Coronavirus headlines: Feds direct airlines to refund passengers for canceled flights

Coronavirus

APRIL 3, 2020

11:00 p.m. update:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Some states and cities that have been shipped masks, gloves, ventilators and other essential equipment from the nation’s medical stockpile to fight the coronavirus have gotten an unwelcome surprise: the material is unusable.

Nearly 6,000 medical masks sent to Alabama had dry rot and a 2010 expiration date. More than 150 ventilators sent to Los Angeles were broken and had to be repaired. In Oregon, it was masks with faulty elastic that could cause the straps to snap, exposing medical workers to the disease.

“Several of the shipments we have received from the strategic national stockpile contained (personal protective equipment) well past expiration dates and, while we are being told much of the expired equipment is capable of being used for COVID-19 response, they would not be suitable for use in surgical settings,” Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, said in an email.

He said some of the equipment had been purchased during the H1N1 outbreak more than a decade ago and that the masks with the fragile elastic had been among products previously recalled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state did not distribute them to medical workers.

A shortage of protective gear has imperiled doctors, nurses and other front-line medical workers. Life-saving ventilators have been in short supply as more and more states experience outbreaks of the COVID-19 disease, which typically causes mild or moderate symptoms but can be especially perilous for older adults and people with existing health problems. Many younger adults and medical workers also have succumbed to the disease.

Numerous governors have complained about delays in getting equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile or receiving amounts of gear far below what they had requested. That frustration is compounded when equipment arrives, but can’t be used.

Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association and the former top public health official in the state, said he received multiple emails from hospitals about stockpile shipments of N95 masks in which the rubber bands that hold the mask tight around the user’s face had dry rot. They couldn’t be used unless the bands were replaced.

Montgomery County received nearly 6,000 medical masks of a different type that had dry rot, a shipment that was replaced about a week later.

“It’s really alarming because those masks are desperately needed,” said U.S. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama. “When our national stockpile is not monitored enough to know that you’ve got expired masks and rotted masks out there and not replenished, that is a real problem.”

Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado on Friday requested a probe into the management of the supply and distribution of ventilators from the national stockpile. Among other things, he cited reports that maintenance failures were contributing to the lack of operational ventilators “at a time our country desperately needs them.”

Los Angeles received about 170 ventilators from the national stockpile that were in disrepair. Gov. Gavin Newsom said they were sent to a company to be fixed.

In New Hampshire, the congressional delegation wrote to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services saying many of the supplies the state received were expired. In addition, more than 16,000 latex gloves couldn’t be used in a medical setting because of latex allergies.

The CDC acknowledged late last month that some items in the U.S. stockpile have exceeded their manufacturer-designated shelf life. They were nevertheless being sent to hospitals “due to the potential urgent demand caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency,” the CDC said.

8:30 p.m. update:

(CNN) — Federal officials on Friday ordered airlines to reimburse customers for canceled flights, saying a growing number of passengers are complaining amid the coronavirus pandemic that airlines are providing travel credits rather than refunds.

The US Department of Transportation did not say how many claims it has substantiated, but it did direct carriers in an enforcement notice “that passengers should be refunded promptly when their scheduled flights are cancelled or significantly delayed.”

The government said it would “exercise its prosecutorial discretion” and allow airlines time to contact customers, update policies and properly train staff.

“The Department is receiving an increasing number of complaints and inquiries from ticketed passengers, including many with non-refundable tickets, who describe having been denied refunds for flights that were cancelled or significantly delayed,” the notice read.

Customers are allowed to receive a refund when airlines cancel or significantly delay flights. The requirements also apply when government restrictions prohibit flying, the notice said.

The rules do not apply to customers who decide on their own against flying because, for example, of concern over the coronavirus.

Airlines canceled significant portions of their schedules as demand plummeted. By late February, customers were canceling more flights than they were booking, according to the industry group Airlines for America.

Now, industry metrics show carriers are flying about half their schedules and only about 1 in 10 seats are filled.

The mass cancellations mean airlines owe customers a substantial amount. Worldwide, airlines owe their customers $35 billion in refunds and credits this financial quarter, according to the International Air Transport Association. Different regions have different refund and credit requirements.

The Transportation Department notice said many passengers complained of receiving credit toward future flights that cannot be used because of the deep schedule cuts, which extend into the fall.

“As a result, passengers are left with cancelled or significantly delayed flights and vouchers and credits for future travel that are not readily usable,” the notice said.

Many airline vouchers expire after a year. Delta announced earlier on Friday it would accept coronavirus-related flight credits for about two years, until the end of May 2022.

A different US agency, the Federal Trade Commission, has received more than 1,600 travel- and vacation-related complaints so far linked to the coronavirus, according to FTC data reviewed by CNN. Those complaints, including from people seeking their money back on nonrefundable travel, claim losses of $2.7 million.

DOT noted that carriers provided refunds, as required, after incidents including the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

“Although the COVID-19 public health emergency has had an unprecedented impact on air travel, the airlines’ obligation to refund passengers for cancelled or significantly delayed flights remains unchanged,” the agency said.

5:45 p.m. update:

  • WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says his administration is encouraging many Americans to wear face masks in public, though he stresses that the recommendation is optional and is conceding that he will not be complying with it. The new guidance is raising concern that it could lead to a sudden run on masks. Some in the U.S. already have begun acquiring or creating face masks of their own even before this week. But the administration’s new guidance is expected to apply to people in areas of the country hit hard by the coronavirus and is likely to test the market’s ability to accommodate a surge in demand. 

5:30 p.m. update:

  • NEW YORK (AP) — With coronavirus deaths climbing rapidly in New York, the governor says he’ll use his authority to take ventilators and protective gear from private hospitals and companies that aren’t using them. The decision Friday is one of the most aggressive steps yet in the U.S. to relieve severe shortages of equipment needed to fight the scourge. Medical workers in the U.S. and Europe are watching supplies of medicine, protective equipment and breathing machines dwindle by the hour. It comes as the coronavirus outbreak has snapped the United States’ record-breaking hiring streak of nearly 10 years. 

3:45 p.m. update:

  •   (CNN) — The White House will give rapid Covid-19 tests to anyone who will come in close proximity with either President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, CNN has confirmed. “As the physician to the President and White House Operations continue to protect the health and safety of the President and vice president, starting today anyone who is expected to be in close proximity to either of them will be administered a Covid-19 test to evaluate for pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic carriers status to limit inadvertent transmission,” said deputy White House press secretary Judd Deere in a statement. White House officials are declining to specify what counts as “close proximity” but one official said members of the White House press corps who participate in the daily briefings will not have to take the tests.

1 p.m. update:

  • NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are falling again on Wall Street, putting the market on track for its third down week in the last four. The S&P 500 was down 1.8% in early afternoon trading after having traded slightly higher in the early going. The losses, which grew steadily as the day wore on, were still milder than those that have rocked investors the last couple months. The drop came after the government reported that more than 700,000 jobs were lost last month, the latest of what is sure to be many grim indicators of the toll the coronavirus outbreak is is taking on the economy. 

11:20 a.m. update:

(WJW) — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says the state now has 102,863 positive coronavirus cases, according to FOX 5.

There has also been 2,935 deaths across New York.

Cuomo says he will be signing an executive order that allows the state to take ventilators and personal protective equipment from hospitals that don’t need them and relocate the supplies to hospitals that do. Those hospitals will either get their ventilators back at a later date or will be reimbursed.

“I’m not going to let people die when there are ventilators that are not being used,” Cuomo reportedly said.

The National Guard will be deployed to pick up unused ventilators from the hospitals.

8 a.m. update

  • Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, opened a new coronavirus field hospital, NHS Nightingale, via videolink on Friday from his home in Scotland — the first time a member of the British royal family has performed an opening ceremony remotely.
  • A New England Patriots team plane loaded with 1.2 million N95 protective masks has landed back in Boston after picking up the vital supplies in China. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker tweeted a photo of the plane being loaded with the personal protective equipment that he said would go to the state’s health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis.
  • The US has stopped issuing passports, unless in a “life-or-death emergency,” in an effort to help stop the spread of coronavirus. In a statement on its website, the State Department asked Americans to avoid international travel at this time due to the impact of coronavirus. In line with that, it said, it will only offer passports to customers with a qualified emergency.

(CNN) — With more than 6,000 deaths from coronavirus, US health officials and state leaders across the country are urging for a stronger response to the outbreak.

In New York, where 2,468 people have died from the virus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state has about six days left before it runs out of ventilators.

“It’s like watching a slow-moving hurricane across the country, where you know the path that it’s taking. Why not deploy the national resources and just stay ahead of the hurricane?” he said Thursday.

“It’s very simple: A person comes into the ICU unit. They need the ventilator, or they die. It’s that basic proposition,” Cuomo said.

At least 245,559 Americans have been infected and all states but Wyoming have reported deaths.

To keep the numbers from rising, the nation’s top experts — which have predicted at least 100,000 Americans may die — say aggressive social distancing measures are now more important than ever.

By looking at the country’s curve of cases, White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said she can tell not every American is following social distancing guidelines the federal government has put forth.

“Just to everybody out there across the country — when we say no gatherings of 10, we want to be clear — if you have a family of 10, we don’t want you to be split up,” Birx said, adding the guidelines mean people should be having “no dinner parties, no cocktail parties.”

OHIO

As of Thursday, Ohio had 2,547 cases of coronairus. There have been 65 deaths.

Coronavirus questions answered

Around the Buckeye State

More Ohio News
FOX 8 Cleveland Weather // Quick Links:

Hot on FOX 8

More Viral