3M files lawsuits for price gouging of N95 masks

By | July 17, 2020

LONDON — The World Health Organization’s emergencies chief says it is “unrealistic” to expect a larger team to arrive in China this month to investigate the animal origins of the coronavirus.

Last week, two WHO staffers flew to Beijing as part of an advance team to plan more studies into how COVID-19 first emerged. Experts believe the virus most likely moved to humans from animals. The investigation aims to prevent future outbreaks.

Dr. Michael Ryan says WHO was trying to put together a bigger team to visit China but doubted it would happen soon. WHO’s two experts are quarantined in a Beijing hotel. The U.N. health agency says there are no plans for them to visit Wuhan, where the outbreak was first detected late last year.

Field investigations at the origin of an outbreak are essential to determining an epidemic’s origins.



— Atlanta mayor questions timing of Gov. Kemp suit.

— Nearly 10,000 African health workers had virus.

— British PM Johnson moves to ease virus restrictions.

— The launch of NASA’s successor to the Hubble Space Telescope faces seven more months of launch delay, this time because of the pandemic and technical issues.

— Plans for the weeklong celebration of rock ‘n’ roll icon Elvis Presley on the 43rd anniversary of his death will be a combination of in-person and online events at Graceland next month.


Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak



ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — Republican state Rep. Anthony Sabatini filed a lawsuit against Pinellas County for its mask ordinance.

About 100 people in support of Sabatini’s stance rallied in front of the Pinellas County Courthouse when he filed the lawsuit Friday. Many held signs saying, “No mask – I have an immune system,” and “mandatory masks are unconstitutional.”

On June 23, the Pinellas County Commissioners voted 6-1 to require people to wear face coverings at indoor establishments to help stop the spread of the virus.

Sabatini, a lawyer who lives in the Orlando area, has sued Hillsborough County over a similar ordinance.


LONDON — The World Health Organization’s emergencies chief says Brazil has an opportunity to take control of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Dr. Michael Ryan says officials are no longer recording the explosive growth of cases in April and May and numbers appeared to have plateaued. However, he cautioned that stopping the epidemic would still require major interventions.

“What’s not happening yet is that the disease is not heading down the mountain,” he said. “Brazil is still very much in the middle of this fight.” He adds about 11% of all cases involved health workers.

Ryan says the lack of exponential growth offered Brazilian authorities a chance to reverse the trend of previous months.

“We need to set the rules for the virus now,” he said. “That opportunity exists now for Brazil to do that, but it is going to take a very sustained, concerted action for that to happen.”


ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp sued the city of Atlanta over its face-mask requirement just after President Donald Trump arrived in the city without wearing a mask, says Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

In an interview on CBS “This Morning,” Bottoms questioned the timing of the lawsuit filed shortly after Trump’s visit on Wednesday.

“I pointed out that Donald Trump violated that order when he landed at our airport and did not wear a mask,” said Bottoms, who was recently diagnosed with the coronavirus.

She said Kemp “is a Trump loyalist and he seems to work very hard to please the president of the United States, and that is often at the expense of the people in our state.”

Kemp defended the lawsuit during a press conference Friday, accusing Atlanta officials of playing politics and not enforcing state orders already in effect. The Republican governor says the lawsuit was filed “on behalf of business owners, their employees and hardworking Georgians throughout the region who continue to struggle to make ends meet.”

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He added: “Mayor Bottoms mask mandate cannot be enforced, but her decision to shutter businesses and undermine economic growth is devastating.”

Kemp and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, in a state court suit filed late Thursday, argued that Bottoms has overstepped her authority and must obey Kemp’s executive orders under state law. Bottoms and mayors of other Georgia cities say they’ll continue enforcing their mandates and were prepared to go to court.


FRANKFORT, Ky. — A Kentucky judge signaled he’ll sign an order blocking all of Gov. Andy Beshear’s emergency orders stemming from the coronavirus outbreak.

Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron says a judge in Boone County indicated he’ll require the Democratic governor to “follow the legal process” when taking executive actions.

Cameron says in a social media post that the ruling wouldn’t “hamper the ability of public health officials to ensure the safety and well-being of Kentuckians.”

Beshear’s office acknowledged Friday it was anticipating a court order that would “void all of the orders the governor has issued to keep us safe.”

“We are awaiting a written order and will be ready to take further action,” said Crystal Staley, the governor’s spokeswoman. “The lives of many Kentuckians are on the line.”


SEATTLE — A Seattle-based cruise line sold four ships in its fleet after the coronavirus pandemic halted operations.

Holland America Line made the announcement after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday extended a ban on cruises in U.S. waters until the end of September to limit the spread of COVID-19, KING-TV reported.

Holland America is selling the Amsterdam, Maasdam, Rotterdam and Veendam, which reduces its fleet to 10, the company said. All cruises booked on the ships will be canceled or changed.

Seattle anticipated a record 1.2 million visitors this year, but the pandemic left countries questioning the safety of allowing potentially contagious passengers to disembark.

The cruise industry brings in an estimated $ 900 million annually and each vessel brings with it $ 4.2 million in regional economic activity, the Port of Seattle said.


JOHANNESBURG — Nearly 10,000 health workers in 40 African countries have been infected with the coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization.

More than half of infected workers are in South Africa, which makes up roughly half of the confirmed cases on the African continent as hospitals struggle to cope.

Sub-Saharan Africa already had the world’s greatest shortage of health care workers, with less than three per 1,000 people. Doctors, nurses or other workers have protested or gone on strike in some countries, fearing for their lives amid shortages of personal protective equipment.


MAPLEWOOD, Minn. — The leading manufacturer of N95 masks in the U.S. says it has investigated 4,000 reports of fraud, counterfeiting and price gouging in connection with the product and has filed 18 lawsuits.

3M, based in Maplewood, is among the largest global producers of the N95 mask, which has been approved by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

3M says courts have issued six temporary restraining orders and four preliminary injunctions so far to stop N95 sales that it says are unlawful. The company says in some cases, it has led to criminal charges.

“The schemes we shut down were not only unlawful, they also endangered lives and wasted precious time and resources by diverting buyers from legitimate sources of much-needed respirators,” said Denise Rutherford, 3M senior vice president of corporate affairs.

In one case filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, 3M sued Legacy Medical Supplies and four people connected with the company, claiming they were trying to sell 3M brand N95 respirators at a 75% to 267% markup over 3M’s list price, the Star Tribune reported.

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MIAMI — Miami-Dade County plans to enforce rules designed to combat the rapidly spreading coronavirus with fines.

The county’s commission unanimously approved an emergency order gives all code and fire inspectors authority to issue tickets of up to $ 100 for individuals and $ 500 for businesses not complying with guidelines to wear masks and practice social distancing. Police already had this enforcement power.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez told commissioners during an online meeting Thursday it’s time for repercussions for people who choose to disobey the rules. Gimenez says people, especially younger people, haven’t been following the “new normal” guidelines.

In Miami-Dade County, Florida’s most populous county and the current epicenter of the outbreak, there were more than 3,100 new coronavirus cases reported on Thursday. Statewide, there were 13,965 new coronavirus cases.

There were an additional 156 deaths for a statewide confirmed total of 4,766.


ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s prime minister claims his policy of sealing off hot spots and avoiding extended lockdowns has brought down trajectory of new coronavirus infections.

Imran Khan says on Twitter that Pakistan — unlike neighboring India — is among those fortunate countries in the world where COVID-19 deaths and cases have gone down.

He urged his countrymen to continue adhering to social distancing rules during upcoming Eid al-Adha festival to avoid a spike in the virus.

Khan’s comment came a day after his government reported 40 deaths from coronavirus, the country’s lowest number of daily deaths in about a month compared to the highest single-day toll of 153 on June 19.

On Friday, Pakistan reported 49 more confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 2,085 new cases, increasing its overall cases to 259,999 since February.

Khan has widely been criticized since May when he ended the lockdown, saying it was necessary to revive the country’s economy. That’s when Pakistan witnessed a surge in COVID-19 deaths and infections.


LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the next tentative steps to reopen society, allowing live indoor performances, the reopening of leisure centers and bowling alleys starting on Aug. 1.

Johnson announced a raft of measures aimed at easing COVID-19 restrictions on Friday, including trying larger gatherings in places like sports stadiums as the country emerges from a lockdown imposed on March 23.

Johnson is trying to persuade Britons that the country is ready for new outbreaks while also encouraging a return to shops, restaurants and workplaces to kick-start a moribund economy that has shrunk by a quarter since March.

He also offered employers “more discretion’’ in bringing their employees back to work.


BARCELONA, Spain — Health authorities are asking Barcelona’s 5.5 million residents to keep their socialization to a minimum and to stay at home as much as possible.

The measures announced Friday mix mandatory orders like banning social gatherings of more than 10 people and closing nightclubs and gyms, as well as a public call for voluntary compliance with restrictions on mobility, including refraining from traveling to second homes outside of the regional capital.

Nearly 1,300 more people were confirmed or suspected of carrying the virus in Catalonia on Thursday, the highest daily increase in weeks.

The regional government’s spokeswoman, Meritxell Budó, has said that stricter measures such as a full lockdown would only be avoided by reducing social activity and venturing out for essential activities such as work.

Mandatory use of masks, even when outdoors, is rapidly spreading across Spain as officials grapple with more than 150 active outbreaks.


PARIS — French authorities are imposing mask requirements and testing in two western regions where virus infections are picking up, amid fears that summer holidays will bring a new wave of illness.

Masks will be required in all indoor public places in France starting next week, but the Finistere region of Brittany and Mayenne region near the Loire Valley are doing so already in select cities and towns, outdoor markets and islands that attract summer tourists.

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In Mayenne, several clusters have appeared over the past several days.

The virus reproduction rate in Finistere climbed from below 1 in recent weeks to 2.5, meaning one person with the virus infects 2.5 others. But the regional health agency noted Thursday that rising case numbers are also linked to a 50% increase in testing in the area over the last week, and noted that there are only three people in intensive care with the virus in the region.

France has reported 30,138 deaths related to the virus.


BERLIN — The United Nations is increasing to $ 10.3 billion its appeal for humanitarian aid funding to handle the fallout from the coronavirus crisis around the world.

Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said in Geneva on Friday that “the number of people in the world who need humanitarian assistance has more than doubled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of the global lockdown of economies and societies.”

At the beginning of the year, humanitarian agencies targeted around 110 million people, he said. They now need to reach 250 million in 63 countries.

Laerke said the U.N. initially asked for $ 2 billlion in late March for the immediate response. That was increased to $ 6.7 billion in May.

He said the appeal does cover basic health services but the bulk of it is related to non-health needs, such as food, water, sanitation and shelter. He added that “we are seeing a huge increase in the number of starving people, which could reach some 270 million by the end of the year.”

So far, the U.N. has received $ 1.7 billion.


JOHANNESBURG — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is praising the family of the daughter of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela for disclosing that Zindzi Mandela had tested positive for the coronavirus before she died Monday.

“This is a virus that affects us all, and there should never be any stigma around people who become infected,” the president said in a statement. In disclosing her status “you are helping encourage social acceptance for sufferers.”

South Africa how has the world’s sixth largest confirmed virus caseload with nearly 325,000 infections. Mandela, a South African diplomat, was buried Friday. Her family has said they were still awaiting her autopsy for the official cause of death.


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Two U.S. diplomats are among five new cases of coronavirus in Cambodia announced Friday by health officials.

All five cases involve people who had traveled from the United States. Three are Cambodians who arrived Wednesday via Taiwan, said a Health Ministry statement.

The statement described the two Americans as senior diplomats who had flown from the U.S. via South Korea and also arrived Wednesday.

It said the two are being isolated at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh. An embassy spokesman declined to provide immediate comment or details.

Cambodia banned virtually all new arrivals in March but last month eased the rules, allowing the repatriation of more Cambodians and the tightly restricted entry of foreigners.

Cambodia has had 171 confirmed coronavirus cases with no deaths.


BEIJING — Further tightening measures are being imposed on the northwestern Chinese city of Xinjiang following a reported cluster of new coronavirus cases.

Airlines say passengers departing the city’s airport are being required to show a negative test for coronavirus and records showing they have a clean bill of health.

The main subway line linking the city to the airport has also been shut and some residential communities closed off and restrictions imposed on use of public transport.

The health department in the surrounding region says five confirmed cases have been reported over the past 24 hours, along with eight cases where people have tested positive but are showing no symptoms.


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