the recovery.

      Dow warned that the industry will still face headwinds in the future.

      “Our industry stayed together and presented hard facts to make the case for massive and urgent relief, and our political leaders heard us. However, the true scale of this crisis, and the economic damage created by this public health disaster, will extend beyond the scope of this historic bill. It’s sad, but it’s true, more help will be needed soon.”

      The struggling airline industry got a much needed sigh of relief on Wednesday. The U.S Senate offered the airlines an unparalleled aid package totaling $58...

      Jobless claims surge during coronavirus crisis

      The health crisis has led to a staggering amount of economic damage

      A record number of unemployment claims have been filed in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that 3.28 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week. 

      The Labor Department, which has been tracking these claims since 1967, said the latest figures represent a new historical record. The number of new claims filed last week was significantly higher than the 665,000 recorded during the peak of the Great Recession in 2009. It was also higher than the previous record of 695,000 in October of 1982. 

      “This marks the highest level of seasonally adjusted initial claims in the history of the seasonally adjusted series,” the Department said. 

      Rebound expected

      Economic conditions began deteriorating after health officials started urging consumers to stay home and practice social distancing to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. 

      “We’ve known this number was coming for a week and a half,” Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of the LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based employment agency, told CNBC. “It doesn’t surprise me at all. When you see a city like Las Vegas get shut down, I don’t know what other options there were than seeing a number like this.”

      Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said he expects the economy to bounce back after the spread of the virus is under control.  

      “At a certain point, we will get the spread of the virus under control,” he said Thursday on NBC’s “Today” show. “At that time, confidence will return, businesses will open again, people will come back to work. So you may well see a significant rise in unemployment, a significant decline in economic activity. But there can also be a good rebound on the other side of that.”

      While no one is sure when the health crisis will come to an end, the Senate recently approved a massive $2 trillion economic stimulus package to help affected businesses and individuals. A House vote on the measure is expected by Friday.

      A record number of unemployment claims have been filed in the wake of the onset of the coronavirus crisis. On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that...

      Ford recalls Ford Fusions, Mercury Milans and Lincoln MKZs vehicles in Canada

      The vehicles may have a braking issue

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 54,292 model year 2006-10 Ford Fusions, model year 2006-10 Mercury Milans and model year 2006-10 Lincoln MKZs in Canada.

      A normally closed valve inside the hydraulic control unit may stick open, which could result in extended brake pedal travel, potentially increasing the risk of a crash.

      One accident related to this condition has been reported.

      What to do

      Ford will contact owners, and dealers will inspect the hydraulic control unit for signs of stuck or slow-responding valves and replace the unit if necessary.

      The system will be pressure-flushed with DOT 4 brake fluid and the DOT 3 reservoir cap will be replaced with a new DOT 4 cap.

      All work will be done free of charge.

      Owners may contact Ford customer service at (866) 436-7332. Ford's reference number for this recall is 20S14.

      Ford Motor Company is recalling 54,292 model year 2006-10 Ford Fusions, model year 2006-10 Mercury Milans and model year 2006-10 Lincoln MKZs in Canada....

      IcelandicPlus recalls whole Capelin Fish Pet Treats

      The product exceeds FDA fish size restrictions

      IcelandicPlus of Ft. Washington, Pa., is recalling its Capelin Pet Treats.

      Some of the fish have exceeded the FDA compliance guideline for fish larger than five inches. The agency has determined that salt-cured, dried, or fermented un-eviscerated fish larger than five inches have been linked to outbreaks of botulism poisoning in humans.

      There are no reports of illnesses of dogs, cats or people in connection with Capelin.

      The recalled product is packaged in a 2.5 ounce tube or a 1.5 or 2.5 ounce bag marked “Icelandic+ Capelin WHOLE FISH, PURE FISH TREATS FOR DOGS,” or “PURE FISH TREATS FOR CATS,” UPC CODES, 8 5485400775 9; 8 5485400711 7; and 8 5485400757 5. (lot numbers 02/2020 to 02/2022), and sold to consumers nationwide through independent pet specialty stores.

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled product should return it to the place of purchase for a refund.

      Consumers with questions may contact the company at (857) 246-9559. Monday – Friday, 8am – 5pm (EST).

      IcelandicPlus of Ft. Washington, Pa., is recalling its Capelin Pet Treats. Some of the fish have exceeded the FDA compliance guideline for fish larger t...

      Nissan recalls model year 2020 Infiniti Q60s

      The rear seat belt assemblies may not lock as intended

      Nissan North America is recalling 450 model year 2020 Infiniti Q60s with rear seat belt assemblies with a dual-mode locking mechanism.

      The seat belt webbing sensor locking mechanism may not lock as intended.

      In a crash involving multiple impacts, the seat belt may not restrain the occupant properly, increasing the risk of injury.

      What to do

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the rear seat belt assembly production dates, and replace the assemblies -- as necessary -- free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin May 8, 2020.

      Owners may contact Nissan customer service at (800) 867-7669.

      Nissan North America is recalling 450 model year 2020 Infiniti Q60s with rear seat belt assemblies with a dual-mode locking mechanism. The seat belt web...

      Coronavirus update: Aetna waiving some co-pays; Congress to the rescue

      But states still struggle to secure enough tests

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University: (Previous numbers in parentheses)

      Total U.S. confirmed cases: 55,568 (46,805)

      Total U.S. deaths: 809 (593)

      Total global cases: 441,187 (398,407)

      Total global deaths:  19,784 (17,454)

      CVS-Aetna to waive co-pays for coronavirus hospitalizations

      CVS Health says it will waive cost-sharing and co-pays for Aetna’s commercial policyholders who are admitted to a hospital for treatment related to the coronavirus (COVID-19). The company said the move is part of its effort to reduce or eliminate consumers’ out-of-pocket expenses during the pandemic.

      Previously, CVS Health cut cost-sharing for diagnostic testing and telemedicine sessions. The company also says it has taken steps to expand patient access to medications.

      “The additional steps we’re announcing today are consistent with our commitment to delivering timely and seamless access to care as we navigate the spread of COVID-19,” said Karen Lynch, president, Aetna Business Unit and executive vice president at CVS Health. “We are doing everything we can to make sure our members have simple and affordable access to the treatment they need as we face the pandemic together.”

      In states like New York and Washington with the strongest prevalence of COVID-19 cases, hospitals no longer need advance approval from Aetna for members requiring hospitalization for the virus. 

      Aid could be on the way

      Congress is poised to provide up to $2 trillion in aid to Americans and to businesses that have been slammed by the coronavirus. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate agreed on its provisions early this morning and could pass it later today. 

      The House is not expected to give final approval until later in the week, though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will support the measure agreed to by both parties in the Senate.

      Testing backlog

      From the beginning of the outbreak of the coronavirus in the U.S., testing has been an issue. The Wall Street Journal reports that it still is.

      The Journal reports that local officials around the country are having to improvise to track the number of infected people in their jurisdictions. They’ve had to look outside the United States for test supplies and to get lab results.

      New York’s Mount Sinai Health system is reportedly conducting 1,000 tests a day, but doctors there say it isn’t enough. Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White House’s coronavirus task force, reports that 220,000 tests have been conducted nationwide in the past eight days.

      Hertz providing free transportation for NYC health care workers

      Hertz is providing free rental cars to health care workers in New York City who are coping with the worst of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. New York continues to lead the nation in both the number of cases and deaths.

      Beginning today, health care workers in the city can pick up a rental and drive it through the end of April at no charge. 

      "With New York City having the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, healthcare workers are dealing with extremely challenging circumstances," said Kathryn Marinello, Hertz’s CEO. "It's vital that healthcare workers have safe and reliable transportation during this time, and we are eager to help.”

      Marinello says Hertz has the capacity to make the offer because of the dramatic drop in travel.  To immediately have an impact, Hertz is working with Mount Sinai Health System to make vehicles available to its employees. It’s also supplying Mount Sinai with free cargo van rentals to transport ventilators and other medical supplies to support the crisis.

      Peak prediction

      CNN is reporting that an epidemiologist working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has predicted a peak of U.S. deaths from the coronavirus in three weeks. Ira Longini, professor at the Center for Statistics and Quantitative Infectious Diseases at the University of Florida,, works with the CDC on COVID-19 modeling.

      Spain now the deadliest country

      In recent weeks China has seen the number of new coronavirus cases decline, along with deaths from the disease. According to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, Spain passed China as the nation with the most coronavirus deaths today.

      FDA supporting possible treatment

      The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advancing what could turn out to be a treatment for COVID-19. The agency reports that it is facilitating access to convalescent plasma, the antibody-rich blood products from blood donated by people who have had the virus and recovered from it.

      The FDA says plasma treatment might shorten the length, or lessen the severity, of the illness. The agency said it will be using multiple pathways to support these efforts. 

      Waffle House temporarily closes restaurants in hard-hit areas 

      Waffle House, a restaurant chain known for being open no matter the circumstances, says it has closed 418 of its locations. Nearly 1,600 of its restaurants remain open.

      The restaurant announced the closings on its Facebook page, along with a map showing the locations that are open and those that have been temporarily closed. The map shows the closed restaurants are in areas that have reported large numbers of confirmed cases.

      Around the nation

      • Oklahoma: Gov. Kevin Stitt has issued an order closing all non-essential businesses and directed all older and medically vulnerable people to remain in their homes until at least April 30. The state has also temporarily removed restrictions on alcohol deliveries.

      • Georgia: Attorney General Chris Carr is stepping up the fight to rid the marketplace of price gougers and scammers by partnering with members of the Georgia and national business communities – including Amazon, eBay, and Walmart. Amazon has already suspended thousands of price-gougers from its platform.

      • South Carolina: Composite Resources and its subsidiary, Cat Resources, produce carbon fiber components used in the aerospace and defense industries. In 24 hours, it shifted production to cotton-poly masks for health care workers. “In a matter of 24 hours, we've sold in excess 2,000 masks," a company executive said.

      Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University: (Previous numbers in parentheses)Total U.S. confirmed cases: 55,568 (46,805)T...

      Senate Republicans and Democrats agree on a coronavirus aid package

      Washington is prepared to spend nearly $2 trillion helping businesses and individuals

      Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have reached an agreement on provisions of a massive coronavirus (COVID-19) aid package that contains loans to businesses and direct payments to Americans. A vote could come later today.

      The measure, which allocates close to $2 trillion, is aimed at keeping key industries afloat and Americans financially solvent when many have suddenly lost their jobs.

      The measure was drafted late last week under the direction of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), but Democrats objected to some of the provisions that aided businesses. Two days of intense negotiations between the Trump administration and Democrats in the Senate resulted in compromises that all agreed to.

      The full content of the legislation has not been released, but the major provisions of the measure are believed to include:

      • Direct cash payments to individuals. Early drafts specified an amount of $1,200 per adult;

      • An increase in unemployment benefits of $600 for four months;

      • Loans totaling $350 billion for small businesses. Early drafts included a provision that would forgive loans used to meet payroll expenses if the business did not lay off any staff over a four month period;

      • A $150 billion investment in the U.S. health care system; and

      • Another $150 billion payment to state and local governments.

      The measure also contains low-interest loans to major industries such as airlines. Major airlines have seen their passenger traffic plunge in the last week. On Tuesday, Delta Airlines’ debt was downgraded to “junk bond” status.

      Rare compromise

      Agreement on the bill required something that has been rare in Washington in recent years -- bipartisan cooperation. McConnell’s original bill was crafted by the Republican leaders of key Senate committees, working with the ranking Democrats on those committees.

      When progressive Democrats in the House objected to the original draft, charging that it helped businesses more than individuals, McConnell negotiated with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y), with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin joining the talks.

      In particular, Democrats balked at a provision providing about $500 billion to corporations, working in concert with Federal Reserve loans. Democrats demanded more oversight on how the money is dispensed, so the legislation creates an inspector general and oversight board to control the funds.

      House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said that she is prepared to act quickly on legislation that is approved by both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, but she acknowledged that objections from individual members of her caucus had the potential to slow final passage of the aid bill.

      Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have reached an agreement on provisions of a massive coronavirus (COVID-19) aid package that contains loans to busi...

      Consumers shouldn’t delay disputing credit card charges during coronavirus outbreak

      One expert says that making a ‘chargeback’ may be more difficult under current conditions

      The outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has massively disrupted daily life for consumers, but here’s an aspect you might not have considered: disputing a charge on your credit card might be harder to do over the next few months.

      MyChargeBack, a financial services company assisting consumers in resolving credit card transaction disputes, suggests that consumers shouldn’t wait to apply for a credit card chargeback. The company says there are growing concerns about how the coronavirus may impact the process.

      "MyChargeBack recommends that if consumers are planning to raise disputes with their banks for goods or services not provided they should do so as soon as possible to avoid delays and disappointment," said Michael Cohen the company's vice president of operations. "There are several reasons why the system may soon become overloaded."

      Missed deadlines

      Think about all the vacations, cruises, and trips that have been canceled in March alone. It’s not unreasonable to believe that there will be more than the normal number of denied requests for refunds. 

      Consumers who made the purchase will call their card issuer, who will then have to contact the bank hosting the merchant’s account. Any logjam in cases will likely result in delayed action.

      "Should that happen, cardholders may inadvertently miss the deadlines set by the card companies for applying for their chargebacks." Cohen warned.

      The credit card industry could be adversely affected by the outbreak, and Cohen says he’s already seen signs of that happening. He said Mastercard had to close its office in Sao Paulo, Brazil and an annex at its global headquarters in Purchase, New York after employees in those locations tested positive for the coronavirus. Should even one employee at an issuing or acquiring bank be identified as a coronavirus carrier, they might have to do the same.

      Finally, there are likely to be millions of businesses that go under before this is all over. If one of them is the merchant with whom you have a dispute, it’s almost certain you won’t be able to resolve the issue.

      Closed accounts

      Even those who manage to stay in business may have to temporarily close their accounts because of the interruption in their cash flow. In that case, Cohen says there may be nothing the banks can do.

      "Consumers may experience more difficulty retrieving funds from a depleted bank account or a merchant who has gone out of business and disappeared," Cohen notes.

      To start the chargeback process, call the customer service number on the back of your card or on your monthly statement.

      The outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has massively disrupted daily life for consumers, but here’s an aspect you might not have considered: disputing...

      Amazon boots thousands of price-gouging sellers from its marketplace

      The company has a team dedicated to investigating products that have been ‘unfairly priced’ due to coronavirus-related demand

      The coronavirus crisis has led to an influx of Amazon sellers attempting to profit off of the unexpected health emergency. 

      Amazon announced on Monday that it recently kicked more than 3,900 sellers off of its online marketplace for violating its fair pricing policies by “seeking to profit off the COVID-19 crisis.” 

      "Amazon strictly prohibits sellers from exploiting an emergency by charging excessively high prices on products and shipping," the e-commerce giant said Monday in a blog post. "We have deployed a dedicated team that's working continuously to identify and investigate unfairly priced products that are now in high demand, such as protective masks and hand sanitizer.” 

      Protecting consumer interests

      The e-commerce giant added that it’s working with law enforcement officials and "proactively sharing information with state attorneys general and federal regulators about sellers we suspect have engaged in egregious price gouging of products related to the COVID-19 crisis.” 

      The coronavirus pandemic has led to a surge in demand for products, including toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other household items. As a result, limits on the number of items customers can purchase have been put in place at many retail establishments. Others have taken to selling in-demand products at a significantly higher price online. 

      Amazon, for example, has seen an uptick in the number of sellers listing items such as face masks and hand sanitizer for an average of 50 percent more than their usual price in the weeks since the coronavirus was classified as a pandemic. 

      “We are constantly monitoring our stores for unfair prices and listings that make false claims in regards to COVID-19,” the company said. “We have dynamic, automated systems in place that locate and remove unfairly priced items.” 

      “In addition, we have deployed a dedicated team that’s working continuously to identify and investigate unfairly priced products that are now in high demand, such as protective masks and hand sanitizer,” the company wrote. “If we find a price that violates our policy, we remove the offer and take swift action against bad actors engaged in demonstrated misconduct, including suspending or terminating their selling accounts and referring them to law enforcement agencies for prosecution under relevant laws.” 

      The coronavirus crisis has led to an influx of Amazon sellers attempting to profit off of the unexpected health emergency. Amazon announced on Monday t...