Current Events in March 2020

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    American Airlines and Delta put more international flights on-hold due to COVID-19

    The airlines’ commitment to traveler safety and no-charge rebooking continues

    American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have put into place an additional suspension of long-haul international flights from the U.S. due to decreased demand and government-imposed travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19).

    American Airlines

    American’s cut-back runs through May 6. The essence of its reduction in flights is as follows:

    • Operate one flight daily from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to London-Heathrow (LHR)

    • Operate one flight daily from Miami (MIA) to London-Heathrow (LHR)

    • Operate three flights per week from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to Tokyo (NRT)

    • Continue currently scheduled short-haul international flying -- including flights to Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Central America, and certain markets in the northern part of South America.

    “American will continue to take care of customers as this situation develops,” the airline said in a statement. The airline’s offer to waive change fees for customers who purchased tickets prior to March 15 for travel to Europe, including the United Kingdom or Ireland, through May 31 remains in place.

    American says that travelers who have booked flights that are part of the cancellations will be contacted directly by phone or email. For a full list of the affected routes, visit the company’s website here.

    Delta Air Lines

    Delta’s cutbacks are pretty much a mirrored reflection of American’s reduction on U.S. to Europe and the United Kingdom routes. Its reduction in flights is as follows, effective Monday:

    • One flight daily Atlanta (ATL) to Amsterdam (LHR)

    • One flight daily Atlanta (ATL) to London-Heathrow (AMS)

    • One flight daily Atlanta (ATL) to Paris-Charles De Gaulle (CDG)

    • One flight daily Detroit (DET) to Amsterdam (AMS)

    • One flight daily New York-JFK (JFK) to London-Heathrow (LHR)

    • Delta will also temporarily suspend service between New York-JFK (JFK) and Mumbai (BOM) starting Tuesday, March 17

    • Service between Atlanta (ATL) and New York-JFK (JFK) to African destinations South Africa, Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria will continue

    • As far as Delta’s partnerships with Air France, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic, the airline said Air France and KLM plan to continue their own operations to approved Centers for Disease Control (CDC) U.S. airports and are closely coordinating with Delta and Virgin Atlantic as adjustments are made. 

      • The CDC-approved airports are: Atlanta (ATL), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), Detroit (DTW), Newark (EWR), Honolulu (HNL), New York-JFK (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Seattle (SEA), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington-Dulles (IAD). 

    In an email to Delta awards program members, the airline’s president, Ed Bastian, said that the company is doing everything it can to “make it easier to adjust travel plans. We know customers trying to contact us are experiencing extremely long wait times, and we are continuing to do everything possible to address your needs as we work through a solution.” 

    As far as changing or rebooking a Delta flight, the airline is allowing any ticket expiring in March or April to be extended to enable rebooking and travel until Dec. 31, 2020. 

    For a complete list of Delta’s affected routes, readers can view the company’s updated list here.

    American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have put into place an additional suspension of long-haul international flights from the U.S. due to decreased demand...

    White House and retailers ask consumers not to hoard supplies due to coronavirus

    Officials say the outbreak is serious, but it’s no reason to panic

    Following days of reports of consumers buying weeks worth of groceries and snapping up supplies of toilet paper and bottled water, the White House has said enough is enough.

    While acknowledging that the results of the coronavirus are far from known, the White House has urged consumers not to hoard food and consumer staples.

    The National Retail Federation (NRF) has urged what it calls “responsible shopping,” with consumers purchasing only the amount of food and other household products that they need.

    “If you don’t need an item in the next two weeks, leave it for someone who does. Hoarding and stockpiling creates unnecessary gaps between the time that someone who truly needs a product can find it back on retailers’ shelves,” NRF said in a statement over the weekend. “This is particularly important for our most vulnerable neighbors – the elderly and those who are struggling with other health issues.”

    A warning to black marketers

    The trade group said consumers who are hoarding products are only stoking the fear surrounding the outbreak. The group also says hoarders buying products to sell on a black market “should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

    Major retailers, many of whom were represented at the White House on Friday to announce a major public-private partnership to cope with the virus, are taking steps to dampen the panic. Over the weekend, Walmart, Kroger, Trader Joe’s, and other major chains announced they were curtailing their hours of operation to give staff more time to stock empty shelves.

    Consumers flooded supermarkets last week after state governments across the country announced they were closing schools for two weeks, meaning parents were faced with maintaining food supplies during that time while caring for their children.

    Increased level of concern

    But while the administration sought to discourage panic, it also ratcheted up its concern about the potential harm the coronavirus could cause. It said a surge in cases could overwhelm the healthcare system, which only has a limited number of beds in intensive care units (ICU).

    Since Friday, when the government announced a concerted effort between government and private industry to contain the disease, concerns seem to have increased. Government officials have now backed a proposal for consumers to remain in their homes for at least 14 days, without venturing out except for the most important things. Meanwhile, retailers are joining government officials in asking for calm.

    “We know this is a challenging time for everyone,” the NRF said. “But by partnering against fear and doubt, shopping responsibly and following important instructions on how we can help stop the spread of this virus, we will successfully face this challenge. Together.”

    Following days of reports of consumers buying weeks worth of groceries and snapping up supplies of toilet paper and bottled water, the White House has said...

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      Google is deploying multiple resources against the coronavirus

      But the website described by President Trump on Friday may take a while

      Google is among the American corporations that the White House has deployed as allies in the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19).

      Though Trump’s assertion that Google is building a website to guide consumers to proper resources was disputed by some within the company, Alphabet (Google’s parent) CEO Sundar Pichai says a website is part of the company’s arsenal.

      “We’re partnering with the U.S. government in developing a website dedicated to COVID-19 education, prevention, and local resources nationwide,” Pichai wrote on Google’s blog..”This includes best practices on prevention, links to authoritative information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and helpful tips and tools from Google for individuals, teachers, and businesses.”

      Pichai says the initial website is expected to roll out later today and will be enhanced and updated with more resources on an ongoing basis. It’s unclear whether one of those resources will direct consumers to the nearest testing location, as Trump suggested on Friday.

      Pilot project

      However, Alphabet’s Verily, a technology company focused on health, is partnering with California officials to develop a website to help establish testing sites in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s also working on an online tool to increase risk screening and testing for people at high risk of COVID-19. 

      California residents will be able to take an online COVID-19 screener survey through Verily’s Project Baseline, and eligible participants will be directed to mobile testing sites based on capacity. While Verily is in the early stages of this pilot program, Pichai says the plan is to expand to other locations over time.

      But Pichai says that’s only one thing Google will offer consumers who are concerned about getting or spreading the coronavirus. It’s currently promoting its “Do The Five” campaign, which gives consumers five simple steps suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO) to reduce their chances of getting sick.

      “In the first 24 hours, these tips have already been seen by millions in the U.S.,” Pichai said. “We’ve added more useful information to our COVID-19 SOS Alerts, including links to national health authority sites and a map of affected areas from the WHO.”

      Going after misinformation

      The Google boss also said the search giant is taking steps to weed out misinformation. Pichai says the company is already taking down false information on YouTube, Google Maps, and in advertisements.

      In particular, YouTube is targeting videos that promote medically unproven methods to prevent coronavirus and messages that offer products in place of medical treatment. 

      Google Maps’ automated and manual review systems are removing false and potentially harmful content such as fake reviews and misleading information about healthcare locations. 

      Google says its “sensitive events policy” blocks ads that try to capitalize on natural disasters and other tragic events. The company has been using that policy to remove “hundreds of thousands” of ads since January that have tried to capitalize on the outbreak. Since last week, it has blocked all ads for medical masks and respirators.

      Google is among the American corporations that the White House has deployed as allies in the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19).Though Trump’s as...

      Apple slapped with €1.1 billion fine, France’s largest antitrust penalty ever

      The company says it plans to fight the sanction

      Apple is quickly learning not to mess with France. On Monday, French antitrust officials ordered the tech company to pay a fine of €1.1 billion euros ($1.23 billion) for what France considers anti-competitive practices.

      The new fine comes only weeks after France fined Apple €25 million for its iPhone slowdown fiasco.

      Creating cartels

      The French Competition Authority -- Autorité de la concurrence -- claimed that Apple’s offense was the creation of cartels within its distribution network and the abuse of economic dependence on its “Premium” independent resellers. Those wholesalers are Tech Data and Ingram Micro, which were also fined €76.1 million ($79.68 million) and €62.9 million ($69.99 million), respectively, for their role in the cartel practices.

      “During this case, the Authority deciphered the very specific practices that had been implemented by Apple for the distribution of its products in France (excluding iPhones), such as the iPad,” Isabelle de Silva, President of the French Competition Authority, wrote.

      “First, Apple and its two wholesalers agreed not to compete and prevent distributors from competing with each other, thereby sterilizing the wholesale market for Apple products. Secondly, so-called Premium distributors could not safely carry out promotions or lower prices, which led to an alignment of retail prices between Apple's integrated distributors and independent Premium distributors.”

      The war of words begins

      The message the Authority sent certainly had to get Big Tech’s attention. The fine Apple was slapped with is the highest penalty ever imposed on a company doing business in France. 

      “Apple had committed an abuse of economic dependence on its premium retailers, a practice which the Authority considers to be particularly serious,” de Silva said.

      “The French Competition Authority’s decision is disheartening,” an Apple spokesperson told CNBC. “It relates to practices from over a decade ago and discards 30 years of legal precedent that all companies in France rely on with an order that will cause chaos for companies across all industries. We strongly disagree with them and plan to appeal.”

      Apple is quickly learning not to mess with France. On Monday, French antitrust officials ordered the tech company to pay a fine of €1.1 billion euros ($1.2...

      Air pollution can contribute to weight gain, study finds

      Researchers say exposure to pollutants can increase consumers’ risk of obesity, diabetes, and other conditions

      There is no shortage of data regarding the ways that air pollution can negatively affect consumers’ health. Now, a new study has revealed how exposure to harmful emissions can contribute to weight gain. 

      While researchers have found how children could be at an increased risk of obesity because of air pollution, researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder have now found that those risks apply to consumers of all age groups. 

      “We know from previous research that air pollutants can have a whole host of adverse adverse health effects,” said researcher Tanya Alderete. “The takeaway from this paper is that some of those effects might be due to changes in the gut.” 

      Physical risks

      To better understand how air pollution can affect consumers’ weight, the researchers had over 100 young adults from Southern California participate in the study. 

      For the first part of the study, the researchers analyzed the participants' exposure to pollutants based on their addresses. Then, using samples they collected, the team was able to assess how the emissions affected the participants biologically. 

      According to the researchers, exposure to ozone contributed to the biggest health risks for the participants. They learned that the pollutant greatly affects the bacterial make-up of the gut, which ultimately increases the risk for several health conditions, including diabetes and obesity. 

      “Ozone is likely changing the environment of your gut to favor some bacteria over others, and that can have serious health consequences,” said Alderete. 

      The researchers explained that these changes in the gut can then affect other bodily processes, including how the body handles insulin or breaks down fats. When these functions are compromised, the risk for disease increases. 

      While Alderete plans to do more work in this area, she hopes that legislators take these findings seriously and do their part to help reduce consumers’ exposure to dangerous pollutants. 

      “A lot of work still needs to be done, but this adds to a growing body of literature showing that human exposure to air pollution can have lasting, harmful effects on human health,” said Alderete. 

      There is no shortage of data regarding the ways that air pollution can negatively affect consumers’ health. Now, a new study has revealed how exposure to h...

      Opioids could worsen pain following a tooth extraction

      Ibuprofen or acetaminophen could be better choices for dental patients

      Following a medical procedure, many patients are prescribed opioids to help reduce their pain. One recent study found that parents often prefer opioids to other methods of pain relief for their kids. 

      But a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan found that when it comes to dental procedures, opioids may not be the best option for patients’ pain relief. The researchers learned that when patients are prescribed opioids for dental work, they could make the pain worse. 

      “I feel like the most important finding is that patient satisfaction with pain management was no different between the opioid group and non-opioid group, and it didn’t make a difference whether it was surgical or routine extraction,” said researcher Romesh Nalliah. 

      Managing pain after the dentist

      To better understand the effectiveness of opioids versus non-opioids for pain management, the researchers analyzed 325 patients who recently had teeth removed. 

      The researchers assessed the participants six months post-tooth extraction and had them rate their pain levels and how they were feeling about the recovery process. 

      The study revealed that opioids weren’t more effective than more common painkillers -- like ibuprofen or acetaminophen -- at helping patients manage their pain. In fact, patients who had taken opioids to manage their tooth pain reported higher pain levels six months later than patients who weren’t taking opioids. 

      “The real-world data from this study reinforces the previously published randomized-controlled trials showing opioids are no better than acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain after dental extraction,” said researcher Chad Brummett. 

      Unused pills could be risky

      Not only were opioids less effective at managing pain following a tooth extraction, but the researchers also found that patients often left many of their prescribed pills untouched. 

      Having these drugs around the house can be dangerous for many reasons. When left around, opioids can often get into the wrong hands, and there is the threat of misuse. Experts encourage consumers to properly dispose of opioids to eliminate the threat of potential overdoses. 

      With many consumers and healthcare professionals worried about the opioid crisis, these findings could help dentists pick better pain management options for their patients. 

      “Dentists are torn between wanting to satisfy patients and grow business and limiting their opioid prescribing in light of the current crisis,” said Nalliah. “I think it’s an extremely liberating finding for dentists who can worry more about the most effective pain relief rather than overprescribing for opioids.” 

      Following a medical procedure, many patients are prescribed opioids to help reduce their pain. One recent study found that parents often prefer opioids to...

      FTC bans student debt relief operators over deceiving consumers

      The company says the defendants promised to reduce or eliminate debt but didn’t deliver

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) banned three defendants from participating in any future telemarketing or debt relief practices last week over charges of deceiving and defrauding consumers. 

      Impetus Enterprise Inc., Fig Tree & Co., LLC, and Brian Colombana marketed products to consumers that claimed to be able to reduce or eliminate student loan debt, but the FTC alleges that those promises fell short. Even worse, the agency says the defendants charged victims with illegal upfront fees.

      The judgment in this case stems from an FTC complaint filed back in 2018. At the time, the agency suggested that the targeting consumers’ student loan debt was particularly egregious. 

      “Student loan debt is the second largest class of consumer debt...The student loan market shows elevated levels of distress relative to other types of debt,” the complaint stated. “To lure consumers into purchasing their purported student loan debt relief services, Defendants have made false promises to eliminate or reduce consumers’ student loan balances or monthly payments through loan forgiveness or other programs.”

      In addition to the ban, the defendants are being ordered to pay just under $11 million that will go towards monetary relief. They are also barred from making any future misrepresentations or unsubstantiated claims about any consumer products or services. 

      The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) banned three defendants from participating in any future telemarketing or debt relief practices last week over charges o...

      Nissan recalls model year 2020 Versas

      The fuel tank wall is insufficiently thick

      Nissan North America is recalling 46 model year 2020 Versas.

      Due to a manufacturing issue, the fuel tank wall thickness may be insufficient, potentially causing a small hole in the tank seam area.

      If a small hole is present, a fuel leak may occur if the operator fills the tank over half full, increasing the risk of a fire.

      What to do

      Nissan will notify owners, and dealers will replace the fuel tank free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin March 23, 2020.

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

      Nissan North America is recalling 46 model year 2020 Versas. Due to a manufacturing issue, the fuel tank wall thickness may be insufficient, potentially...

      Travel experts weigh in on what consumers should look out for when booking vacation rentals

      Ask questions, trust your gut, and avoid any host that appears to be nosy

      Here we are -- March 2020. Spring break is on the way, and so is summer. While the coronavirus has things upside down at the moment, travelers can hope for the best and enjoy a relaxing summer vacation.

      If you’re among those pining for a getaway, ConsumerAffairs did some investigating into what foibles and flourishes you should look for when booking a vacation rental.

      Calling on travel experts whose job -- and love -- it is to find the best spots to enjoy some away time, we asked for the best tips they had on finding the best rental, what to look for in a host, and how to get the best deal possible.

      Here we go...

      The listings

      Review the listing for accuracy and don't be afraid to ask questions

      First off, ConsumerAffairs reached out to vacation rental platform Vacasa for their best tip. The company’s Tracy Pogrelis had this at the top of her list: ensure the home's description matches the images provided. 

      “Ideally, there should be a photo for each area of the home,” Pogrelis said. “So if it says three bedrooms but only includes images for two, you may want to follow up to ensure that there is a third bedroom and that the owner or property manager hasn't designated a third ‘area’ as a bedroom.”

      “Also, many listings include photos of the surrounding area, but aren't directly adjacent to the property. So if the listing includes a walkway to the beach, make sure that it is a feature of that specific home and not just an image of the local area.”

      That last suggestion got ConsumerAffairs to thinking -- do the photos a consumer sees on a vacation home listing really go with that listing? When we looked into that, we found that some photos weren’t exclusive to the listing at all, but simply copy-and-paste additions that came from another source.

      If something like that makes you go hmmm, on Google Chrome, you can right-click on an image and choose the “Search Google for Image” option to find out the source of that photo and just how many sites/listings are using it.

      How consumer-friendly is the cancellation policy?

      Tamara Gruber, a travel writer and podcaster with We3Travel, gave ConsumerAffairs two solid tips. The first is that consumers should be “fully aware of the vacation rental’s cancellation policies, as they tend to be much stricter than a hotel, often requiring full payment 60 days in advance.”

      How many floors are you going to have to climb up?

      The other suggestion that Gruber gave ConsumerAffairs was that when it comes to city flats and apartments, be sure to pay attention to what floor the unit is located on and whether or not there is an elevator/lift. “Keep in mind that in some European cities, the ‘first’ floor actually requires going up a flight of stairs,” she said. 

      “We also tend to expect amenities like air conditioning in hotels, but many vacation rentals, especially in Europe, do not provide air conditioning and if they do, it is sometimes limited to just one bedroom.”

      Know about “review inflation”

      Jessica Vozel with Guest Hook says consumers should read guest reviews with an eagle eye. 

      “There's such a thing as ‘review inflation ' in the vacation rental industry. Savvy guests know that even a 4-star review could be quite detrimental to their hosts, so they often bump up their evaluation out of kindness (or not wanting to be seen as a jerk, since their name is attached to the review).”

      The bottom line in Vozel’s estimation is to look for positive reviews that are a little TOO positive. 

      “Not just, ‘Good location. Nice home,’ but, ‘Our family had an amazing stay at this home. The house was spotless, it was close to everything we wanted to see, and we felt safe walking in the neighborhood. Highly recommend!’" 

      If the home didn't get a 5-star review, take a look to see if it was a personal, one-off issue or if it has been a consistent problem with the home over time.

      Hosts

      Put the rental host to the test

      According to short-term rental property management platform Guesty, travelers should evaluate the professionalism of vacation rental hosts by looking at the tools they use to provide a top-notch experience -- even before check-in. 

      For example, if you are booking a stay at an Airbnb Superhosts’ property, it can come with a lot of perks. Why’s that? Because these hosts already have proven to know what they are doing and place a strong emphasis on guest-centricity, whether that be providing extra amenities, like free baggage storage, or a fully stocked kitchen. 

      Sadly, some Airbnb Superhosts can also be not so super, as ConsumerAffairs reviewers have noted. Added insight from reviewers can be a mixed bag, but they can also serve as an additional reference point on what to look for -- and what to avoid -- when it comes to hosts.

      The Guesty folks told ConsumerAffairs that another aspect to check into before you go is whether or not you will receive personalized guides or local suggestions. If yes, that suggests that the property manager/host is focused on delivering a great experience during your stay and not just stacking a pile of touristy brochures on the kitchen table.

      Avoid the bold and the boisterous

      Vozel reminded ConsumerAffairs that first impressions are important, whether those impressions are negative or positive.

      “A property's listing (or website) can tell you a lot about the experience you may have, especially if you know what clues to look out for,” she said, adding that the proof is in careful consideration of how the owner describes their property:

      • “Do they take a defensive stance to their guests in their house rules? For example: ‘Never EVER smoke in our property. Guests who do will be kicked out IMMEDIATELY!!!!’ It's a reasonable policy, of course, but the overly defensive attitude could tell you a few things about how the host/owner/manager views their guests.

      • Are they over-the-top, yet vague, in their description of the property? For example: ‘One of the BEST properties available in Myrtle Beach,’ with no evidence to back up that claim. All style and no substance could be a warning sign.”

      Beware of nice (but nosy) hosts

      Amanda Norcross, the Lead Editor at TripAdvisor’s family travel site Family Vacation Critic, said her #1 warning to anyone thinking about renting a vacation home is to beware of the nosy rental owners -- especially those who may have hidden cameras in place to snoop on their renters.

      “It's a good idea for renters to ask if they should expect to see the rental owner during their vacation,” Norcross told ConsumerAffairs. “Oftentimes, the owner will openly say they won't be around and provide contact information should you have any questions. Reviews are also a great resource for discovering potential nosy owners.”

      And hidden cameras -- aren’t they illegal?

      “Hidden cameras can often be disguised as smoke detectors and clocks. If you're concerned, you can download an app called Fing, which allows you to look at all devices connected to the in-home network,” Norcross said.

      But illegal? Well, it depends. Laws vary from city to city and state to state. But if you’re renting an Airbnb space, hosts are required to disclose all security cameras and other recording devices in their listings. Violating that could get an owner’s property kicked off the platform and, in some cases, the company has put renters up in a nearby hotel when a camera was in use but not disclosed beforehand.

      Costs

      Go direct and save some money

      Alanna Schroeder at The Distinguished Guest told ConsumerAffairs that it pays to book directly with a vacation rental owner/manager if they have their own website. This can sometimes save hundreds of dollars in fees that go to the middle man. 

      How can you best do that? Due diligence, Schroeder says. Here are her tips:

      • Make sure that the owner/manager has a website where you can securely pay with a credit card;

      • Contact the owner/manager by phone to ask questions (vacation rental listing platforms often prohibit speaking with the host/owner directly); 

      • Look for a history of positive reviews; and

      • Ask for a reference from a past guest.

      Book now or roll the dice?

      Christopher Elliott of the Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, told ConsumerAffairs that most vacation rental bookings happen in January, February, and March because travelers think that booking well in advance could give them the edge on the best rates.

      “But a select few renters wait until the last minute to get an even better rate. Last year, the highest single-spending days for vacation rentals were June 5, July 18 and Aug. 1, as bargain hunters scoured the internet for last-minute deals,” Elliott said.

      Book on credible websites

      In ConsumerAffairs email exchange with Vacasa’s Pogrelis, we flashed back on the Craigslist travel scams we wrote about a year ago. Pogrelis reminded us that travelers should avoid sites like that when booking a vacation home because they can be a hotbed for fraudulent listings. It’s better to stick with sites that have a solid reputation and backing from experts and customers.

      Trust your gut

      Let’s be honest: putting together travel plans online can be a can of worms -- pop-ups offering better deals, fine print that could bite you back if you’re not careful, and the enigma of booking now or waiting for the deal of a lifetime.

      But, when it comes to searching for a perfect match in a vacation home, it’s a lot like looking for the perfect partner on a dating site.

      “If something feels off about a home or communication with an owner or property manager, it very well could be. When alarms are going off internally, pay attention and act accordingly,” Pogrelis said.

      Here we are -- March 2020. Spring break is on the way, and so is summer. While the coronavirus has things upside down at the moment, travelers can hope for...

      Sports world faces mass cancellations due to coronavirus outbreak

      Tournaments, seasons, and events have been suspended to prevent the disease from spreading

      The world of professional sports is competitive, but it seems that many of the top leagues were running in unison on Thursday in announcing the suspension and cancellation of events across the U.S.

      After being told that they would not be able to attend an event like the NCAA tournament a day or two earlier, fans were shocked again to find out that many of the top leagues across multiple sports were pressing the pause button until the coronavirus outbreak is under control. Below is a list of how each organization and league is responding to the spread of COVID-19.

      National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)

      On Thursday, the NCAA announced that it would be canceling the annual men’s and women’s basketball tournaments that take place during “March Madness.” 

      National Basketball Association (NBA)

      The NBA felt the first true shock of COVID-19 on Wednesday when a game between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder was canceled just before tip-off because Utah center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the virus. 

      On Thursday, the league announced later that night that it would be suspending the rest of the regular season until further notice.

      Major League Baseball (MLB) 

      The MLB has announced on Thursday that it will be suspending all spring training games and delaying the start of the regular season by at least two weeks. That will push Opening Day to March 26 if the schedule remains as it is now. 

      In a statement, the league said it would “remain flexible” depending on how events transpire and will look to resume “normal operations as soon as possible.”

      National Hockey League (NHL)

      Like the MLB, the NHL announced on Thursday that it would be suspending games immediately in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The regular season for the sport was beginning to wrap up before the announcement, with only three and half weeks remaining before playoff hockey. 

      National Football League (NFL)

      With the playoffs ending in February and the preseason still months away, the NFL has not yet announced that it will be canceling or delaying the start of the upcoming season. 

      Major League Soccer (MLS) 

      The MLS has elected to suspend its season for 30 days in light of the outbreak, and the United States Soccer Federation has canceled men’s and women’s friendly matches. 

      Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) 

      The ATP has suspended play for six weeks over coronavirus concerns, and the Women’s Tennis Association has canceled the Volvo Car Open that was scheduled to begin on April 4.

      PGA Tour (Golf)

      Late Thursday, the PGA Tour announced that it would be canceling the Players Championship. It also plans to cancel the next three events on the tour schedule, including the Vaspar Championship, the WGC-Dell Technologies Championship, and the Valero Texas Open.

      National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR)

      NASCAR has elected not to cancel its next two scheduled races, but the organization will not be allowing fans to attend the events. 

      The world of professional sports is competitive, but it seems that many of the top leagues were running in unison on Thursday in announcing the suspension...

      Proposed legislation would bar TikTok from government devices

      Republican lawmakers claim the Chinese-made app is a security threat

      Young people seem to love the TikTok app, but two Republican lawmakers say it has no place in the U.S. government workplace.

      Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Rick Scott of Florida have introduced legislation that seeks to ban employees at the State Department and Department of Homeland Security from accessing the app on official government devices.

      “TikTok is owned by a Chinese company that includes Chinese Communist Party members on its board, and it is required by law to share user data with Beijing,” Hawley said. “ As many of our federal agencies have already recognized, TikTok is a major security risk to the United States, and it has no place on government devices.”

      TikTok is a platform for the display of short videos. Scott said that when government employees access TikTok on government devices, it poses a threat to national security. 

      TikTok is very popular among American teenagers, but its use among middle-aged government employees has yet to be demonstrated. In 2019, the company said its 26.5 million monthly active users in the U.S. averaged in age between 16 and 24.

      But the app came under closer U.S. government scrutiny last year after its parent company spent $1 billion to acquire the U.S. social media app Musical.ly.

      ‘Concern unfounded’

      A spokesman for TikTok dismissed the legislation, saying the lawmakers’ concerns are unfounded. The company said it plans to open a “transparency center” in the U.S. to give technology experts better insight into the company’s privacy practices.

      In December, TikTok was accused of gathering American users’ data and transferring it to servers in China. The company vigorously denied the charges. A month earlier, the U.S. Army said it would launch a security assessment of TikTok with the aim of allaying concerns raised by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D - NY) and other officials.

      "National security experts have raised concerns about TikTok's collection and handling of user data, including user content and communications, IP addresses, location-related data, metadata, and other sensitive personal information," Schumer wrote in a November 7 letter to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.

      TikTok says it doesn’t store user data in Chinese servers. Rather, it says it stores all U.S. user data in the U.S., with backups in Singapore.

      Young people seem to love the TikTok app, but two Republican lawmakers say it has no place in the U.S. government workplace.Senators Josh Hawley of Mis...

      Being grateful for what you have may not help with anxiety or depression symptoms

      Researchers suggest consumers seek out other methods to benefit their mental health

      Many consumers struggle with anxiety and depression, and now researchers from Ohio State University found one practice that may not be helpful for those coping with mental health issues: gratitude. 

      While incorporating a gratitude practice is certainly beneficial for other reasons, the researchers found that when it comes to anxiety and depression, gratitude may not help in improving related symptoms. 

      “For years now, we have heard in the media and elsewhere about how finding ways to increase gratitude can help make us happier and healthier in so many ways,” said researcher David Cregg. “But when it comes to one supposed benefit of these interventions -- helping with symptoms of anxiety and depression -- they really seem to have limited value.” 

      Limitations of a gratitude practice

      To better understand what effect a gratitude practice can have on anxiety or depression, the researchers analyzed nearly 30 different studies that included over 3,600 participants. 

      In the studies the researchers evaluated, participants completed a daily activity related to gratitude. Most of these activities had participants reflect on what in their lives they’re grateful for. After assessing the participants’ mental health, the researchers learned that the gratitude practices weren’t effective in helping them cope with anxiety or depression. 

      “Based on our results, telling people who are feeling depressed and anxious to be more grateful likely won’t result in the kind of reductions in depression and anxiety we would want to see,” said researcher Jennifer Cheavens. “It might be that these sort of interventions, on their own, aren’t powerful enough or that people have difficulty enacting them fully when they are feeling depressed or anxious.” 

      Better treatments

      The researchers recommend more rigorous treatments that could better benefit those struggling with anxiety and depression. Similarly, recent studies have found that remaining hopeful is a key component to coping with anxiety and depression. 

      However, the team doesn’t want to downplay the positives associated with practicing gratitude. Though it wasn’t so effective in improving anxiety and depression, there is an upside to being more grateful. 

      “It is good to be more grateful -- it has intrinsic virtue and there’s evidence that people who have gratitude as a general trait have a lower incidence of mental health problems and better relationships,” said Cregg. 

      Many consumers struggle with anxiety and depression, and now researchers from Ohio State University found one practice that may not be helpful for those co...

      Crashing oil prices send gas prices sharply lower

      Experts say prices could go down even more in the days ahead

      When Saudi Arabia slashed the price of oil a week ago, it sent a shock wave through the economy but gave motorists a gift -- sharply lower gasoline prices.

      The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gasoline is $2.30 a gallon, down 10 cents in the last week. The price is now 21 cents less than a year ago. The average price of premium gas is $2.93 a gallon, eight cents less than last Friday. The average price of diesel fuel is $2.77, six cents less than seven days ago.

      The one-week price drops in some states have been nothing short of dramatic. The statewide average price is down 14 cents a gallon in both Illinois and Indiana, making the latter one of the 10 cheapest states for gas prices.

      The average price is lower by 11 cents a gallon in Oklahoma, 10 cents in South Carolina, and nine cents in Missouri. The statewide average price in Texas has fallen below $2 a gallon for the first time in years.

      AAA notes that the steep price drop has occurred while U.S. stockpiles of gasoline have declined in the last week and demand has increased.

      “Shrinking gas stocks amid rising demand would typically put upward pressure on gasoline prices; however, cheap crude prices have helped to push gas prices lower than expected,” AAA said in its latest market update.”If crude prices remain low, American motorists will likely see continued relief at the pump during the run-up to spring as the world grapples with how to contain the global public health threat and financial risks associated with COVID-19.”

      The states with the most expensive regular gas

      These states currently have the highest prices for regular gas, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Survey:

      • Hawaii ($3.53)

      • California ($3.39)

      • Washington ($3.05)

      • Oregon ($2.95) 

      • Alaska ($2.91)

      • Nevada ($2.85)

      • Arizona ($2.70)

      • Idaho ($2.55)

      • Pennsylvania ($2.53)

      • New York ($2.53) 

      The states with the cheapest regular gas

      The survey found these states currently have the lowest prices for regular gas:

      • Texas ($1.99)

      • Oklahoma ($2.02)

      • Mississippi ($2.03)

      • South Carolina ($2.03)

      • Missouri ($2.04)

      • Louisiana ($2.05)

      • Alabama ($2.06)

      • Arkansas ($2.08)

      • Indiana ($2.08)

      • Kansas ($2.09)

      When Saudi Arabia slashed the price of oil a week ago, it sent a shock wave through the economy but gave motorists a gift -- sharply lower gasoline prices....

      Sobeys and Foodland brand Asian Vegetable Mix recalled

      The products may be contaminated with Salmonella

      Sobeys is recalling Sobeys and Foodland brand Asian Vegetable Mix that may be contaminated with Salmonella.

      There are no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products.

      The following products, sold in Canada's Ontario province, are being recalled:

      BrandProductSizeUPCCodes
      SobeysAsian Vegetable MixVariableStarts with 208066Up to and including
      BB: 2020MR15
      FoodlandAsian Vegetable MixVariableStarts with 208066Up to and including
      BB: 2020MR15

      What to do

      Customers who purchased the recalled products should not consume them, but discard or return them to the store where purchased.

      Consumers with questions contact the company toll free at (888) 821-5557 Monday through Friday 8:00 am to 4:30 pm (EST) or by email at customer.care.ontario@sobeys.com.

      Sobeys is recalling Sobeys and Foodland brand Asian Vegetable Mix that may be contaminated with Salmonella. There are no reported illnesses associated w...

      House Democrats propose ambitious Families First Coronavirus Response Act

      Everyone and everything is included in the package -- from food assistance to unemployment benefits

      In the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, House Democrats have set in motion the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, legislation designed to reinforce the federal government’s response to the outbreak and address the more serious effects of the coronavirus on Americans’ financial security and personal safety.

      The legislation piggybacks on the $8.3 billion emergency coronavirus spending package President Trump signed into law on March 6. That package includes waivers for Medicare telehealth restrictions, loans for small businesses impacted by the epidemic, and funds to help healthcare providers meet the unprecedented challenges of the virus.

      “While the $8.3 billion coronavirus supplemental we enacted into law was a crucial step that stabilized our public health system, more support for working families is clearly needed,” said Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-NY). “House Democrats’ new legislation puts working families first by providing new resources and more protections as our country faces this public health emergency.”

      The details

      The proposed legislation provides a long but important list of enhancements for the public, including:

      • Free coronavirus testing

        • This part of the proposal requires private health plans to provide coverage for COVID-19 diagnostic testing, including the cost of a provider, urgent care center, and emergency room visits in order to receive testing -- at no cost to the consumer. 

      • Unemployment and emergency paid leave benefits where eligible workers will receive:

        • A benefit for a month (up to three months) in which they must take 14 or more days of leave from their work due to the qualifying COVID-19-related reasons.

        • Days when an individual receives pay from their employer (regular wages, sick pay, or other paid time off) or unemployment compensation do not count as leave days for purposes of this benefit.

      • The expansion of food assistance for vulnerable children and families, including:

        • $500 million to provide access to nutritious foods for low-income pregnant women or mothers with young children who lose their jobs or are laid off due to the COVID-19 emergency.

        • $400 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) which will  assist local food banks to meet increased demand for low-income Americans during the emergency. Of that $400 million, $300 million is for the purchase of nutritious foods and $100 million is to support the storage and distribution of the foods. 

      “The provisions in this bill for feeding programs like CR-SNAP will help make sure kids, the elderly, and the working poor have the opportunity to get the food they need in the event of a sustained disruption to their normal routines,” said Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN).

      Making sure everyone is included

      The legislators behind the bill feel that if COVID-19 continues to spread like it’s expected to, it will present increasingly critical challenges for students, workers, and families alike. 

      “We must deliver a bold and targeted response to support communities through this public health crisis,” said Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA). 

      “The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides our constituents the health coverage, food assistance, and financial support they need to cope with the widespread consequences of this pandemic. This legislation reflects our responsibility to stand with the American people as we confront this national emergency.”

      In the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, House Democrats have set in motion the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, legislation designed to reinforce...