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2020 Daily Trail Markers: Battling the opioid crisis amid coronavirus

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., public health professionals were already busy battling another epidemic – the drug crisis in this country. President Trump announced Wednesday that the nation will launch enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Western Hemisphere to prevent drug cartels from exploiting the coronavirus pandemic. "I've seen many families where they're wiped out because they lost a son or a daughter or a husband or wife. Or whatever. Or all of them," he said of the effects of drug abuse at the Coronavirus Task Force briefing. "And we don't want to lose ground."

Yet, beyond U.S. ports of entry, substance abuse patients and health care workers fighting the opioid epidemic face new challenges. "COVID-19 is like a horrific tsunami that just killed us, exploded in the Northeast and is developing rapidly," Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) told CBS News campaign reporter Nicole Sganga. "So, of course we're paying attention to it, and we get distracted from this other crisis that is also killing a lot of people."

The opioid epidemic and the coronavirus pandemic "have unfortunately crossed paths in a very lethal way," said Allegra Schorr, president of the Coalition of Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) Providers and Advocates of New York State (COMPA). Schorr represents over 45 organizations serving 41,000 recovery patients in New York, the state hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. She wants to strike the right balance between reducing both the spread of the disease and risk of overdose for patients using Medical Assisted Treatment. "We're like a front line. We have to be able to keep our patients out of the hospital. We have to get that balance right. If they overdose, then they're going to be in the hospital taking up those resources," Schorr told CBS News. "They could be in the emergency rooms. We have the potential of crashing the hospital system. We have to make sure that does not happen."

FROM THE CANDIDATES

BERNIE SANDERS

Bernie Sanders hit the cable airwaves this afternoon from his Burlington, VT home. He told CNN's Anderson Cooper that he agreed with the idea of a federal stay at home order. Of governors not declaring shelter-in-place laws for their states, Sanders said "it is incomprehensible to me that we have governors who continue to think this is business as usual." CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte says Cooper asked about the plan Sanders intends to propose for the fourth coronavirus stimulus package, which includes monthly $2,000 unemployment checks and a Medicare expansion to cover all medical costs during the crisis. Sanders said "it's going to be expensive" but added that "it's easier to preserve the economy than it is to rebuild it after a collapse."

Later Friday afternoon, he spoke to MSNBC's Ali Velshi. When asked about his campaign's future, Sanders acknowledged, as he has before, that between his delegate deficit and lackluster polling the road ahead is difficult. But he expanded on that on Monday and gave a glimpse into his philosophy for pressing on. "The key goal is to win. The other goal is to continue to fight to give people the opportunity to stand up for views they believe in," he said. Sanders also said that he is listening to his supports and some believe that the right thing to do is fight on so to continue to "win" the ideological and generational divide within the party. "I think we are winning [the ideological] struggle," he said. "A lot of supporters say we've got to continue until it becomes the reality of American society."

LIFE AFTER 2020

PETE BUTTIGIEG

Pete Buttigieg is creating a Political Action Committee named Win the Era and an affiliated nonprofit group. The PAC will support and endorse candidates in down ballot races, according to Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Buttigieg. The former presidential candidate frequently said on the campaign trail that Democrats cannot "get caught acting like the presidency is the only office that matters." In an email sent out to supporters of the PAC, Buttigieg outlined the themes and values of his PAC. He noted that his PAC will build a sense of belonging by supporting diverse candidates who represent "generational leadership." The PAC will also focus on Democratic candidates competing in conservative areas of the country.  

Buttigieg's team has reached out to donors who contributed general election funds to Buttigieg's presidential campaign, asking them to redirect their contribution to the PAC. The general election funds would otherwise need to be refunded since Buttigieg did not become the Democratic nominee. CBS News campaign reporter Jack Turman says the formation of the PAC is one of the first steps Buttigieg has taken regarding his political future since he suspended his presidential campaign on March 1. Buttigieg's second term as South Bend, Indiana's mayor ended on January 1. The New York Times was first to report the story. 

ELIZABETH WARREN

Elizabeth Warren and three House members are calling on the Trump administration to provide plans to help Puerto Rico overcome challenges the spread of coronavirus has presented that are unique to the island. In a letter dated yesterday, CBS News campaign reporter Zak Hudak says Warren and Representatives Raul Grijalva, Nydia Velazquez and Joaquin Castro asked Vice President Mike Pence to explain within two weeks how the administration will ensure sufficient aid reaches Puerto Rico. "As the pandemic and its effects continue to test the economic and health care systems around the world, we are deeply concerned about the extent to which Puerto Rico's existing economic, infrastructure, and public health gaps will exacerbate its impacts," they wrote. The lawmakers said that the administration failed to adequately respond after Hurricane Maria in 2017, and that over half of the island lives in regions with a shortage of primary care. They also say that Puerto Rico's GDP growth rate and high unemployment rate make its economy "particularly vulnerable to further downturns spurred by COVID-19 response efforts" and that the island's infrastructure still hasn't recovered from Maria. 

PRIMARILY CONCERNED

WISCONSIN

Republican leaders in the Wisconsin Legislature are rejecting proposals from Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers to make sweeping changes to the upcoming April 7 election, CBS News campaign reporter Adam Brewster reports. Evers asked the Legislature to hold a special session on Saturday afternoon to vote on making the primary almost entirely vote-by-mail and significantly extending the deadlines for voting.

Evers, a Democrat, asked state lawmakers to vote on a plan to send an absentee ballot by May 19 to every registered voter in the state who has not yet requested one. Under the proposal, the deadline to send in ballots would also be extended to May 26. The proposal also sought to essentially scrap in-person voting, except for local clerks providing a window for disabled voters and voters who have difficulty or are unable to read, write or understand English.

But in a joint statement, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said they are not planning to take up Evers' proposals and believe "the election should continue as planned on Tuesday."

"If the governor had legitimate concerns, we could have come to a bipartisan solution weeks ago," the joint statement said. "The only bipartisan discussion we've had was to ensure the election would continue safely and to maximize the opportunity to vote absentee."

Wisconsin has stood alone in refusing to move its primary as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Eleven states and Puerto Rico have delayed their primary dates, and five others have moved to conduct their primaries or caucuses with mail voting. A state Supreme Court seat and many other local races are also on the ballot in Wisconsin in addition to the presidential primary.

Last week, Evers did not try to delay the election, but he did ask the legislature to provide absentee ballots to all registered voters, allow ballots to be postmarked up until Election Day and give clerks more time to count ballots. Election officials said that proposal would be difficult to achieve, and it was shot down by Republican leaders in the legislature.

There has been a dramatic shortage of poll workers in Wisconsin which has caused cities to reduce polling locations. On Friday, Milwaukee announced it would only have 5 polling sites compared to its usual 180 locations.

A day ago, a federal judge refused to move the state's primary but extended the deadline to return absentee ballots from 9:00 p.m. ET on April 7 to 5:00 p.m. ET on April 13. The judge said on Friday that election results can't be reported until that April 13 deadline.

The Republican National Committee and Wisconsin Republican Party have appealed that decision.

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