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JOSE APONTE JR  

Wildwood Cathlic’s wins the game with a final score of 80 to 67 against Rutgers Prep’s in the South Jersey’s boys basketball final’s tournament, in Jackson, Wed, March. 11, 2020. (Jose Aponte Jr. / For The Press)


Alberto Saiz / Associated Press  

Workers place a mask on the figure of the Fallas festival Wednesday in Valencia, Spain. The festival, which was due to take place Friday, has been canceled over the COVID-19 outbreak.


International
AP
WHO declares virus crisis a pandemic, U.S. stocks plunge

GENEVA — The World Health Organization declared Wednesday that the global coronavirus crisis is now a pandemic as U.S. stocks plunged into bear market territory and several American cities joined European counterparts in banning large gatherings.

By reversing course and using the charged word “pandemic” that it had previously shied away from, the U.N. health agency sought to shock lethargic countries into pulling out all the stops.

“We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO chief.

“All countries can still change the course of this pandemic, if countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response,” he said. “We are deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction.”

The battle to contain the epidemic in the U.S. prompted the NCAA to announce its championship basketball tournament would be played later this month without fans. Several other college and professional sports events have been either canceled or ordered played in empty venues.

Iran and Italy are the new front lines of the fight against the virus that started in China, the WHO said.

“They’re suffering, but I guarantee you other countries will be in that situation soon,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief.

For the global economy, virus repercussions were profound Wednesday, with increasing concerns of wealth- and job-wrecking recessions. U.S. stocks wiped out more than all the gains from a huge rally a day earlier as Wall Street continued to reel.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 1,464 points, bringing it 20% below its record set last month and putting it in what Wall Street calls a “bear market.” The broader S&P 500, which professional investors care more about, is just 1 percentage point away from falling into bear territory and bringing to an end one of the greatest runs in Wall Street’s history.

Wall Street’s plunge followed a steep decline by markets across Asia, and was spurred in part by concerns over whether any economic response from the Trump administration will be effective — when and if they see one.

WHO officials said they thought long and hard about labeling the crisis a pandemic — meaning a new virus causing sustained outbreaks in multiple regions of the world.

The risk of employing the term, Ryan said, is “if people use it as an excuse to give up.”

But the benefit is “potentially of galvanizing the world to fight.”

Underscoring the mounting challenge: The case count outside China has multiplied 13-fold over the last two weeks to over 118,000, with the disease now responsible for 4,291 deaths, WHO said.

With officials saying that Europe has become the new epicenter, Italy’s cases soared again, to 12,462 infections and 827 deaths — numbers second only to China.

“If you want to be blunt, Europe is the new China,” said Robert Redfield, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In response to the mounting crisis, Italy announced that all shops and businesses except pharmacies and grocery stores would be closed nationwide beginning Thursday and designated billions in financial relief to cushion economic shocks from the virus, its latest efforts to adjust to the fast-evolving crisis that silenced the usually bustling heart of the Catholic faith, St. Peter’s Square.

In Iran, by far the hardest-hit country in the Middle East, the senior vice president and two other Cabinet ministers were reported to have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. Iran reported another jump in deaths, by 62 to 354 — behind only China and Italy.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said it was necessary to “go another step’’ in toughening the already unprecedented travel and social restrictions that took effect Tuesday by shuttering pubs, restaurants, hair salons, cafeterias and other businesses that can’t operate with a meter (yard) of space between workers and customers.

“In this moment, all the world is looking at us for the number of infections, but also ... see great resistance,” Conte said on Facebook Live.

These measures are on top of travel and social restrictions that imposed an eerie hush on cities and towns across the country.

Still, the effectiveness of travel restrictions and quarantines will likely drop substantially as COVID-19 spreads globally, making it impossible for countries to keep the virus out. Health officials will also need to be more flexible in their coordinated response efforts, as the epicenters are likely to shift quickly and dramatically — as demonstrated by the recent eruptions in Iran and Italy.

Earlier, Conte emphasized fighting the outbreak must not come at the expense of civil liberties, suggesting that Italy is unlikely to adopt the draconian quarantine measures that helped China push down new infections from thousands per day to a trickle and allowed its manufacturers to restart production lines.

China’s new worry is that the coronavirus could re-enter from abroad. Beijing’s city government announced that all overseas visitors will be quarantined for 14 days. Of 24 new cases reported Wednesday, five arrived from Italy and one from the United States. China has had over 81,000 virus infections and over 3,000 deaths.

For most, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for a few, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia. More than 121,000 people have been infected worldwide and over 4,300 have died.

But most people recover. People with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while more severe illness may take three to six weeks, the WHO says.

In the Mideast, most of the nearly 10,000 cases are in Iran or involve people who traveled there. Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency said they include Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri. Iran’s ministers for cultural heritage, handcrafts and tourism, and for industry, mines and business were also infected, the agency said.

Italy’s government announced Wednesday it was dedicating 25 billion euros (nearly $28 billion) to boost anti-virus efforts and soften economic blows, including delaying tax and mortgage payments by families and businesses.

Britain’s government announced a 30 billion-pound ($39 billion) economic stimulus package and the Bank of England slashed its key interest rate by half a percentage point to 0.25%.

Normal life was increasingly upended, with Pope Francis live-streaming prayers from the privacy of his Vatican library as police barred access to St. Peter’s Square, emptying it of tens of thousands of people who attend the weekly papal address. In Denmark, Prime Minister Minister Mette Frederiksen announced that all schools, preschools and universities will close as of Monday.

And in the U.S., the caseload passed 1,000, and outbreaks on both sides of the country stirred alarm. Officials in Seattle announced that public schools would close for about 53,000 students and large gatherings were banned in San Francisco and in Washington state, the hardest-hit U.S. state, with 25 deaths.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders canceled primary election rallies Tuesday and left open the possibility that future campaign events could be impacted. President Donald Trump’s campaign insisted it would proceed as normal, although Vice President Mike Pence conceded future rallies would be evaluated “on a day to day basis.”

And at a Congressional hearing in Washington Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, sounded an alarm: “Bottom line, it’s going to get worse.”

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that if the virus is not halted by vaccines and cures, up to 70% of the country’s 83 million people could ultimately become infected.

Germany has about 1,300 confirmed infections and Merkel’s comments fit a pattern of government officials using sobering warnings to convince people to protect themselves by washing their hands and not gathering in large numbers.

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Leicester reported from Paris, Cheng reported from London. Also contributing were Colleen Barry in Soave, Italy; Nicole Winfield in Rome; Sylvie Corbet in Paris; Geir Moulson in Berlin; Pan Pylas in London; LLazar Semini in Tirana, Albania; Matt Sedensky in Bangkok; Joe McDonald and Ken Moritsugu in Beijing; Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo; Tales Azzoni in Madrid and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak


Local
top story
West Wildwood rescinds $1.75 million bond ordinance to avoid referendum

WEST WILDWOOD — The Borough Commission on Wednesday voted to rescind a $1.75 million bond ordinance passed in January to fund a sewer improvement project, after a petition to force a referendum vote on the issue was certified by the borough clerk.

Meanwhile, Mayor Christopher Fox said he had no new information about his state ethics violation case Wednesday evening at the commission meeting, after his attorney was due to participate in a status conference at 3 p.m.

Fox said he had not yet talked to his attorney. The meeting started at 5 p.m. and was kept to one hour because of the possibility of spreading coronavirus, Fox said.

Fox and Commissioner Amy Korobellis both said they were disappointed to have to rescind the sewer ordinance but felt it was better to rescind than commit the borough to the cost of holding a referendum on the issue in a special election. He said it would cost about $25,000, or about a penny on the tax rate.

A taxpayers group had at first opposed the ordinance, after it was passed by Commissioners Korobellis and Scott Golden at a special meeting in January, where the commissioners could not answer basic questions about the project and its funding.

But after a February meeting attended by those commissioners as well as Fox, a borough engineer and an auditor, the Concerned Taxpayers of West Wildwood got questions answered and decided to support the project.

Fox said at the February meeting the project would replace sanitary sewers on Poplar Avenue from Arion to G streets, and on G Street from Poplar to Glenwood avenues, for a total of about seven blocks.

He also said the borough is applying for U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grants that would pay for about half of the cost and the rest would be financed with a low-interest 40-year USDA loan. The project would not go forward if the borough did not get the grants, Fox said.

But resident Nancy Doherty, who unsuccessfully ran for commission last year, said she had already handed in the petition by that time.

Fox said commissioners will look into how to proceed with the project under a new ordinance or other plans.

The Office of Administrative Law confirmed earlier in the day that Fox’s ethics case was scheduled for a status conference Wednesday.

The Local Finance Board of the state Department of Community Affairs filed 23 charges of ethics violations against Fox in April 2019 and fined him $24,900. He appealed them, denying any wrongdoing.

West Wildwood officials say attorney told them to do it

WEST WILDWOOD —  Commissioners said they were acting on the advice of their solicitor when they made a pact with Police Chief Jackie Ferentz not to use extensive disciplinary records against her in defending a lawsuit she brought alleging wrongful firing.

In July, the Finance Board voted to send his appeal to the OAL as a contested case.

According to an OAL spokesperson, status conferences generally involve the lawyers and the judge in the case. Typically, she said, future dates for proceedings are determined.

The Finance Board’s list of alleged violations of state ethics law ran to 21 pages and included actions Fox took as mayor that benefited police Chief Jacqueline Ferentz, with whom he lives. Others were related to his failure to disclose all income he receives on state-required financial disclosure statements, and to his entering into shared-services agreements with neighboring Wildwood while he was also business administrator there.

The board said Fox violated state ethics laws when he voted in favor of designating himself director of public safety, with oversight of the Police Department, 10 days before the borough reinstated Ferentz as a police officer after she had been dismissed by a previous mayor; and about a month before she was named chief.

Lawsuit questions expand in West Wildwood

WEST WILDWOOD — There will be a borough commissioners meeting Wednesday at 3 p.m. — the first since two appellate judges said the town, not its insurer, is on the hook for a huge jury award to police Chief Jacquelyn Ferentz.

Fox also allegedly violated the law when he gave Ferentz back pay and pension credit for a time when she did not serve in the Police Department; and voted in favor of a 50% increase in Ferentz’s salary from $67,000 to $101,000, from 2015 to 2017.

Fox, a retired Wildwood police officer, receives a police pension.

His daughter Nicole Fox has since been hired as a police officer in West Wildwood.

Fox’s lawyer, Michelle J. Douglass, is the same lawyer who represented Ferentz when she sued the borough over her treatment by a previous mayor.

Ferentz won a $1.7 million judgment taxpayers are struggling to pay, forcing cutbacks in city workers’ hours and other cost-saving measures. The borough’s insurance company refused to pay the award, saying the municipality — then under Fox’s leadership — failed to adequately defend itself in the suit.


News
breaking featured
Eight more people have tested presumed positive for COVID-19, Gov. Murphy said

Eight more people have tested presumed positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, bringing the state's total number of cases to 23, said Governor Phil Murphy on Wednesday.

Two of the cases have not been linked to any known exposure, said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli at briefing.  

"Two of these cases do not have exposure to COVID-19, either a confirmed case of COVID-19 or travel from an area that has had community spread of COVID-19," she said.

At a briefing Wednesday afternoon, Persichilli said that four of the new cases are in Bergen County, two are in Middlesex County and two are in Monmouth County. Three cases are women and five are men. The ages of the patients who tested presumed positive range from 17 to 66 years old. They are still early in the investigation process of determining how the patients came in contact with the virus, Persichilli said.

There are now 37 patients under investigation, she said. Of those, 20 have had samples collected which are on their way to be tested. The other 17 will have their samples collected and tested at the state lab later today, she said.

"This is a rapidly evolving situation. Our goal is to give you as much information as quickly as we can, where appropriate," Persichilli said. "Our mission is to protect the health of the residents of New Jersey by stopping or controlling the spread of COVID-19."

Murphy was interviewed on the state's response to the spread this afternoon.

"Of the remaining 22, 20 are in the in the hospital, two are self-quarantined from home," Murphy said in an interview with WCBS Newsradio 880. "Clearly, this is something that is irritative. We are doing everything we can to stay out ahead of this. So far, at least, testing has not been a log jam. We don't take that for granted and we're doing everything we can to shorten that time frame."

The first death caused by the illness in the state was reported Tuesday.

The World Health Organization officially designated the sickness a pandemic on Wednesday. For most people, the new coronavirus 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.

As the illness spreads, panic buying has led to empty shelves in many stores.

ShopRite has placed purchase limits on disinfectant cleaners and wipes, soap and other items in high demand during the spread of COVID-19.

“You may have noticed that we are starting to experience short supplies on products that are in high demand during this time,” according to an email sent out to customers Wednesday morning. “We’re working with our suppliers to keep these items on the shelf for you and we appreciate your cooperation in limiting your purchases to four so that everyone can get the products they need.”

Water and cough/cold over-the-counter medicines are also under purchase limits, according to the letter.

National coronavirus

Stories of panic buying and hoarding — and store shelves emptied of essentials — have increased in recent days as stories of a worsening epidemic have increased. Experts say it isn't necessary. 

"Good old-fashioned soap and water are good enough for hand hygiene," Dr. Manisha Juthani, an associate professor of medicine of infectious diseases and epidemiology of microbial diseases at Yale School of Medicine, told Business Insider. "Although hand sanitizer is convenient and easy to bring with you, I think stockpiling it is not necessary."

Linwood Public Schools announced Wednesday that any student, staff member, parent or visitor who is experiencing flu-like symptoms or has recently travelled to an area under a Level 3 Travel Health Notice by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — areas that include China, Hong Kong, Italy, Iran and South Korea — may not enter any Linwood schools or attend any school events.

The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority also said they are keeping an eye on the spread Wednesday.

"The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is closely monitoring developments related to COVID-19," the statement reads. "We are consulting with and following the guidelines provided by the Governor’s Office and the New Jersey Department of Health. The Authority is prepared to take any precautions necessary to ensure the safety of our staff, event attendees, and visitors.

During Tuesday’s briefing, officials announced that the first person in the state succumbed to the disease - a 69-year-old Bergen County man. So far, there have been 15 cases caused by the novel coronavirus identified throughout the state, including the man who died.

There are 31 patients under investigation in the state, two of whom are in Cumberland County; no cases have been identified in Atlantic and Cape May counties.

Worldwide coronavirus

South Jersey schools are still working to prepare plans for virtual instruction in case the state mandates it.

On Tuesday, Atlantic County Institute of Technology held an emergency faculty meeting about developing lesson plans for two weeks of home instruction, said Tom Forkin, a teacher at the school.

Staff Writer David Danzis contributed to this report.

South Jersey events that have been canceled due to COVID-19

UPDATED: Restaurants closed and other event, closing information due to COVID-19

Local
top story
Judge denies request to stop Atlantic City change of government referendum

ATLANTIC CITY — The special election on changing the city’s form of government will go on as scheduled after a Superior Court judge dismissed a complaint Wednesday that sought to delay or stop the impending referendum.

Judge Julio Mendez denied a request for an injunction filed by the Atlantic City Democratic Committee that alleged the petition that forced the March 31 special election was deficient and fraudulent and the proposed form of government would violate residents’ civil rights.

Registered voters will now decide whether to change the government from its current mayor-council form to a council-manager form.

In his written decision filed Wednesday, Mendez said the court’s decision was based on the state’s “longstanding legal principle that the right to vote is a fundamental constitutional right.”

Atlantic City Residents for Good Government submitted 3,288 signatures, more than three times the required 935 needed to force a referendum. After an initial rejection, the City Clerk’s Office validated 2,568 signatures Jan. 16, according to the official certification filed with the court.

Mendez wrote that an “overwhelming number of verified signatures of Atlantic City registered voters on the petition is a compelling fact in the court’s overall analysis of this case.”

Mendez heard arguments Monday from attorneys representing the city Democrats and Atlantic City Residents for Good Government, a political action committee behind the change of government effort. The judge initially said he would issue a written decision by the end of business Tuesday.

In his opinion, Mendez said the allegations of fraud “have fallen short” of the standard required to grant an injunction.

Atlantic City Residents for Good Government has proposed a council-manager form of government, a change that would eliminate a directly elected mayor and reduce the number of City Council members from nine to five. A city manager, appointed by the five at-large council members, would be the city’s chief executive and responsible for its day-to-day operations. After three years, the city manager can only be removed for cause by the council.

The change would also eliminate residents’ right to initiative and referendum, which is granted under the Optional Municipal Charter Law form of government currently used. Atlantic City is one of 132 municipalities out of 565 in the state that have some form of an OMCL government.

The council-manager form of government being proposed is only used by seven municipalities in the state.

All 10 of Atlantic City’s elected officials — the mayor and the nine members of council — oppose the proposed change in the form of government, as do the Civic Associations of Atlantic City United, Atlantic County Freeholder Ernest Coursey (who represents the city on the county board and serves as Small’s chief of staff) and the NAACP Atlantic City Chapter.

To date, the total cost to the city to validate the petition signatures, print ballots and other ancillary expenses is $66,714, according to the clerk’s certification document. The cost to defend the city clerk will be covered by the city, since she was named in the complaint in her official capacity.

Atlantic City Surf Baseball: Through the Years

National
AP
Weinstein gets 23 years in sentence hailed by accusers

NEW YORK — Harvey Weinstein was sentenced Wednesday to 23 years in prison after breaking his courtroom silence with a rambling plea for mercy in which he professed to be “totally confused” by the #MeToo movement that spelled the Hollywood producer’s downfall.

His accusers — those who testified against him and many others who have spoken out elsewhere against the former Hollywood mogul — hailed the near-maximum punishment for his rape and criminal sex act convictions as long overdue.

The 67-year-old Weinstein, who arrived at the courthouse Wednesday in a wheelchair and used a walker throughout the trial after recent back surgeries, could spend the rest of his life behind bars.

He was convicted last month of raping a once-aspiring actress in a New York City hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on former TV and film production assistant Mimi Haleyi at his apartment in 2006. He faced a minimum of five years and a maximum of 29 years in prison.

The conviction marked the first criminal fallout from a raft of allegations that the Oscar-winning movie producer used his clout to lure women, sexually assault or harass them and then silence them.

“Although this is a first conviction, this is not a first offense,” Judge James Burke said in imposing the sentence.

Weinstein, who did not testify during the trial, addressed his accusers, saying, “To all the women who testified, we may have different truths, but I have great remorse for all of you.” But he also argued that men are being accused of “things that none of us understood.”

“Thousands of men are losing due process. I’m worried about this country,” he said in a calm but creaking voice. “I’m totally confused. I think men are confused about these issues.”

Both of the women Weinstein was convicted of assaulting told the court about the damage he did to them, and the empowerment they felt when testifying against him.

“Rape is not just one moment of penetration. It is forever,” said the 2013 rape accuser, who recalled a moment during the trial when she left the witness stand in tears and then could be heard screaming from an adjacent room.

It was, she said, “the day my voice came back to its full power,” she said.

Asked later about her reaction after the sentence, she wiped her eyes, raised her arm and nodded her head.

Haleyi broke down in tears as she told the court the 2006 attack scarred her deeply and “stripped me of my dignity as a woman.” The encounter made her rethink her career in the entertainment business and left her feeling afraid of retaliation, she said.

The Associated Press typically does not name people, without their consent, who say they were sexually assaulted. It is withholding the rape accuser’s name because it is not clear whether she wishes to be identified.

Weinstein, who has maintained that any sexual activity was consensual, showed no reaction to the sentence.

In his address to the court, he touched on his past charitable fund-raising, his filmmaking career and a pledge that his new “mission is to help people.” He said his “empathy has grown” since his downfall.

Years of whispers about Weinstein’s alleged behavior burst into public view in The New York Times and The New Yorker in 2017. In the aftermath, more than 90 women, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Salma Hayek and other actresses, publicly accused Weinstein of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The takedown energized the #MeToo movement for speaking up about sexual assault.

Time’s Up, an organization created in the wake of #MeToo, on Wednesday hailed the women who testified against him for “the impact that they have had on our culture at large.”

Weinstein lawyer Donna Rotunno bristled at his sentence, saying the judge and jury had “caved” in a #MeToo and media atmosphere where Weinstein “really never had a fair shake from day one.”

“We were looking for fairness, and we didn’t get it,” Rotunno said.

Weinstein’s lawyers sought a five-year sentence — the shortest possible in the case — citing his age and frail health.

Prosecutors said the man once celebrated as a titan of Hollywood deserved a harsh sentence that would account for decades of alleged wrongdoing.

The sentence “puts sexual predators and abusive partners in all segments of society on notice,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.

Weinstein was convicted on two counts: criminal sex act and rape in the third degree.

He was acquitted of the more serious charges against him of first-degree rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault.

Now that Weinstein has been sentenced, his lawyers can move forward with a promised appeal. He also faces rape and sexual assault charges in California, where Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey tweeted Wednesday that her office was working on extraditing him. No arraignment date has yet been set.

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On Twitter, follow Mike Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak and Tom Hays at twitter.com/aptomhays