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COVID-19 News Briefs for Thursday, April 9

 

Last updated 4/13/2020 at 10:32am

Georgia postpones primaries again because of coronavirus

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia on Thursday postponed primary elections for the second time this year because of the coronavirus, pushing back primaries scheduled for May to June.

The move came a day after New Jersey and Virginia joined at least 15 other states in delaying their primaries amid the coronavirus pandemic so election officials can make preparations to address public health concerns and deal with a poll worker shortage brought on by the outbreak.

On Tuesday, Wisconsin went ahead with its elections, forcing thousands of voters to brave hourslong lines and overcrowded polling places amid the pandemic.

"This decision allows our office and county election officials to continue to put in place contingency plans to ensure that voting can be safe and secure when in-person voting begins and prioritizes the health and safety of voters, county election officials, and poll workers," Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement.

The first-term Republican secretary had already opted to postpone Georgia's presidential primaries, initially scheduled for March 24, to May 19 to coincide with the state's other 2020 primary elections. Georgians were scheduled then to choose party nominees for a U.S. Senate seat, U.S. House members and members of the state House and Senate. Elections for judges and district attorneys were also set for May 19.

Raffensperger's decision moves election day for those races to June 9. Runoffs, required by state law if no candidate receives a majority of votes, are set for Aug. 11.

Such delays in the presidential primary calendar could prevent former Vice President Joe Biden from formally clinching the Democratic nomination until later in the summer. But with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders withdrawing from the race Wednesday, Biden is now the presumptive nominee. The Democratic National Convention has been postponed from mid-July to Aug. 17.

Justice delayed: Virus crisis upends courts system across US

BOSTON (AP) - Courthouses shuttered. Thousands of trials on hold. Legal deadlines pushed.

The coronavirus pandemic has crippled the U.S. legal system, creating constitutional dilemmas as the accused miss their days in court. The public health crisis could build a legal backlog that overwhelms courts across the country, leaving some defendants behind bars longer, and forcing prosecutors to decide which cases to pursue and which to let slide.

"Everybody is scrambling. Nobody really knows how to handle this," said Claudia Lagos, a criminal defense attorney in Boston.

Judges from California to Maine have postponed trials and nearly all in-person hearings to keep crowds from packing courthouses. Trials that were underway - like the high-profile case against multimillionaire real estate heir Robert Durst - have been halted. Some chief judges have suspended grand juries, rendering new indictments impossible. Other have allowed them to sit, though six feet apart.

Prosecutors may have to abandon some low-level cases to keep people from flooding into the legal system.

Many judges are holding hearings by phone or video chat to keep all cases from grinding to a halt. Other courts are stymied by outdated technology. The clerk for the the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Molly Dwyer, likened the logistical challenges to "building the bike as we ride it."

Judges have asked for emergency powers to delay trials longer than the law generally allows and extend key deadlines, like when a defendant must initially appear in court.

That could keep people locked up longer, exposing them to unsafe jail conditions, and violate their constitutional right to a speedy trial, defense lawyers say.

"We shouldn't be creating mechanisms in the current crisis to keep people in jail longer. The jails are just tinderboxes waiting for the virus to take off," said Jeff Chorney, deputy public defender in Alameda County, California. Courts there now have seven days instead of 48 hours to hold arraignments, during which a defendant is often appointed a lawyer and can enter a plea.

Virus casts a dark cloud over once-thriving home market

BOSTON (AP) - When Rebeka McBride and her husband put their home in Washington state on the market in early March, the coronavirus outbreak was just taking hold in the United States. They managed to hold two open houses and a smattering of private viewings before accepting an offer.

But with the U.S. economy now collapsing, the family is less confident about their move to a Minneapolis suburb, where McBride sees brighter job prospects in her field of medical device research. She had worried that their buyer would pull out before closing, but they finalized the sale Thursday. And for her own new home, she's using virtual tours but isn't inclined to make an offer without seeing a home in person. Worse, McBride is suddenly worried about job prospects amid mass layoffs, forcing a reassessment of what she and her husband can afford.

"I'm nervous the layoffs and change in economy will cause the bottom to fall out," said McBride, the mother of a 4-year-old.

McBride is among many sellers and buyers, in the United States as well as in Europe, caught in the grip of a pandemic that has upended the housing market just as it was entering the busy spring season.

Shutdown orders have halted open houses and complicated property viewings. Sellers are delaying listings or yanking their properties off the market. Prospective buyers are dropping out, some of them after losing jobs.

Agents are turning to virtual tours, electronic signatures and "drive-through" closings, where paperwork is completed through car windows. Where it's still allowed, buyers and agents are entering homes separately, armed with hand sanitizers and wipes.

Mortgage applications to buy a home fell 12% in the week that ended April 3 compared with the previous week - and were a stunning 33% lower than in the same week last year, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported. Home buying applications are at their lowest level since 2015, the MBA said.

The mortgage industry itself is reeling as hundreds of thousands of Americans have temporarily stopped paying their mortgages under the federal coronavirus relief bill. The MBA is among several housing industry groups that have called for federal aid for mortgage servicers, who handle paperwork for lenders.

A collapse of sales could trigger a series of reactions that would further damage the economy. Further declines will mean fewer purchases at furniture and appliance stores. If construction stalls, 3 million homebuilding jobs are at risk. So are many brokers: Redfin plans to furlough 41% of its brokers. Zillow has suspended home buying in all 24 of it markets. Other brokerages have canceled open houses.

 

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