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Tiny airports rake in big cash after botched stimulus formula

The divergent outcomes for airports reveal how important obscure legislative language can be when it comes to the unprecedented economic stimulus packages Congress has passed. Across the multitrillion dollar federal rescue effort, there’s been a series of fits and starts, with some enterprises getting money quickly, while others suffer — often without knowing why.

The story behind the $10 billion in airport funding effort is simple: Airports with little or no debt and a decent amount of cash on hand were entitled to receive a relatively large share of the money. But that inherently benefited small airports because they don’t have the huge amounts of debt associated with capital projects at larger airports.

For the nearly 200 commercial airports that received only enough money to pay the bills for a few months, the federal bailout means uncertainty about their futures and tough decisions to make about services or projects to cut back on once the federal money runs out. That could make recovery even more complicated for communities that rely on airports to boost tourism or provide essential services, not to mention travelers, private pilots and others who hope to return to using them when air travel picks up again.

“It’s highly skewed towards small airports with zero debt and something like one dollar in the reserves,” said Mark Sixel, a consultant who counts a dozen airports as clients and who prepared an analysis for them. “It stands out like a sore thumb.”

That means airports like Merrill Field, a small airport in Alaska that largely serves small planes, would receive nearly $18 million, worth about nine years of its expenses. Its manager told the Anchorage Daily News that it was the “most money invested in Merrill Field in the past five years, if not ever.”

And John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport — no stranger to federal largess, considering the late lawmaker who is the airport’s namesake was known for bringing home pork — was set to receive over $5 million. It averaged about a dozen daily passenger boardings in 2018.

In all, nearly 3,300 airports are getting a piece of the $10 billion allocated in the CARES Act. The individual grant amounts range from $1,000 to $338,535,265 and can be used for capital costs, operations or debt payments.

In the hasty process of developing the bill, House Democrats had a simpler proposal that relied almost exclusively on the number of passengers flying through an airport. That would have benefited airports roughly proportionally to how busy they are.

“We pushed back against [the plans to take debt into account], but the process happened so quickly,” a Democratic aide said.

A Senate Appropriations spokesperson noted that the plans for distributing funds were developed in consultation with the FAA and ultimately with the sign-off of Democratic and Republican appropriators in both chambers. The spokesperson argued that the language Congress crafted gave the agency flexibility.

“The fact that FAA has been able to make necessary adjustments without new language shows sufficient flexibility was provided to begin with,” the spokesperson said.

But at least one lawmaker has publicly decried how FAA is handing out the money. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), whose district includes Memphis International Airport, asked the FAA to suspend the grant payments until Congress has a chance to fix them. He pointed out that Memphis International, the second-busiest cargo airport in the world, got less than the nearby McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, which had half as many passengers travel through it compared with Memphis in 2019.

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Should I wipe down my shoes? Experts explain where COVID-19 may or may not be lurking

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, much is still being discovered about how it behaves. This includes the different types of surfaces it is able to live on.

Most of what we know so far stems from a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine back in March. The experiment measured how long the virus that causes COVID-19 is able to live on a number of common household surfaces, such as stainless steel, cardboard and plastic. Under ideal conditions, the virus can be detected on these surfaces for up to several days after application.

The same study discovered that the virus is also able to live as fine partices in the air for up to three hours.

But aside from these more frequently used surfaces, it is also worth examining how the virus behaves on less conventional ones. Have you ever wondered whether COVID-19 can be found on your hair? What about your shoes? Or even on pets? spoke with a couple of experts on infectious diseases about some of the more unusual surfaces COVID-19 may or may not be lurking on.


While there is a possibility for COVID-19 to be found on the average person’s shoes, the chances of it leading to infection are slim to none, said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious diseases physician with Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont. As a result, he insists it is not necessary to wipe your shoes down whenever returning home from outside. 

“The likelihood of having an amount of virus on the shoes [that could infect you] if you touched it and then touched your nose, eyes or mouth would be…very low,” he told over the phone on Wednesday. “Even if you find evidence of virus on the shoes, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s alive.”

As outlined by the World Health Organization, COVID-19 is primarily transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory droplets released from the mouth or nose. The infection spreads when a person with the virus coughs, sneezes, or exhales. While it is possible for someone to become infected by touching a surface contaminated with the virus, and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth, this is not believed to be the main source of transmission, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Remember that the virus doesn’t jump – it has to get to your eyes, nose or mouth from touching [the shoes] first,” said Chakrabarti. “So the best way to protect yourself from this is that once you get home, take your shoes off and wash your hands.”

Be sure to clean your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, as recommended by the CDC, and avoid touching your face. Chakrabarti also suggests leaving your shoes in a designated area by the door; do not wear them inside the house.

Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, an infectious disease specialist with the University Health Network, agrees that the average person does not need to clean their shoes after going outside. But when it comes to health-care workers, he calls for more precaution, urging them to consistently wipe down their shoes with disinfecting wipes or a homemade bleach solution.

“That’s out of an abundance of caution, just knowing that the likelihood of coming across COVID-19 in a health-care institution is that much higher than walking down the sidewalk or being in front of Costco,” he told on Wednesday. “I think it just makes sense to take a little bit more caution with respect to protecting yourself and minimizing any sort of transmission from one environment to another.”

Experts recommend the same thing for clothing. While there are currently no studies on how COVID-19 behaves on fabric, the average Canadian should not be concerned about immediately changing out of their clothes once they get home. This may be a good idea, however, for frontline health-care workers.


As long as you are practising physical distancing and keeping at least two metres away from those around you, experts say you do not need to be concerned about the virus getting on your hair. Even in situations where you may come into close contact with someone who has the virus, or an infected person coughs or sneezes on you, Chakrabarti said it is unlikely that droplets landing on your hair will lead to infection. 

“Once the virus leaves your nasal passages, it’s now out of its natural habitat,” explained Chakrabarti. “Even if it’s detectable, it’s not something that’s likely going to infect you unless you happen to touch your hair at the very moment that person sneezes, and then right after that, touch your nose, eyes or mouth.”

Sharkawy also insists there is no reason the average person should wash their hair any differently in this scenario than they normally would.

“If you’re concerned, wash your hair,” he said. “But you don’t need to panic and dunk your head in soap and water if that happens; you don’t need to get Purell and rub it through your hair.”

Instead, he recommends sticking to your usual routine for washing your hair, along with practising physical distancing and making sure to wash your hands after returning home from outside.


There are currently no known cases of anyone becoming infected with COVID-19 as a result of opening a package or mail of any kind.

While the Public Health Agency of Canada warns that products shipped within or from outside the country could be contaminated with COVID-19, their risk of spreading the virus remains low. According to the agency, this is due to the fact that packages usually take days or even weeks to be delivered. 

Under these conditions, Chakrabarti explains that the virus is prone to drying out, which makes it less infectious. As a result, he insists Canadians should not be particularly concerned about exposure to the virus though anything sent by mail. 

“I wouldn’t do anything special with your mail,” he said. “Open it up just as you normally would…[and] when you’re done, wash your hands – that eliminates the problem.” 

He also recommends quickly disposing of any packaging.

According to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, COVID-19 had a lifespan of about 24 hours. While some may believe this is good reason to wait a day before opening any packages received by mail, Sharkawy claims this is unnecessary.

“I think it’s just an arbitrary number that somebody is picking – how do you know that after 24 hours it’s gone?” he said. “The bottom line is you’re doing the harm by picking something up with contaminated hands, it’s not the duration of time that [the virus] may or may not be on an object.”


Despite reports of pet cats testing positive for COVID-19 in the state of New York, the PHAC claims “there is no evidence to suggest that pets or other animals play a role in transmitting the disease to humans.”

The agency assures it is OK for those without symptoms of the virus to continue interacting with their pets as usual. Those with symptoms or who are self-isolating, however, should apply physical distancing measures to their pets as well. This means avoiding close contact as well as coughing and sneezing away from your pet, and of course, washing your hands.

“Remember that you’re engaging in close contact with another living soul of some kind,” said Sharkawy. “If you’re going to be intimate in any way with your pet, go wash your hands when you’re done and don’t touch your face, and I think you should be just fine.”

When you are out walking your pet, it’s important to stay at least two metres away from those around you, and avoid crowded areas. Experts say that as long as you are practising physical distancing, it is not realistic for your pet to be carrying COVID-19 on its fur, for example.

“We should perceive our pets the same way we do ourselves,” said Sharkawy. “Continue to distance, don’t get into groups with other people [and] if you see somebody approaching you on one side [of the street], try and cross to the other side.

“Assume that your pet is an extension of yourself.” 

Additionally, Chakrabarti does not advise changing anything about the way you already wash your pet – giving them a good scrub with soap and water is more than enough to keep them clean.

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NHL, NHLPA looking at mid-to-late May for players to return to small group activities

The NHL, in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, is looking ahead in its return to play plans to Phase 2, which would involve small group activities for players in NHL team training facilities.

“Provided that conditions continue to trend favourably — and, subject to potential competitive concerns as between disparately situated markets — we believe we may be able to move to Phase 2 at some point in the mid-to-later portion of May,” the NHL and NHLPA said in a joint statement released on Wednesday night.

The precise date of the transition to Phase 2 from Phase 1, which involves a period of self-quarantine, is to be determined. Specific guidelines for players and hockey personnel will be provided once it becomes clearer when Phase 2 would start.

The Return to Play Committee, which includes Maple Leafs captain John Tavares, will continue to meet regularly to discuss plans for the eventual return of the game.

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Wood Green fire: Residents evacuated from flats

Fire at flats in Wood GreenImage copyright

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Footage posted online appeared to show the roof of the building ablaze

About 20 people have been evacuated from their homes after a large fire broke out at a block of flats in north London.

The London Fire Brigade said 70 firefighters and 10 engines were sent to tackle the blaze on Acacia Road, Wood Green.

Two floors of the four-storey building remain alight, and parts of the roof are also ablaze, firefighters said.

Three people were treated by paramedics at the scene, the brigade added.

Footage posted online appeared to show flames emerging from the roof of the building, reported to be a council-owned block.

A number of those sharing images of the blaze said the fire had spread quickly from one of the maisonettes.

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Maple Leaf expects higher pork demand from Asia after quarterly sales jumps 13%

Maple Leaf Foods Inc on Wednesday said it expects higher pork demand from Asia in the second quarter, while reporting a 12.8 per cent jump in first-quarter sales due to consumers stockpiling food during the coronavirus pandemic.

The company had a bump in sales in the quarter from restrictions on movement put in place to arrest the spread of the novel coronavirus, which prompted consumers to buy more essential supplies such as meat, tissues and disinfectant products.

The company’s first-quarter sales rose to $1.02 billion from $907.1 million, even as it reported a loss because of higher costs.

Sales in Maple Leaf’s meat protein group unit, which sells value-added fresh pork and poultry products, jumped 12.7 per cent to $981.4 million in the first quarter ended March 31.

The Schneiders- and Mina-branded meat producer said it would record more charges of up to $20 million in the current quarter due to increased labour, personal protective equipment, sanitation and other expenses related to the coronavirus pandemic.

It also projected weakness in the company’s food service business even as it expected more traction in its plant protein business.

Meanwhile, Tyson Foods Inc. has been forced to temporarily close its pork processing plants, including its largest in the United States, to contain the spread of the coronavirus, further tightening meat supplies after other major slaughterhouse shutdowns.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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US panel wants India on religious freedom blacklist

Washington (AFP) – A US government panel on Tuesday called for India to be put on a religious freedom blacklist over a “drastic” downturn under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, triggering a sharp rebuttal from New Delhi.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom recommends but does not set policy, and there is virtually no chance the State Department will follow its lead on India, an increasingly close US ally.

In an annual report, the bipartisan panel narrowly agreed that India should join the ranks of “countries of particular concern” that would be subject to sanctions if they do not improve their records.

“In 2019, religious freedom conditions in India experienced a drastic turn downward, with religious minorities under increasing assault,” the report said.

It called on the United States to impose punitive measures, including visa bans, on Indian officials believed responsible and grant funding to civil society groups that monitor hate speech.

The commission said that Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, which won a convincing election victory last year, “allowed violence against minorities and their houses of worship to continue with impunity, and also engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence.”

It pointed to comments by Home Minister Amit Shah, who notoriously referred to mostly Muslim migrants as “termites,” and to a citizenship law that has triggered nationwide protests.

It also highlighted the revocation of the autonomy of Kashmir, which was India’s only Muslim-majority state, and allegations that Delhi police turned a blind eye to mobs who attacked Muslim neighborhoods in February this year.

The Indian government, long irritated by the commission’s comments, quickly rejected the report.

“Its biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels,” foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said.

“We regard it as an organization of particular concern and will treat it accordingly,” he said in a statement.

The State Department designates nine “countries of particular concern” on religious freedom — China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

The commission asked that all nine countries remain on the list. In addition to India, it sought the inclusion of four more — Nigeria, Russia, Syria and Vietnam.

Pakistan, India’s historic rival, was added by the State Department in 2018 after years of appeals by the commission.

In its latest report, the commission said that Pakistan “continued to trend negatively,” voicing alarm at forced conversions of Hindus and other minorities, abuse of blasphemy prosecutions and a ban on the Ahmadi sect calling itself Muslim.

– ‘Tipping point’ –

India’s citizenship law fast-tracks naturalization for minorities from neighboring countries — but not if they are Muslim.

Modi’s government says it is not targeting Muslims but rather providing refuge to persecuted people and should be commended.

But critics consider it a watershed move by Modi to define the world’s largest democracy as a Hindu nation and chip away at independent India’s founding principle of secularism.

Tony Perkins, the commission’s chair, called the law a “tipping point” and voiced concern about a registry in the northeastern state of Assam, under which 1.9 million people failed to produce documentation to prove that they were Indian citizens before 1971, when mostly Muslim migrants flowed in during Bangladesh’s bloody war of independence.

“The intentions of the national leaders are to bring this about throughout the entire country,” Perkins told an online news conference.

“You could potentially have 100 million people, mostly Muslims, left stateless because of their religion. That would be, obviously, an international issue,” said Perkins, a Christian activist known for his opposition to gay rights who is close to President Donald Trump’s administration.

Three of the nine commissioners dissented — including another prominent Christian conservative, Gary Bauer, who voiced alarm about India’s direction but said the ally could not be likened to non-democracies such as China.

“I am deeply concerned that this public denunciation risks exactly the opposite outcome than the one we all desire,” Bauer said.

Trump, who called for a ban on Muslim immigration to the US when he ran for president, hailed Modi on a February visit to New Delhi.

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Coronavirus live news: confirmed deaths in Brazil surpass known Chinese toll | World news



Doctors on the frontline also widely believe that the real numbers are much higher – one factor being people dying at home.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one medic in Rio de Janeiro state said three patients who were intubated after testing positive using faster, less accurate serological tests died during his overnight shift last weekend at a public hospital in the town of Nova Iguaçu.

If one doctor saw this (in one night) I think it’s unlikely the number for the whole of Brazil is 474.

Confirmed deaths in Brazil surpass known Chinese toll

Brazil’s total number of confirmed deaths has now overtaken the WHO’s figure for China as cases accelerate in Latin America’s biggest country.

On Tuesday, the Brazilian health ministry reported 474 deaths over the previous 24 hours, taking the total to 5,017 – more than China, where the virus was first reported and which has seen 4,643 deaths so far, according to the WHO.

Brazil now has 71,886 confirmed cases after adding 5,385 in the last 24 hours, though widespread underreporting and a generalised lack of tests means numbers are almost definitely much higher. The G1 news site reported on Tuesday that deaths in São Paulo are 168% more than the official number of 2,049.


Streamed films to be eligible for Oscars

In the UK, leading BAME campaigners have said the credibility of an inquiry into why black, Asian and minority ethnic people are being disproportionately affected by Covid-19 is being undermined among those it seeks to serve by the appointment of Trevor Phillips.

The former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission was selected despite being suspended from the Labour party last month for alleged Islamophobia, including a reference to UK Muslims as being “a nation within a nation”.

The first four UK doctors with Covid-19 known to have died were all Muslim.

And Labour’s former shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, has said:

We need a public inquiry. Very sadly, the public health executive have chosen to make Trevor Phillips one of their advisers on their inquiry, which I think means that their inquiry is dead on arrival.

The US vice-president Mike Pence has been heavily criticised for failing to wear a face mask on a visit to the Mayo Clinic’s facilities in Minnesota.

Pence leads the US government’s coronavirus taskforce, though he is typically overshadowed by Donald Trump or medical experts at the regular press briefings.



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An Post deliver for a YouTube couple stuck in a Cork lay-by

An English couple who found themselves accidentally locked-down in a Cork lay-by when travel restrictions were imposed at the end of last month have spoken of their surprise and delight after receiving a care package from a fan of their YouTube travel videos.

Dan Holdsworth and Mazzy Holder have a channel on the video sharing platform which they have called Travel Trolls TV. For almost two years they have been posting short films of their adventures on the road as they travelled, first around the UK, and subsequently Ireland in a motorhome.

They arrived in Dublin on January 1st and made their way around the east, north and west coasts posting video updates along the way.

They had reached Cork by the end of March when Covid-19 related restrictions were imposed which meant people could not travel more than 2km from their homes.

Unsure as to what to do given that their home was also their means of travel, the pair decided it was better to be safe than sorry and found a lay-by “at the top of the mountains just outside Bantry” where they settled in.

“It’s so beautiful, we couldn’t of chosen a better place to have been in isolation,” Ms Holder told The Irish Times.

The guards and some local farmers have been checking in with them since the lockdown started and they have been making brief forays to local shops to stock up on provisions.

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Face masks pose communication hurdle for deaf community


When will it hit and what will it look like? Those are just a few unanswered questions about a possible second wave of COVID-19.


Mary Beth Pagnella, who has lived with profound hearing loss most of her life, prides herself on being an excellent lip reader.

But, amid the coronavirus outbreak, reading lips has become more difficult with state and federal officials recommending, and some requiring, people to wear masks in public.

“I feel so lost and out of place because [people] are wearing masks and I cannot read their lips,” Pagnella told USA TODAY. “Not being able to hear is hard enough. Now, lip reading is hard, too.”

Wearing face masks has become the new normal for daily living — and it will continue to be as more states begin to loosen social distancing restrictions to reopen their economies.

It’s a challenge not lost on the deaf community.

The second wave of coronavirus: When will it hit, and what will it look like?

“In American Sign Language, the grammar of the language exists in facial expression,” said Peter Cook, chair of the Department of American Sign Language at Columbia College Chicago.

“So, in order to truly communicate in language, you need the facial expression,” Cook, who is also deaf, told USA TODAY.

Even watching televised press conferences can be difficult, Cook said. While some local governments have ASL interpreters available, many don’t — including at the near-daily White House coronavirus task force briefings.

The National Association of the Deaf and the National Council on Disability have sent letters to the White House asking for ASL interpreters to be available, CNN reported.

“So we rely on each other,” said Cook. “It’s been crucial for us using things like social media and even Twitter [and] apps like Marco Polo [for] keeping us connected and keeping us informed as a community.”

Making a mask? Here’s where to buy the materials to make your own at home

Many organizations, including the National Association of the Deaf, are providing services like videos with an interpreter sharing updates on COVID-19.

The Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center in Seattle, Washington, partnered with Hypernovas Productions to create a video series called “WHAT IS HAPPENING!?!?!?!?” providing coronavirus updates in ASL. The show’s host, Joshua Castille, a deaf performance artist, also shares tips on things like working on your mental health during the crisis.

Lindsay Klarman, the center’s executive director, told USA TODAY that they worked closely with state officials to ensure press briefings and other videos included an interpreter or closed captions.

“I think the main thing to remember is that we don’t all get information the same way,” Klarman said. “We don’t have access to language through spoken English, and so the more that we can do to support diversity within our community, the better off we’ll all be.”

Both Cook and Pagnella are also looking for creative ways to help their communities. One of them is by creating clear masks.

American Sign Language interpreter Terry Dockter, right, signs as Washington Gov. Jay Inslee sits at his desk and rehearses a speech on April 21. (Photo: Ted S. Warren, AP)

Pagnella emailed a college student in Kentucky who created reusable clear masks for the deaf and hard of hearing. Ashley Lawrence, a student at Eastern Kentucky University studying education for the deaf and hard of hearing, created a GoFundMe account to help ship the masks for free. 

The news inspired Pagnella to create masks with her friends using a how-to guide by Lawrence to share with the deaf and hard to hear community in her hometown of Alexandria, Virginia. Some of them will be sent to students at Gallaudet University, a private university for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington, D.C.

“I can’t sew, but I’m so willing to learn that one of my friends is going to loan a sewing machine to me,” Pagnella said.

Fact check: What’s true and what’s false about coronavirus?

For Cook, he’s reaching out to the fashion studies department at Columbia College Chicago to have students make masks for his students, or possibly to create a class for the fall semester.

“There’s a sense of collectivism and information sharing and I think that’s something that has across the country really bonded the deaf community,” said Cook.

“At the same time, [it is] acknowledging that there are some very critical and serious issues that we need access to as a community.”


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How COVID-19 could remake transit and transportation networks

The way people move around and commute in cities has changed, perhaps forever. Transit ridership has plummeted, car traffic is at its lowest point in decades and the need for wider sidewalks seems more urgent than ever before.

Is the time of COVID-19 actually the perfect moment to remake the transit and transportation networks in cities? Some say the countries that are preparing to make the streets more accessible, post-pandemic, are the places that are built to grow and succeed, not merely recover from it.

Adrian Cheung talks to Ben Spurr, Toronto Star’s transportation reporter, on what Toronto and other major, dense cities are doing to adapt to big changes in transportation networks, and the very nature of how a society lives and moves in a city.

Listen here or subscribe at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or wherever you listen to your favourite podcasts.

You can read Ben Spurr’s article here: The return of the car? How COVID-19 could derail Toronto’s transit future

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