Eight U.S. states cast ballots on biggest voting day since coronavirus pandemic

By John Whitesides

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Eight states and the District of Columbia hold primary elections on Tuesday, the biggest test yet of officials’ readiness to manage a surge of mail ballots and the safety risks of in-person voting during the coronavirus outbreak.

The largest day of balloting since the pandemic began will serve as a dry run for the Nov. 3 general election, offering a glimpse of the challenges ahead on a national scale if that vote is conducted under a lingering threat from COVID-19.

Four of the states voting on Tuesday – Pennsylvania, Indiana, Maryland and Rhode Island – delayed their nominating contests from earlier in the year to avoid the worst of the outbreak that has killed more than 104,000 people in the United States.

All of the states, which also include Iowa, Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota, have encouraged or expanded mail-in balloting as a safe voting alternative.

That has led to record numbers of mail-in ballots requested or cast in many states, along with an explosion of questions, confusion and reports of ballot applications delayed or lost.

Most states also will sharply reduce the number of in-person polling places as officials struggle to recruit enough workers to run them.

“We will have a lot of clarity after June 2 about what needs to be fixed for November, and we’re hoping we can come up with some clear practical solutions,” said Suzanne Almeida, acting director of government watchdog Common Cause Pennsylvania.

The primaries come amid a partisan brawl over voting by mail, which Democrats support as a safe way to cast a ballot and Republican President Donald Trump condemns as ripe for fraud. Numerous studies have found little evidence of voting fraud tied to mail-in ballots.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has essentially wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination to face Trump in November, but seven of the states also will have primaries for state and congressional offices.

Among the top races to be decided on Tuesday will be a Republican congressional primary in Iowa. U.S. Representative Steve King, who has a long history of making racially charged remarks, faces a stiff re-election challenge after being largely abandoned by party leadership.

(Reporting by John Whitesides; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Peter Cooney)

In patchwork restart, parts of New York and other U.S. states reopen

By Doina Chiacu and Nathan Layne

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Less populated areas of New York, Virginia and Maryland took their first steps towards lifting lockdowns on Friday, part of a patchwork approach to the coronavirus pandemic that has been shaped by political divisions across the United States.

Construction and manufacturing facilities in five out of 10 New York state regions were given the green light to restart operations, although New York City, the country’s most populous metropolis, remained under strict limits.

Joe Dundon, whose construction business in Binghamton, New York, was able to start up again after shutting down in March, said he had a long backlog of kitchen and bathroom remodeling projects and several estimates lined up for Friday.

“We are more than excited to get back to work,” he said.

New York state, home to both bustling Manhattan and hilly woods and farmland that stretch to the Canadian border, has been the global epicenter of the pandemic but rural areas have not been nearly as badly affected as New York City.

Statewide, the outbreak is ebbing. Coronavirus hospitalizations in New York declined to 6,394, a third of the level at the peak one month ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday. The number of new coronavirus deaths was 132 on Thursday, the state’s lowest daily total since March 25, he told a news briefing.

Cuomo said New York would join the nearby states of New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware in partially reopening beaches for the Memorial Day holiday weekend on May 23-25.

Pockets of Virginia and Maryland were allowing an array of businesses to reopen, in contrast to the region’s biggest cities – Washington, D.C., and Baltimore – which extended their stay-at-home orders for fear of a spike in coronavirus cases and deaths.

The patchwork approach has largely formed along demographic and political lines. Republican governors have pushed to reopen more quickly to jumpstart the crippled economy, especially in Southern states such as Georgia and Texas which were among the first to allow stores and businesses to reopen.

Democratic governors have been more cautious, especially about big cities, citing concerns for public health from a virus that has killed more than 85,000 Americans.

New York and Virginia are run by Democratic governors while Maryland’s governor, Larry Hogan, is a moderate Republican in a state that is strongly Democratic.

PANDEMIC DIVISIONS

Political divisions were on display in Wisconsin this week after its Supreme Court invalidated the governor’s stay-at-home order, causing confusion as local leaders responded in various ways across the Midwestern state.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett decided to keep his city’s stay-at-home order in place, although he told Reuters he may relax some guidelines later this month. He said he was concerned there would be outbreaks in surrounding areas that would find their way into his city of nearly 600,000 people.

“By definition a pandemic means that it is everywhere and the spread of the disease does not stop at city boundaries,” Barrett said.

The eagerness to ease restrictions reflects the devastating economic toll of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. More than 36 million Americans have submitted unemployment claims since mid-March, and government data on Friday showed that retail sales plunged 16.4% last month, the biggest decline since the government started tracking the series in 1992.

The U.S. House of Representatives cleared the way on Friday to push ahead with a $3 trillion Democratic bill that would double the amount of aid approved by Congress to ease the human and economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

But it lacked support from Republicans, who control the U.S. Senate.

Having staked his Nov. 3 re-election hopes on a strong economy, Republican President Donald Trump has urged states to reopen despite warnings of health experts, including some on his White House task force, that a premature lifting of lockdowns could spark more virus outbreaks.

Trump said on Friday the U.S. government was working with other countries to develop a coronavirus vaccine at an accelerated pace but made clear his view that the country could move on from the epidemic without one.

“Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back,” Trump told an event in the White House Rose Garden.

Trump has also voiced support for protesters, sometimes armed, who have urged states to swiftly reopen their economies.

In Pennsylvania, hundreds of demonstrators gathered on the steps of the state capitol building in Harrisburg where they waved American and Trump 2020 flags and homemade signs, calling for the governor to fully reopen the state. Motorists including a man dressed as Santa Claus in a red convertible honked their horns in approval as they drove by.

Pennsylvania ranks 12th among U.S. states in COVID-19 cases per capita, according to a Reuters tally.

Thirty of its 67 counties are under a stay-at-home order that allows only essential business and travel to take place until June 4. Businesses are allowed to be open in the other 37 counties but must follow safety orders.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Howard Goller, Cynthia Osterman and Daniel Wallis)

Pandemic inflicts historic U.S. job losses, as states struggle to reopen

By Lucia Mutikani and Maria Caspani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic triggered the steepest monthly loss of U.S. jobs since the Great Depression, government data showed on Friday, while Michigan and California prepared to put people back to work after a manufacturing shutdown.

Labor Department data for April showed a rise in U.S. unemployment to 14.7% – up from 3.5% in February – demonstrating the speed of the U.S. economic collapse after stay-at-home policies were imposed in much of the country to curb the pathogen’s spread.

Worse economic news may yet come. White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett said the unemployment rate is likely to move up to around 20% this month.

The economic devastation has put a sense of urgency into efforts by U.S. states to get their economies moving again, even though infection rates and deaths are still climbing in some parts of the country.

At least 40 of the 50 U.S. states are taking steps to lift restrictions that had affected all but essential businesses.

Two manufacturing powerhouses, Michigan and California, outlined plans on Thursday to allow their industrial companies to begin reopening over the next few days.

Public health experts said reopening prematurely risks fueling fresh outbreaks. They also have raised concerns that a state-by-state hodgepodge of differing policies confuses the public and undermines social distancing efforts.

“If we make a mistake and react too quickly, the situation is only going to get worse,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told a news conference. “We have people who are dying.”

The virus has killed nearly 76,000 Americans with more than 1.26 million confirmed cases, according to a Reuters tally.

An astounding 20.5 million U.S. jobs were lost in April – the steepest loss since the Great Depression some 90 years ago – and the jobless rate broke the post-World War Two record of 10.8% in November 1982, the government said.

Just as the pathogen itself has hit black and Hispanic Americans particularly hard – they are overrepresented in the U.S. death toll relative to their population size – minorities also have suffered greater job losses during the crisis.

The April unemployment rate was 14.2% for white Americans, but the rate reached 16.7% among African Americans and 18.9% among Hispanic Americans, the data showed.

Adding to the pain, millions of Americans who have lost their jobs have been unable to register for unemployment benefits. A survey released last week by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found that up to 13.9 million people have been shut out of the unemployment benefits system.

‘JUST SO TENSE’

Rita Trivedi, 63, of Hudson, Florida, was furloughed as an analyst at Nielsen Media Research on April 23 and has struggled to secure benefits from the state’s troubled unemployment system. Trivedi worries that she does not have enough money to cover her husband’s medical bills and other expenses.

“I’m more than anxious, I’m more than worried – it’s ‘can’t sleep’ kind of anxious,” Trivedi said in an interview. “I’m just so tense thinking about these things and how to manage.”

Tom Bossert, Trump’s former White House homeland security adviser, said the national trend of new cases outside New York – where the situation has stabilized – was of great concern.

“What we’re looking for now is red flags for reopening, and unfortunately we’re seeing those red flags – about a 2 to 4% daily increase in the rest of the country when you take New York out of the analysis,” Bossert told ABC News.

That increase, if not contained, could lead to “really devastating results in the next 72 days,” Bossert added.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday gave the go-ahead to Michigan manufacturers to restart on Monday, removing a major obstacle to North American automakers seeking to bring thousands of idled employees back to work this month.

In California, her fellow Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom unveiled rules permitting manufacturers in his state – ranging from makers of computers, electronics and textiles to aerospace and chemical plants – to reopen as early as Friday.

President Donald Trump, seeking re-election in November, initially played down the threat posed by the coronavirus and has given inconsistent messages about how long the economic shutdown would last and the conditions under which states should reopen businesses.

“Those jobs will all be back, and they’ll be back very soon,” Trump told Fox News on Friday.

A member of Vice President Mike Pence’s staff has tested positive for the virus, briefly delaying Pence’s Friday flight to Iowa and prompting some fellow passengers on Air Force Two to disembark, according to a White House official.

Trump said certain White House staff members have started wearing masks, one day after the White House said his personal valet had tested positive.

As many as 75,000 Americans could die due to alcohol or drug misuse and suicide triggered by the pandemic, according to a report by the Well Being Trust, a national foundation working on mental health and wellbeing.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani, Jeff Mason, Mari Caspani, Andy Sullivan, Lisa Shumaker, Rajesh Kumar Singh and Susan Heavey; Writing by Will Dunham, Editing by Howard Goller)

U.S. states plow ahead with reopening; Trump warns death toll could hit 100,000

By Susan Heavey and Maria Caspani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ohio and other U.S. states on Monday planned to ease more restrictions on businesses even as President Donald Trump acknowledged that as many as 100,000 Americans could die in a pandemic that has also decimated the U.S. economy.

In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine was allowing construction and manufacturing to reopen on Monday, and letting office workers return. Retail shops and many consumer services were due to resume operations on May 12.

To reopen, businesses must meet state requirements that workers wear face coverings and stay at least six feet apart, and employers sanitize their workplaces. DeWine has urged as many workers as possible to work from home.

“It’s a delicate balance,” he told MSNBC on Monday.

About half of all U.S. states have lifted shutdowns, at least partially, as the number of new cases of the COVID-19 illness has begun to decline or level off in many places, though infections are still rising in others.

Health experts have warned of a possible resurgence of the virus if states rushed to restart their battered economies too early and without a widespread testing and tracing network in place.

COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, has infected more than 1.1 million people in the United States and killed nearly 68,000.

Trump late on Sunday acknowledged the U.S. death toll from the disease would exceed previous projections cited by the White House.

“We’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people. That’s a horrible thing,” Trump said on Fox News on Sunday night. As recently as Friday the president said he hoped fewer than 100,000 Americans would die and earlier in the week had talked of 60,000 to 70,000 deaths.

‘MIXED BAG’

Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said on Sunday the country was seeing a “mixed bag” of results from coronavirus mitigation efforts.

He said about 20 states had experienced a rising number of new cases including Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Virginia reported a record number of deaths on Sunday, up 44 for a total of 660.

“We expected that we would start seeing more significant declines in new cases and deaths around the nation at this point. And we’re just not seeing that,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “If we don’t snuff this out more and you have this slow burn of infection, it can ignite at any time.”

But Democratic Governor Jared Polis of Colorado on Monday said that residents could not be kept at home indefinitely.

“Stay-at-home is so unsustainable,” Polis told FOX News’s “Fox and Friends” program, adding that he hoped his state’s partial reopening that began on April 27 could help ease the burden on state unemployment benefit filings.

“We have to start being able to do this in a way that’s psychologically sustainable, economically sustainable, but also works form a health perspective so we don’t overwhelm our hospital system.”

A weekend of warm weather in many parts of the country put enforcement of social-distancing rules to the test in densely populated metropolitan areas such as New York City and Washington, D.C.

On Saturday, thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington to view a U.S. Navy flyover to honor healthcare workers and others battling the pandemic.

In New York City, the warmest weather yet this spring caused picnickers and sunbathers to flock to green spaces in Manhattan. Photos on social media showed crowded conditions at the Christopher Street Pier in Greenwich Village and other open spaces.

Last week, California ordered beaches in Orange County to close, after crowds defied public health guidelines to throng the popular shoreline. Police in the county’s Huntington Beach said people were complying on Sunday.

In a break from tradition caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday for the first time heard arguments in a case by teleconference – and even typically silent Justice Clarence Thomas asked questions.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington, Writing by Maria Caspani, Editing by Howard Goller)

U.S. top court rebuffs state bids to cut Planned Parenthood funds

FILE PHOTO: Healthcare activists with Planned Parenthood and the Center for American Progress pass by the Supreme Court as they protest in opposition to the Senate Republican healthcare bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected appeals by Louisiana and Kansas seeking to end public funding by those states to Planned Parenthood, a national women’s healthcare, and abortion provider, through the Medicaid program.

The justices left intact lower court rulings that prevented the two states from stripping government healthcare funding from local Planned Parenthood affiliates.

Three conservative justices, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, dissented from the decision by the nine-member court, saying it should have heard the appeals by the states.

The case is one of a number of disputes working their way up to the Supreme Court over state-imposed restrictions on abortion. The two states did not challenge the constitutionality of abortion itself.

Planned Parenthood’s affiliates in Louisiana do not perform abortions, but some in Kansas do. Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for low-income Americans, pays for abortions only in limited circumstances, such as when a woman’s life is in danger.

Louisiana and Kansas announced plans to terminate funding for Planned Parenthood through Medicaid after an anti-abortion group released videos in 2015 purporting to show Planned Parenthood executives negotiating the for-profit sale of fetal tissue and body parts. Planned Parenthood denied the allegations and said the videos were heavily edited and misleading.

The organization’s affiliates in each state, as well as several patients, sued in federal court to maintain the funding.

Legal battles over other laws from Republican-led states could reach the court in the next year or two. Some seek to ban abortions in early pregnancy, including Iowa’s prohibition after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Others impose difficult-to-meet regulations on abortion providers such as having formal ties, called admitting privileges, at a local hospital.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Waffle House shooting shows pitfalls in patchwork of U.S. gun laws

FILE PHOTO: Metro Davidson County Police inspect the scene of a fatal shooting at a Waffle House restaurant near Nashville, Tennessee, U.S., April 22, 2018. REUTERS/Harrison McClary

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – When Travis Reinking’s semi-automatic rifle was confiscated after his attempt to enter the White House last year, he simply moved from Illinois to nearby Tennessee where signs of mental illness are no bar to gun ownership.

How and when Reinking’s father returned the AR-15-style weapon and other firearms to his 29-year-old son, accused of shooting dead four people and wounding four at a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee remain unclear.

Confusing as well are the myriad of U.S. state gun laws that can make it difficult to stop crimes like Sunday’s mass shooting.

The U.S. federal system leaves it up to states to set most gun laws. Less than half of U.S. states require background checks before private sales, and only a small number require “universal checks” for all purchases, including at gun shows.

Virginia has improved mental health reporting after a 2007 college campus massacre but has no laws requiring firearms to be registered. Alaska, with the highest state rate of gun deaths per capita, does not allow firearms to be registered. Most states let residents carry firearms in public, and all states permit the carrying of concealed weapons in some form.

The assault on Sunday is the latest mass killing to stoke a fierce debate that pits gun control proponents against gun rights advocates who defend constitutional rights to own guns.

The debate has sharpened since the Feb. 14 shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. That massacre prompted an upsurge of teenage gun control activism, including a nationwide student walkout on April 20, two days before the Nashville shooting.

The discussion has aired demands for national laws that would provide uniformity, including regulations on the transport of guns from state to state, as with the Reinking case.

“We need to have national laws that protect against these over-the-border kinds of transfers,” said Illinois state Representative Kathleen Willis, a Democrat who is sponsoring “red flag” legislation to let family members request the seizure of firearms from relatives facing mental health problems.

MENTAL ILLNESS

The variety of ways that gun laws address mental illness has prompted concern. A study by Mother Jones magazine showed that in 62 mass shootings between 1982 and 2012, 38 of the shooters displayed signs of mental health problems before the killings.

Reinking himself has a troubled past. He believed that pop singer Taylor Swift was stalking him and threatened to kill himself, according to police records.

The National Rifle Association, the country’s most powerful gun-rights lobbying organization, says it supports legislation to ensure records of those judged mentally incompetent or “involuntarily committed to mental institutions” be made available for use in firearms transfer background checks.

“The NRA will support any reasonable step to fix America’s broken mental health system without intruding on the constitutional rights of Americans,” the group says on its website.

That support stops short of legislation like Willis’ red flag bill with its “insinuation that gun ownership makes you a danger to yourself or others,” the group said last month.

Illinois is unusual in giving law enforcement the right to revoke a gun license and take away guns from persons if their mental health appears to pose a danger. In Tennessee, like most states, police can only seize guns if a person is involuntarily committed to a mental health facility and judged a danger. Even then, the owner can keep their firearms.

In Reinking’s case, Illinois state police revoked his gun license, and his firearms were transferred to his father after U.S. Secret Service agents arrested him last year for being in a restricted area near the White House.

Authorities have not disclosed whether his father gave him back his guns in Illinois, where it would likely be a crime, or in Tennessee, where it would not.

The U.S. Congress has not passed any substantive national gun laws since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, due in large part to opposition from gun-rights groups.

Yet some gun-control advocates see steady movement towards uniform gun laws through actions at the state level.

“Our movement is chipping away and convincing lawmakers that they should be voting for public safety,” said Jonas Oransky deputy legal director of gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.

For example, after the Waffle House shooting, Tennessee lawmakers drafted legislation to make it illegal to buy or possess a gun if a person had been subject to “suspension, revocation or confiscation” in another state.

For Illinois lawmaker Willis, it is too little too late.

“All the red flags were there. They followed all the gun laws in Illinois,” she said. “Until we have national laws to restrict this, it’s not going to stop.”

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman)

Voters could legalize marijuana for quarter of all Americans

Pedestrians pass by a DC Cannabis Campaign sign in Washington

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – Nearly a quarter of Americans will live in areas where recreational marijuana use is legal if voters approve initiatives on Tuesday permitting the recreational use of cannabis in California, Massachusetts and three other states.

With pot already legal for use by adults in four states and the District of Columbia, a win for legalized marijuana in California alone would make the entire West Coast a cannabis-friendly zone, completing a geographical march begun in Washington state and Oregon.

Potential victories in Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine would fill in much of the rest of the West and extend recreational use to the Northeast. Opinion polls show voters favoring the initiative in all five states.

In addition, measures to legalize medical marijuana or expand its use are on the ballot in North Dakota, Montana, Arkansas and Florida.

An unnamed worker waters cannabis plants on Steve Dillon's farm in Humboldt County, California,

An unnamed worker waters cannabis plants on Steve Dillon’s farm in Humboldt County, California, U.S. August 28, 2016. REUTERS/Rory Carroll/File Photo

Twenty-five states already have legalized cannabis in some form, whether medical or recreational, or both.
In California, where medical marijuana has been legal since 1996, a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed 55 percent of likely voters supported a ballot initiative that would authorize the state to tax and regulate retail cannabis sales much like it does alcoholic beverages.

That was similar to the numbers favoring legalization from opinion polls in Massachusetts and Maine. Slimmer majorities or pluralities also point to legalization in Arizona and Nevada.

Approval by California alone, America’s most populous state with 39 million people, would put nearly a fifth of all Americans living in states where recreational marijuana is legal, according to U.S. Census figures. That number grows to more than 23 percent if all five state measures pass.

Backers of legalized marijuana sales have tried for decades to win support at the ballot box, with little success until the past few years, starting with victories in Colorado and Washington state in 2012.

Experts say the latest initiatives include more sophisticated regulatory mechanisms aimed at keeping cannabis away from children and banning the involvement of criminal gangs and drug cartels. Public opinion has rapidly swung toward favoring legalization.

“It’s changed in the minds of these voters from being like cocaine to being like beer,” said University of Southern California political scientist John Matsusaka.

Legalization by even a few of the states where measures are on the ballot could prod the federal government, which still classifies marijuana in the same category as heroin, to begin rethinking its laws and policies, Matsusaka said.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Peter Cooney)

 

 

 

U.S. states on Zika’s frontline see big gaps in funding

A Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District worker pours away stagnant water as she searches for mosquitoes in a backyard

By Julie Steenhuysen

(Reuters) – In Mississippi, a small team of entomologists has begun the first survey of mosquito populations in decades. Experts do not believe the kind of mosquitoes most likely to carry the Zika virus are active in the state, but they cannot know for sure.

By contrast, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, has been active since the late 1920s. With an annual budget of over $15 million, it now deploys four helicopters, two airplanes and 33 inspectors covering 125 square miles.

Because they are funded by local taxpayer dollars, U.S. mosquito control programs reflect deep economic disparities between communities, leaving some at-risk locations badly unprepared for the virus that is spreading through the Americas.

First detected in Brazil last year, Zika has been linked in that country to more than 1,300 cases of microcephaly, a rare birth defect defined by unusually small heads.

The outbreak is expected to reach the continental United States in the coming weeks as temperatures rise and mosquito populations multiply. In interviews with Reuters, more than a dozen state and local health officials and disease control experts say they worry they will have neither the money nor the time to plug gaping holes in the nation’s defenses.

They say the poorest communities along the Gulf of Mexico with a history of dengue outbreaks are at the highest risk.

States in the south are “woefully under-invested,” said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, epidemiologist for the Mississippi State Department of Health. “You have these gaping holes in capacity,” he said, with many poor communities mobilizing their first mosquito control efforts in years.

Among the best-prepared is Harris County, Texas, which includes the city of Houston. It dedicates $4.5 million a year to controlling disease carriers, or vectors, such as mosquitoes, ticks or rodents.

The 50-year-old program is considered one of the best in the country. Traps have been set up in 268 areas in the county to capture and catalog mosquitoes and test them for pesticide resistance. It is adding new traps for the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry Zika.

New York City plans to spend $21 million over three years to combat the virus. Aedes aegypti have never been found in the city, so its efforts will target Aedes albopictus, a mosquito believed to be capable of spreading the virus.

At the other end of the spectrum, some communities may only have a “Chuck in the truck” – someone who does spraying runs with a fogger attached to his pickup, said Stan Cope, president of the American Mosquito Control Association. Many municipalities do not even have that much.

The Obama administration has asked Congress for nearly $1.9 billion to fight Zika, including $453 million to assist with emergency response, laboratory capacity and mosquito control. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives and Senate have presented their own funding proposals, which each fall far short of that sum.

STOPGAP FUNDING

To help plug some of the gaps until Congress acts, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is adding $38 million to an existing infectious diseases grant program to expand lab testing capacity and surveillance for Zika.

For the first time, CDC will also provide an additional $15 million to help local programs most in need, CDC entomologist Janet McAllister told Reuters.

She said states’ proposals are due by the end of May and could cover funding for trucks, equipment and chemicals, as well as hiring contractors.

The CDC has also earmarked $25 million for at-risk states and territories, though the funds would primarily go health departments to help them deal with Zika cases.

But the CDC money is not expected to reach states until August at the earliest, late in the game to do mosquito surveillance.

The agency estimates that Aedes aegypti could be present in as many as 27 U.S. states, though the chief worry will be areas with recent dengue fever cases, McAllister said. Those include South Florida, South Texas, Southern California, areas along the U.S. border with Mexico, Louisiana and Hawaii. (Graphic: http://tmsnrt.rs/1QvaMW6)

Frank Welch, medical director for the office of community preparedness for Louisiana, a state with 64 different types of mosquitoes, said his concern was that federal emergency funding might get delayed until the fall.

“That would certainly be too late for immediate Zika preparedness,” he said.

DIFFERENT ANIMAL

Even communities with established, well-funded insect-fighting programs may lack the tools to prevent an outbreak.

“We don’t feel horribly confident that anybody in the world is very good at controlling these mosquitoes,” said Susanne Kluh, Scientific-Technical Services Director for the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District.

One reason is that most U.S. programs are designed to deal with nuisance mosquitoes or those carrying West Nile, which are controlled by spraying at night and dropping tablets that kill mosquito larvae into catch basins.

Confronting Aedes aegypti, a daytime biter that lives in and around homes and breeds in tiny containers of water, is more expensive and inherently less efficient.

“It’s a different animal. It requires a very different method to control,” said Michael Doyle, a former CDC entomologist who directs mosquito control in the Florida Keys.

In 2009, Doyle oversaw efforts to fight dengue, also carried by Aedes aegypti. Inspectors went door to door every week, dumping containers of water in back yards that could serve as breeding sites, spraying pesticides to kill adult mosquitoes and using a liquid non-toxic bacterial formulation to kill larvae. After every rainstorm, they continue to spray 80,000 acres with the larvicide.

That has proved expensive at $16 per acre (0.4 hectare) plus helicopter costs. The efforts have only reduced the Aedes aegypti mosquito population by half since 2010, which Doyle said is not enough to prevent disease transmission.

In California, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes arrived as recently as 2013 and have spread to seven counties from south of Fresno to San Diego. “It has really changed the manpower needs,” Kluh said.

Kluh said her district traditionally treats easily accessible public areas, such as catch basins, storm drains and the occasional swimming pool.

“This battle against these mosquitoes happens in every backyard and in tiny sources as small as a bottle cap filled with sprinkler water.”

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Tomasz Janowski)