Radioactive waste cleanup paying off for giant Idaho aquifer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Scientists say radioactive and chemical contamination in a giant aquifer below an eastern Idaho federal nuclear facility has decreased or remained constant in recent years.

A report released earlier this year by the U.S. Geological Survey attributes the decreases to radioactive decay, changes in waste-disposal methods, cleanup efforts and dilution from water coming into the Lake Erie-sized Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.

The contamination originated at an 890-square-mile U.S. Department of Energy site that includes the Idaho National Laboratory.

The report says contamination levels at all but a handful of nearly 180 wells are below acceptable standards for drinking water as set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Northwest cherry crops facing disease and decreased harvest

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOPB-FM) — Cherry industry officials in Oregon and Washington state estimate a tree infection has substantially depleted the fruit for this year’s harvest.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reported Sunday that the infection known as little cherry disease has chopped an estimated 40 million pounds from the annual harvest beginning at the end of May.

Cherry growers have to cut down infected trees to prevent the disease from spreading before entire orchards are ruined.

Nearly 21 million boxes of cherries weighing 20 pounds each are expected to be picked in Oregon and Washington this year, down about 20% from a record-setting 2017 crop.

▶️ Summer preview? Holiday revelers flock to open beaches

Big crowds showed up at Ocean City, Maryland this Memorial Day weekend.

The beach opened a couple of weeks ago and the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce hopes the crowds adhere to physical distancing signs while patronizing boardwalk businesses.

One of those boardwalk businesses, Thrasher’s French Fries, is offering curbside service, and anticipates this holiday will bring in much-needed revenue that’s been otherwise lost due to the pandemic.

Biden makes 1st in-person appearance in more than 2 months

By WILL WEISSERT Associated Press

NEW CASTLE, Del. (AP) — Joe Biden made his first in-person appearance in more than two months on Monday as he marked Memorial Day by laying a wreath at a veterans park near his Delaware home.

Since abruptly canceling a March 10 rally in Cleveland at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has waged much of his campaign from his home in Wilmington. When Biden emerged on Monday, he wore a face mask, in contrast to President Donald Trump, who has refused to cover his face in public as health officials suggest.

Biden and his wife, Jill, laid a wreath of white flowers tied with a white bow, and bowed their heads in silence at the park. He saluted. “Never forget the sacrifices that these men and women made,” he said after. “Never, ever, forget.”

“I feel great to be out here.” Biden told reporters, his words muffled through his black cloth mask. His visit to the park was unannounced and there was no crowd waiting for him.

But Biden briefly greeted a county official and another man, both wearing face masks and standing a few feet away. Biden also yelled to another, larger group standing nearby, “Thank you for your service.” His campaign says Biden has gone to the park for Memorial Day often in the past, though services were canceled Monday in the pandemic.

Though low-key, the appearance was a milestone in a presidential campaign that has largely been frozen by the coronavirus outbreak. While the feasibility of traditional events such as rallies and the presidential conventions are in doubt, Biden’s emergence suggests he won’t spend the nearly five months that remain until the election entirely at home.

The coronavirus has upended virtually all aspects of American life and changed the terms of the election. Trump’s argument that he deserves another term in office because of the strong economy has evaporated as unemployment rises to levels not seen since the Great Depression.

As a longtime senator and former vice president, Biden is trying to position himself as someone with the experience and empathy to lead the country out of a crisis. Trump counters that he is the leader who can preside over an economic rebound later this year or in 2021.

Biden has adjusted to the coronavirus era by building a television studio in his home, which he’s used to make appearances on news programs, late-night shows and virtual campaign events. Some of those efforts have been marred by technical glitches and other awkward moments.

Some Democratic strategists have openly worried that Biden is ceding too much ground to Trump by staying home. The president himself has knocked Biden for essentially campaigning from his basement.

Biden’s advisers say they plan to return to normal campaign activities at some point, including travel to battleground states. But they’re in no hurry, preferring to defer to the advice of health experts and authorities’ stay-at-home and social distancing recommendations.

At 77, Biden is among the nation’s senior population thought to be especially vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus — though so is Trump, who turns 74 next month.

“We will never make any choices that put our staff or voters in harm’s way,” Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said recently, adding that the campaign would resume more traditional activities “when safety allows, and we will not do that a day sooner.”

Trump has not resumed the large rallies that were the hallmark of his 2016 campaign and presidency but has begun traveling outside Washington in recent weeks. He visited a facility producing face masks in Arizona and a Ford plant in Michigan that has been converted to produce medical and protective equipment.

Trump even played golf at his club in Virginia on the weekend, hoping that others will follow his lead and return to some semblance of normal life and gradually help revive an economy in free fall.

It was the president’s first trip to one of his money-making properties since March 8, when he visited his private golf club in West Palm Beach. The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11, and Trump followed with the national emergency declaration two days later.

Biden’s campaign wasted little time producing an online video offering blurry, faraway footage of Trump on the golf course, imposed over images evoking the virus ravaging the nation as the number of Americans dead from the pandemic approached 100,000. The video concluded by proclaiming: “The death toll is still rising. The president is playing golf.”

Trump spent Memorial Day visiting Arlington National Cemetery and the Fort McHenry national monument in Baltimore, to be followed by a trip to Florida’s coast on Wednesday to watch to U.S. astronauts blast into orbit.

As businesses reopen, CDC issues tips on cleaning high-use surfaces

As some communities around the United States start to reopen public places, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is important to clean and disinfect high traffic areas.

Here are some tips to keep areas clean, and a list of some frequently touched surfaces the CDC says should be disinfected regularly.

According to the CDC, cleaning and disinfecting public places will be important to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus as areas ease restrictions. The CDC says the virus can live on some objects and surfaces for a few hours to a few days.

The agency suggests using soap and water, and then an EPA-approved disinfectant on frequently touched surfaces and objects.

Some frequently touched surfaces that should be disinfected regularly are:

• Tables
• Doorknobs
• Light switches
• Countertops
• Handles
• Desks
• Phones
• Keyboards
• Toilets
• Faucets and sinks
• Gas pump handles
• Touch screens
• ATM machines

Consider removing some soft and porous materials like rugs or seating to make cleaning and disinfecting easier.

And you should continue to practice social distancing, wear a face covering, and wash your hands frequently.

For more information from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/reopen-guidance.html
For a full list of EPA approved disinfectants: https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2

Trump threatens to move RNC without assurances from governor

President Donald Trump threatened Monday to pull the Republican National Convention out of North Carolina if the state’s Democratic governor doesn’t immediately sign off on allowing a full-capacity gathering in August despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump’s tweets about the RNC, planned for Charlotte, come just two days after North Carolina recorded its largest daily increase in positive cases yet.

On Friday, Gov. Roy Cooper moved the state into a second phase of gradual reopening by loosening restrictions on hair salons, barbers and restaurants. But he said the state must continue to closely watch virus trends and has ordered indoor entertainment venues, gyms and bars to remain closed for several more weeks.

“Unfortunately, Democrat Governor, @RoyCooperNC is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed… full attendance in the Arena,” Trump tweeted Monday.

He added that Republicans “must be immediately given an answer by the Governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied. If not, we will be reluctantly forced…to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site.”

Cooper’s office responded with a brief statement that state officials are working with the GOP on convention decisions.

“State health officials are working with the RNC and will review its plans as they make decisions about how to hold the convention in Charlotte,” Cooper spokeswoman Dory MacMillan said in an email. “North Carolina is relying on data and science to protect our state’s public health and safety.”

In an interview Monday on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends,” Vice President Mike Pence noted convention planning takes months and suggested that a state that’s loosened more restrictions could host. He praised reopening strides made by Texas, Florida and Georgia — all states with Republican governors.

“What you hear the president saying today is just a very reasonable request of the governor of North Carolina. We all want to be in Charlotte. We love North Carolina,” Pence said. “But having a sense now is absolutely essential because of the immense preparations that are involved, and we look forward to working with Governor Cooper, getting a swift response and, if needs be, if needs be, moving the national convention to a state that is farther along on reopening and can say with confidence that we can gather there.”

A week ago, Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel asserted on a call with reporters that the convention slated for Aug. 24-27 would be held at least partly in person. She said the party enlisted a medical adviser and was consulting with the Charlotte mayor and the governor.

Several days later during a Charlotte-area visit, a top Trump administration health official sounded less certain. Asked about preparations to safely host the RNC, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said increasing testing capacity is important. However, he did not refer to a traditional in-person convention as a certainty, but rather noted that “we’re several months away from the possibility of the RNC.” Azar also praised Cooper’s moves to reopen the state.

Before Monday, Cooper and Trump had yet to publicly spar during the pandemic. While Cooper has urged the federal government to help North Carolina get more testing supplies and protective gear, he’s avoided criticizing Trump by name. Trump, meanwhile, has largely refrained from calling out Cooper as he has other Democratic governors.

Cooper, who narrowly beat an incumbent Republican in 2016 while Trump won the state, faces a challenge in November’s gubernatorial race from Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who has urged a faster reopening of state businesses.

Trump doubles up on Memorial Day events

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump silently honored the nation’s war dead Monday in a wreath ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, first in a pair of public events also taking him to Baltimore, to the chagrin of the mayor.

Presidents on Memorial Day typically honor fallen military members by laying a wreath and delivering a speech at the hallowed burial ground in Virginia. But because of the pandemic, which is expected to claim its 100,000th American this week, the ceremony looked different this year.

Attendees at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier arrived wearing masks and removed them for the ceremony in the well-spaced crowd. Trump, maskless as always in public, gave no remarks this time. He approached a wreath already in place, touching it.

He was expected to speak at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. It’s where a poem, written after a huge American flag was hoisted to celebrate an important victory over the British during the War of 1812, became “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young objected to Trump’s visit, saying it sends the wrong message about stay-at-home directives and the city cannot afford the added cost of hosting him when it is losing $20 million a month because of the pandemic.

But Trump is intent on accelerating his schedule as he portrays the country as returning to its pre-pandemic ways. The U.S. leads the world with more than 1.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 97,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

This month, Trump has toured factories in ArizonaPennsylvania and Michigan that make pandemic supplies. He planned to be in Florida on Wednesday to watch two NASA astronauts rocket into space, and he played golf at his private club in Virginia on Saturday and Sunday.

Young, a Democrat, last week cited the disproportionate effect the virus has had on his city and called on Trump to “set a positive example” by not traveling during the holiday weekend. “That President Trump is deciding to pursue nonessential travel sends the wrong message to our residents,” he said.

The White House sounded unmoved.

“The brave men and women who have preserved our freedoms for generations did not stay home and the president will not either as he honors their sacrifice by visiting such a historic landmark in our nation’s history,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an emailed statement Sunday.

Trump last summer described a congressional district that includes Baltimore as a “disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.” He visited Baltimore months later to address a meeting of congressional Republicans, and a giant inflatable rat adorned with Trump-style hair and a red necktie taunted him from a few blocks away. Trump did not visit any Baltimore neighborhoods.

He was visiting on Monday just over a week after Maryland began to lift some of the restrictions it had put in place for the coronavirus, though they remain in effect in Baltimore. Baltimore and the Washington area have the nation’s highest percentages of positive cases, according to Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force.

Fire destroys warehouse on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf

AN FRANCISCO (AP) — A fire engulfed a warehouse on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf early Saturday, sending a thick plume of smoke over the waterfront and threatening to spread to a historic World War II-era ship before firefighters brought the flames under control.

One firefighter sustained a hand injury while battling the fire at the warehouse the size of a football field on Pier 45, San Francisco Fire Lt. Jonathan Baxter said.

Baxter said after the fire subsided, investigators scoured the building to determine whether homeless people were inside.

“That is something of grave concern, that is why we’re actively trying to confirm if anybody saw anybody in this building,” he told KGO-TV.

“To our knowledge … nobody is supposed to be in the building and we are hoping … that there is no victim,” he said.

However, at least two workers told the San Francisco Chronicle they were inside the fish processing and storage warehouse when the fire broke out before dawn.

Alejandro Arellano, who works for La Rocca Seafood, was cleaning out a fish storage locker when the fire began, shortly after 4 a.m..

“I saw a lot of smoke. A few minutes later, fire everywhere,” he said. “It was very, very scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The fire tore through the warehouse near the end of the concrete pier, causing its walls to collapse, Baxter said. The flames singed the first fire truck to respond to the scene, forcing firefighters to turn their hoses on the vehicle to save it, he said.

More than 130 firefighters fought the flames, with some using ladder trucks to drench the warehouse from above. A fire boat was used to protect the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, a liberty ship that stormed Normandy on D-Day in 1944.

“Our firefighters absolutely saved the SS Jeremiah O’Brien during this fire as flames were pinching on the side of this vessel,” Baxter said.

The ship docks by Pier 45 and is among numerous tourist attractions on the wharf, a maritime hub for cruises around San Francisco Bay as well as fishing boats hauling in the catch of the day. Visitors come for the Dungeness crabs, clam chowders served in sourdough bread bowls, the sea lions that hang out on the floating docks and shops and curiosities on Pier 39.

Shops and restaurants on the wharf have been shut by the city’s stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus and were expected to reopen on May 31.

The fire was confined to the end of the pier, well away from the Musée Mécanique and its historic arcade games and the popular restaurant Alioto’s.

Fishing companies that have been operating out of Pier 45 said the fire exacerbated an already tough business climate caused by the pandemic.

Kenny Belov, owner of the seafood wholesaler TwoXSea, told the Chronicle his building near the warehouse was not damaged but he worried a power outage on the pier could ruin the fish in his freezer.

“Not that it would ever need this, but the seafood industry didn’t need this now,” Belov said. “It’s surreal. We’ve obviously had a tough go the last couple months, with restaurants (closed). … Of all the problems in the world, this is not a big one. But it’s frustrating.”

Coast Guard crew members and police assisted by keeping other vessels away from the pier.

Fire investigators were assessing any damage to the pier and were looking into the cause of the blaze, Baxter said.

San Francisco sanctions once-shunned homeless encampments

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco is joining other U.S. cities in authorizing homeless tent encampments in response to the coronavirus pandemic, a move officials have long resisted but are now reluctantly embracing to safeguard homeless people.

About 80 tents are now neatly spaced out on a wide street near San Francisco City Hall as part of a “safe sleeping village” opened last week. The area between the city’s central library and its Asian Art Museum is fenced off to outsiders, monitored around the clock and provides meals, showers, clean water and trash pickup.

In announcing the encampment, and a second one to open in the famed Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, San Francisco’s mayor acknowledged that she didn’t want to approve tents, but having unregulated tents mushroom on sidewalks was neither safe nor fair.

“So while in normal times I would say that we should focus on bringing people inside and not sanctioning tent encampments, we frankly do not have many other options right now,” she said in a tweet last week.

Nicholas Woodward, 37, is camping at the safe sleeping site, but he said he preferred sleeping in his tent before the city stepped in; he finds the fencing belittling and the rules too controlling. His friend, Nathan Rice, 32, said he’d much rather have a hotel room than a tent on a sidewalk, even if the city is providing clean water and food.

“I hear it on the news, hear it from people here that they’re going to be getting us hotel rooms,” he said. “That’s what we want, you know, to be safe inside.”

San Francisco has moved 1,300 homeless people into hotel rooms and RVs as part of a statewide program to shelter vulnerable people but the mayor has been criticized for moving too slowly. She has said she is not inclined to move all the city’s estimated 8,000 homeless into hotels, despite complaints from advocates who say overcrowded tents are a public health disaster.

San Francisco is just the latest city to authorize encampments as shelters across the country move to thin bed counts so homeless people, who are particularly susceptible to the virus due to poor health, have more room to keep apart.

Santa Rosa in Sonoma County welcomed people this week to its first managed encampment with roughly 70 blue tents. Portland, Oregon, has three homeless camps with city-provided sleeping bags and tents, and Maricopa County opened two parking lots to homeless campers in Phoenix.

San Francisco officials have historically frowned upon mini tent cities and routinely rounded up tents on city streets. But with an estimated 150,000 homeless people in California, most of them living out in the open, it’s impossible to stamp out the highly visible tents along highways and on crowded urban sidewalks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that officials not disturb tent encampments during the coronavirus pandemic unless people are given individual hotel rooms, as homeless advocates want to see. Those advocates say providing a safe space where people can get meals, use a toilet and avoid harassing passers-by is a reasonable option given the times.

“The best, best option would be housing. The second-best option would be hotel rooms, but if you can’t do that and we’re going to have so many people outside then I think it makes sense … to make those outside as safe as can be,” said Dr. Margot Kushel, director of the Center for Vulnerable Populations at the University of California, San Francisco.

But Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said the federal government is providing an astonishing amount of money to battle the pandemic and she hopes cities and counties use it to put people into empty hotels, motels and other unused places.

“It’s almost like we’re giving ourselves permission that it’s OK that people will sleep outside, and once we’ve given ourselves that permission, it’s very difficult to get the initiative together to do otherwise,” she said.

Still, government-sanctioned tent camps may be here to stay, at least until a coronavirus vaccine is distributed.

At the urging of San Francisco Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, the city’s parks and real estate departments are compiling an inventory of open spaces that might be suitable for tent camps. She said sidewalk space is a coveted commodity for retailers, given coronavirus restrictions, and the city’s strategy of adding more shelter beds doesn’t make sense with a contagious virus.

“It is just a new world that we’re living in,” she said, “and it’s going to have to be our new normal.”

Hertz, car rental company, files for bankruptcy protection

Hertz filed for bankruptcy protection Friday, unable to withstand the coronavirus pandemic that has crippled global travel and with it, the heavily indebted 102-year-old car rental company’s business.

The Estero, Florida-based company’s lenders were unwilling to grant it another extension on its auto lease debt payments past a Friday deadline, triggering the filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.
By the end of March, Hertz Global Holdings Inc. had racked up $18.7 billion in debt with only $1 billion of available cash.

Starting in mid-March, the company — whose car-rental bands also include Dollar and Thrifty — lost all revenue when travel shut down due to the novel coronavirus, and it started missing payments in April. Hertz has also been plagued by management upheaval, naming its fourth CEO in six years on May 18.

“No business is built for zero revenue,” former CEO Kathryn Marinello said on the company’s first-quarter earnings conference call May 12. “There’s only so long that companies’ reserves will carry them.”

In late March, Hertz shed 12,000 workers and put another 4,000 on furlough, cut vehicle acquisitions by 90% and stopped all nonessential spending. The company said the moves would save $2.5 billion per year.

But the cuts came too late to save Hertz, the nation’s No. 2 auto rental company founded in 1918 by Walter L. Jacobs, who started in Chicago with a fleet of a dozen Ford Model Ts. Jacobs sold the company, initially called Rent-A-Car Inc., to John D. Hertz in 1923.

In a note to investors in late April, Jefferies analyst Hamzah Mazari predicted that rival Avis would survive the coronavirus crisis but Hertz had only a 50-50 chance “given it was slower to cut costs.”

On May 18, Hertz took the unusual step of naming operations chief Paul Stone as CEO and announced that Marinello would step down as CEO and from the company’s board. Mazari called the change unusual just days before a potential bankruptcy filing. He also noted that CEO changes have been common at Hertz since financier Carl Icahn entered the company in 2014.

Icahn’s holding company is Hertz’s largest shareholder, with a 38.9% stake in the company, according to FactSet.

Deutsche Bank analyst Chris Woronka credited Marinello with reigniting Hertz’s revenue growth, writing in a note to investors that it rose 16% in 2018 and 2019 combined.

Hertz’s bankruptcy protection filing was hardly a surprise. In its first-quarter report filed earlier in May with securities regulators, the company said it may not be able to repay or refinance debt and may not have enough cash to keep operating.

“Management has concluded there is substantial doubt regarding the company’s ability to continue as a going concern within one year from the issuance date of this quarterly report,” it said.

Under a Chapter 11 restructuring, creditors will have to settle for less than full repayment, but the company is likely to continue operating.

Hertz isn’t the first struggling company to be pushed into bankruptcy by the coronavirus crisis. The company joins department store chain J.C. Penney, as well as Neiman Marcus, J.Crew and Stage Stores.