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Residents snitch on businesses, neighbours amid shutdowns



OAK PARK, Ill. — One Tulsa bar owner said more than a dozen motorcyclists showed up unannounced, but he served them a round of shots anyway to celebrate a birthday. Another live-streamed a drag queen show on Facebook while up to 20 people drank inside the locked bar, ignoring police when they knocked on the door.

Both were busted — and received misdemeanour citations and court dates — after police responded to tips that the bars were violating the mayor’s order shuttering all nonessential businesses to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“There has to be some consequence for violating an executive order,” said Tulsa Police Lt. Richard Meulenberg.

It turns out plenty of people agree.

Snitches are emerging as enthusiastic allies as cities, states and countries work to enforce directives meant to limit person-to-person contact amid the virus pandemic that has claimed tens of thousands of lives worldwide. They’re phoning police and municipal hotlines, complaining to elected officials and shaming perceived scofflaws on social media.

In hard-hit New York City, police arrested the owner of an illegal Brooklyn speakeasy where a dozen people were found drinking and gambling after someone called 311 with a tip.

In Chicago, a yoga studio that believed it qualified as an essential health and wellness service was closed after the city — tipped off by several residents — disagreed. Teacher Naveed Abidi of Bikram Yoga West Loop studio said he thought the studio could remain open if the space was sanitized, class size limited and students stayed far enough apart.

“If we were naughty with the government’s order, then we’re very, very sorry” said Abidi, who faces a fine of up to $10,000. “We’re not here to cause problems, we’re here to practice our poses.”

For most people, the new virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

But the virus is spreading rapidly and starting to max out the health care system in several cities.

Naugatuck, Connecticut, resident Gwen Becker said she was “mortified” when she drove by a golf course and saw a crowd gathered around a food truck and eating at tables together. So she took a video that her friend posted on Facebook — prompting the mayor to shut down the course.

“I was angry and upset, and I threw some f-bombs,” said Becker, 54. “You’re not going to consider that what you’re doing could kill somebody?”

In some places, investigators are patrolling the streets, looking for violators

A team enforcing Denver’s shelter-in-place order issued five citations — including to Hobby Lobby and a Game Stop franchise that claimed it was essential — and more than 600 warnings to businesses and individuals as of Tuesday, city spokesman Alton Dillard said. The team also patrols neighbourhoods, parks and recreation areas.

In Newark, New Jersey, police shut down 15 businesses in one night and cited 161 people for violating the governor’s restrictions, saying others would be next if they didn’t heed directives. And Maryland State Police said they’d conducted nearly 6,600 business and crowd compliance checks.

Chicago police even disbanded a funeral Sunday after seeing a group of up to 60 people, many elderly, congregating inside a church, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

In some cases, residents are turning on neighbours.

Police in Spain — sometimes aided by videos and photos posted online by zealous residents, or “balcony police” — have arrested nearly 2,000 people and fined over 230,000 for violating quarantine orders.

In one viral video, the person recording it is heard criticizing a woman who decides to go for a jog and resists police orders to produce her ID card. Another shows a family of four heading to a supermarket carrying a scooter for one of their children while half a dozen neighbours yell at them from the window.

And in New Zealand, a police website set up for the public to report violators crashed after too many people tried to access it at once. Among the complaints were people playing rugby and Frisbee and holding impromptu “corona” parties, The Guardian reported.

Back in Tulsa, Lt. Meulenberg said the department’s call volume has increased substantially with residents ratting out businesses and neighbours alike, though they can’t respond to all of them.

“The fact that we have to do this at all means some people are not interested in self-preservation” or protecting others, Meulenberg said. “We’re not immunologists. We’re not scientists. We’re cops. We’re just trying to do our part.”


Associated Press reporters Jim Anderson in Denver and Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.

Tammy Webber, The Associated Press

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Texas reopening phase 3: Businesses move to 50% capacity




Gov. Greg Abbott announced his third phase Wednesday of reopening Texas businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing virtually all of them to operate at 50% capacity.

That is effective immediately, and there are “very limited exceptions,” Abbott’s office said.

Restaurants were already permitted to be open at 50% capacity. Abbott is allowing them to immediately increase their table size from six people to 10, and on June 12, they can ramp up their capacities to 75%.

Abbott’s latest order also brings news for professional and college sports that are played outdoors, letting the former shift from 25% capacity to 50% capacity at their stadiums and allowing the latter to resume for the first time, also at 50%.

“The people of Texas continue to prove that we can safely and responsibly open our state for business while containing COVID-19 and keeping our state safe,” Abbott said in a statement.

While the number of cases continues to rise in Texas, Abbott emphasized that the new cases are “largely the result of isolated hot spots in nursing homes, jails, and meat packing plants.” Those places made up more than 45% of the new cases over about the last week, according to his office.

The state’s focus on those hot spots has contributed to some of the largest daily case counts over the past week.

“On Monday, Texas saw its highest 7-day average of new cases since the pandemic began,” state Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, tweeted after Abbott unveiled the third phase Wednesday afternoon. “The data are clear — unfortunately, COVID-19 cases are moving in the wrong direction right now and we need to tap the brakes, not step on the gas.”

There is fine print to Abbott’s latest announcement. Amusement parks and carnivals are among the business that are allowed to immediately operate at 50% capacity — but only if they are in counties with fewer than 1,000 cases. Amusements parks and carnivals in counties with more than 1,000 cases can scale up to 50% capacity June 19.

And bars, which were previously capped at 25% capacity, can immediately go up to 50% as long as customers remain seated.

As he has done before, Abbott gives the state’s smallest counties permission to move more quickly in his latest reopening announcement. On June 12, any business in a county with 10 or fewer active cases that was previously open at 50% capacity can increase to 75%.

Texas has now had 68,271 coronavirus cases, including 1,734 deaths, according to the latest data Wednesday from the Department of State Health Services. Over 90% of the state’s 254 counties have reported cases.

As of Wednesday, there had been 1,150,868 tests conducted in Texas, the DSHS figures show. While testing has gone up, it is still regularly falling short of the 30,000 tests per day that Abbott had set for reopening the state.

Abbott has also focused on the positivity rate, or the ratio of confirmed cases to total tests. That figure, presented by the state as a seven-day rolling average, dropped from a high of 13.86% in mid-April to between 4% and 6% for most of May. In recent days, however, the figure has been on an upward trend, hitting 8.22% on Wednesday.

Abbott has said in recent weeks that Texans should anticipate temporary increases in the positivity rate as the state dispatches its surge response teams to the three kinds of hot spots: prisons and jails, nursing homes and meatpacking plants.

Another statistic that Abbott has prioritized is the daily number of hospitalizations due to the virus. That trend has not seen any major fluctuations in recent weeks, with the figure ranging between 1,400 and 1,800 most days. It was 1,487 on Wednesday.

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Down to Business: Carside To Go helps Applebee’s survive




The thing I love about covering public companies is the easy access to financials and other information that privately held firms like to keep, well, private.

Public companies, though, don’t have that luxury, and sometimes that gives you a chance to better understand and appreciate their operations.

Take restaurants, for instance, in the age of COVID-19.

When concern over the novel coronavirus began to build in March, eateries faced the prospect of government-ordered reductions in dining room capacity to slow the rate of infection until all were finally told to close – save for takeout and delivery.

For U.S. restaurants, the mandate cost $80 billion in sales from March to April, according to the National Restaurant Association, with 8 million workers furloughed or laid off. For New York, the loss was $5.5 billion in sales and 527,000 workers.


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At the publicly traded chain restaurants, the damage showed up in the quarterly numbers they had to report just as the pandemic descended.

Applebee’s, the casual-dining eatery, saw 10 consecutive weeks of positive first-quarter “comp sales” wiped out. By the last week of March, the numbers – a measure of retail health based on sales at locations open at least a year – were down 80.6 percent.

Other chains saw it, too: Denny’s comp sales were off 79 percent; Olive Garden’s dropped nearly 65 percent; LongHorn Steakhouse’s fell 75 percent.

The carnage would have been even worse had they all not been able to continue selling through takeout and delivery.

At Applebee’s, which already had takeout through Carside To Go, so-called off-premises sales tripled between the beginning of the year and the end of April, running then at $17,700 per restaurant per week.

That wasn’t close to meeting the average restaurant’s annual sales of $2.4 million, though. On the first-quarter conference call of parent company Dine Brands Global in late April, Applebee’s President John Cywinski said the company-owned and franchised restaurants generally were doing only 35 percent of last year’s volume.

But comp sales were improving weekly, even with takeout’s limited menu, he said, and he predicted the off-premises business “will remain robust” as Applebee’s dining rooms begin to reopen. (Some states allowed in-restaurant dining to resume in late April; in New York, it’s slated to occur in Phase 3 of the state’s gradual reopening, which should reach the Capital Region later this month.)

On the quarterly conference call, Dine Brands CEO Steve Joyce suggested a new inverse relationship between dining in and taking out: Sales from the former now will be an incremental add-on to the latter that will slowly help restaurant profitability.


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And how will the reopened restaurants look? Expect gloves and masks, no table condiments, frequent sanitizing and social distancing, he said.

“What we don’t know … is how many people are interested in coming into restaurants at this point, and what’s that number [going to] look like,” Joyce said.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected].

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Business secretary tested for Covid-19 after feeling ill during Commons speech | World news




Alok Sharma, the business secretary, has been tested for coronavirus after feeling unwell while delivering a statement in the House of Commons.

The cabinet minister has gone home to self-isolate following his appearance at the dispatch box earlier on Wednesday.

The parliamentary authorities are understood to have given the area a deep clean and MPs were at the time sitting at least two metres apart. “This was done as a precaution,” a House of Commons source said.

However, his suspected illness is likely to cause concern about the government’s decision to bring back parliament in its physical form, after weeks of allowing MPs to attend remotely via video link.

Many MPs have protested against the new arrangements, which have resulted in them queueing around the parliamentary estate while complying with the two-metre physical distancing rules in order to vote.

Observers noticed that Sharma appeared unwell and to be sweating profusely while he spoke about the corporate insolvency and governance bill in the Commons.

A spokeswoman for the business secretary said: “Alok Sharma began feeling unwell when in the chamber delivering the second reading of the corporate governance and insolvency bill. In line with guidance he has been tested for coronavirus and is returning home to self-isolate.”

If Sharma does test positive, it will be an early trial of the government’s new contact tracing system. Other MPs and officials who have been in close contact with him will be tested and could be asked to self-isolate.

During the debate, after Sharma was seen wiping his face with a handkerchief several times, his Labour shadow, Ed Miliband, passed him a glass of water. Sharma also appeared sweaty and sounded hoarse on Tuesday, according to one fellow MP, when he voted to abolish hybrid parliamentary measures.

During one vote, the minister voted straight after the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, and immediately before the Labour MP Stephen Kinnock. He was also one of a few ministers who attended full cabinet, a source said.

Kirsty Blackman, SNP deputy leader in Westminster, sent her best wishes to Sharma but said: “[It] does, however, demonstrate just how ridiculous and irresponsible the Tory government’s decision to end virtual participation in parliament was. They must now rectify this serious mistake and reintroduce hybrid proceedings without delay.”

Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, said the development was “just awful”, adding: “The government stopped MPs from working from home and asked us to return to a building where social distancing is impossible. MPs are travelling home to every part of the country tonight. Reckless doesn’t even begin to describe it.”

Digital voting in the Commons was ended on Tuesday after MPs approved a government motion introduced by the leader of the house, Jacob Rees-Mogg, despite widespread objections.

Senior Conservatives, opposition groups, unions and the equalities watchdog raised concerns that the move would prevent many MPs, particularly the elderly and vulnerable members who are shielding, from being able to vote.

Chaotic scenes unfolded in the Commons when MPs formed a long queue snaking through parliament so they could maintain social distancing while voting on the motion.

The Labour MP Karl Turner said he had asked the Health and Safety Executive to conduct an urgent risk assessment of working conditions in parliament.

He said MPs having to “huddle together” on escalators on the parliamentary estate while lining up to vote were among a number of “unsafe practices”.

A string of cabinet ministers and senior officials have come down with coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, including Boris Johnson, who was treated in intensive care.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, Chris Whitty, the chief medical adviser, Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, Dominic Cummings, the senior No 10 adviser, and Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, were also all unwell with coronavirus in late March or early April.

The first MP to fall ill with the virus was Nadine Dorries, a health minister, who tested positive in March.

A House of Commons spokesperson said: “The house’s priority is to ensure that those on the estate are safe while business is facilitated. We have closely followed guidance from PHE on action to take following a suspected case of Covid on site, including additional cleaning. Our risk assessment outlines the measures we have already put in place to reduce the risk of transmission in parliament.”

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