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Consumer Daily Reports

Trusted reliable news sources from around the web. We offer special news reports, topic news videos, and related content stories. Truly a birds eye view on news.

Consumer News: Face coverings don’t make you immune to the coronavirus

Photo (c) Pollyana Ventura - Getty Images
Wearing a face covering may help reduce your risk of getting the coronavirus, but a mask shouldn’t be the only line of defense against the virus. Health officials are stressing that the masks aren’t a substitute for taking other precautions when out taking care of an essential task.

In a recent statement, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said face coverings “could provide some additional protection.” However, people should still make sure they are practicing federal guidance on social distancing while they wear a mask, he said. 

“Make sure you’re also staying 6 feet away from other people if you have to leave your home to get groceries or prescriptions,” Ghaly said.

Wearing a cloth face covering “could provide some additional benefit by acting as a reminder for other people to keep their distance, and it could help reduce the spread of infectious particles from those who could be infected but don’t have symptoms,” noted Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health. 

However, she said they should not be used as a substitute for frequent hand-washing, physical distancing, and trying to stay home as much as possible.

Cloth mask guidance to come

The latest words of caution from public health officials come ahead of an anticipated change to previous guidelines from the Trump administration. 

On Thursday, the president said his administration will likely alter the previous guidelines discouraging the use of face masks among those who don’t work in healthcare. The new guidance on face masks -- which is expected to be unveiled in the coming days -- will not be mandatory, according to the president. 

A draft copy of the policy seen by the Washington Post indicates that the CDC plans to encourage the use of cloth masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the draft version, the agency states that it  “… recommends the community use of cloth masks as an additional public health measure people can take to prevent the spread of virus to those around them.”

Read more ...

Consumer News: DOT mandates that airlines must offer refunds over vouchers for canceled flights during COVID-19 outbreak

Photo (c) Marta Ortiz - Getty Images
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to rage across the U.S., many industries are working to figure out how they can continue to do business. The airline industry, for example, has flipped back and forth between offering vouchers and refunds to travelers who have had their travel plans affected by the outbreak.

But some of the ambiguity over how carriers should be responding was put to rest on Friday. In an Enforcement Notice, the Department of Transportation (DOT) said that airlines will need to provide refunds to consumers in some cases.

“In the context of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency, that U.S. and foreign airlines remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers for flights to, within, or from the United States when the carrier cancels the passenger’s scheduled flight or makes a significant schedule change and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier,” the DOT commented in a news release.

“The obligation of airlines to provide refunds, including the ticket price and any optional fee charged for services a passenger is unable to use, does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control (e.g., a result of government restrictions).”

DOT to enforce compliance

As other federal regulators have found during the pandemic, the smart move is siding with the consumer, no matter what it takes and how much it costs.

The DOT says it was swamped with complaints and inquiries from ticketed passengers -- including many from travelers with non-refundable tickets -- who got nowhere asking the airlines for refunds; most carriers offered only vouchers or credit for future travel.

We probably haven’t seen the last of the DOT exercising its will, either. 

“Because the COVID-19 public health emergency has had an unprecedented impact on air travel, DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office will exercise its enforcement discretion and provide carriers with an opportunity to become compliant before taking further action,” the Department wrote.

“However, the Aviation Enforcement Office will monitor airlines’ refund policies and practices and take enforcement action as necessary.”  

Southwest backs down following backlash

The DOT’s actions are sure to be popular among travelers, who have lashed out at companies in cases where they thought they deserved a refund. 

Southwest, for example, found out that it was on the verge of becoming Southworst for sticking to its guns regarding its no-refund policy for EarlyBird fees. That is until the clamor from unhappy Southwest customers got to be so loud that the airline had no choice but to reverse course and announced a temporary change.

Prior to the DOT’s announcement, the airline posted a revamped policy on its community forum which stated that passengers with travel dates between Mar 1, 2020 - May 31, 2020 who cancel their reservations can request a credit for EarlyBird fees paid. The company said the voucher would be good for one year and could be used for a future flight (however, not for Early Bird fees).

Southwest typically gets good reviews from ConsumerAffairs reviewers, and this move is a bit of a head-scratcher in light of the pro-consumer moves we’ve watched the airline make over the years -- not to mention the share of positive tweets Southwest has gotten since the COVID outbreak began. ConsumerAffairs reached out to the Southwest and received the following explanation on the carrier’s stance, though it may be subject to change given the new regulatory stance from the DOT:

For all Customers with travel dates between March 1, 2020 and May 31, 2020:

Customers may now request a Southwest LUV Voucher in the amount of the non-refundable EarlyBird purchase(s) on the booking record. The voucher will be issued to the purchaser of the reservation (not each flyer), upon request, and may be applied toward future Southwest fares, excluding government-imposed segment fees, taxes, or ancillary products such as EarlyBird. The voucher is valid for one year from the date of issuance.

We hope this new exception provides more flexibility for our Customers who purchased EarlyBird but choose not to travel during these dynamic times. We look forward to welcoming each Customer onboard another Southwest flight one day very soon.

Read more ...

Consumer News: Marijuana use could negatively impact fertility, study suggests

Photo (c) juankphoto - Getty Images
While researchers have highlighted the risks associated with using marijuana while pregnant, a new study has explored how the drug can affect fertility. 

According to researchers from the Endocrine Society, exposure to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the primary component of marijuana, can limit the number of viable eggs women have.

“Currently, patients seeking infertility treatments are advised against cannabis use, but the scientific evidence backing this statement is weak,” said researcher Megan Misner. “This makes it difficult for physicians to properly advise patients undergoing in vitro fertilization.” 

Fertility risks

The researchers came to their findings after exploring the effect of marijuana on female cows’ eggs. Some of the eggs were treated with a recreational amount of THC, while others were given medical-grade doses of the drug. The researchers then tracked the eggs’ progress, evaluating them at various points to see how exposure to the drug affected their development. 

Their study revealed that exposure to THC was not only associated with a reduced likelihood of a fertilized embryo, but the drug was responsible for affecting over 60 genes in the treated eggs. 

“This implies lower quality and lower fertilization capability, therefore lower fertility in the end,” said Misner. 

Misner and her team found two other key indicators of a reduced likelihood of infertility: one was the lower number of genes known as connexins, and the other was the eggs’ inability to reach critical developmental stages. 

The researchers explained that higher levels of connexins typically predict a higher chance of fertility, while the gradual maturation process of the eggs is key for fertilization. At higher levels of THC exposure, the eggs were less likely to be able to carry out their regular functions. 

“This embryo would be less likely to proceed past the first week of development, and thus lead to infertility,” Misner said. 

Read more ...

Consumer News: Coronavirus update: Worldwide cases top 1 million, checks going out to small businesses

Photo (c) ChakisAtelier - Getty Images
Coronavirus (COVID-19) tally as compiled by Johns Hopkins University. (Previous numbers in parentheses.)

Total U.S. confirmed cases: 257,773 (226,374)

Total U.S. deaths: 6,586 (5,316)

Total global cases: 1,056,777  (981,221)

Total global deaths: 55,781 (50,230)

1 million and counting

As you can see from the above chart, worldwide coronavirus (COVID-19) cases have passed the 1 million mark and today are growing at the fastest rate since the pandemic began.

The U.S. has the most cases of any country -- more than double the number in China where the virus originated -- despite having a significantly smaller population. About a third of the U.S. cases and deaths from the virus are in the state of New York.  

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says 562 New Yorkers died from the virus in the last 24 hours. Meanwhile, the governors of Tennessee and Washington are moving to strengthen the lockdowns in their states to slow the spread of the virus.

Small business relief starts today

Banks affiliated with the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 7(a) loan program began writing checks today to small businesses in their area as the government’s aid to businesses impacted by the pandemic began.

As part of the CARES Act, Congress has appropriated $350 billion in loans to businesses with 500 or fewer employees. The money can be used to pay rent, utilities, and payroll over a two-month period. If the borrower doesn’t lay off any employees in that time, the loan will be forgiven.

But CNBC reports the program is off to an uneven start, pointing to “widespread confusion” among both banks and borrowers. Borrowers report getting conflicting messages from their lenders. Despite the reported confusion, banks had dispensed more than $875 million by noon today.

Dr. Fauci cautions against ‘miracle drug’ hopes

Pharmaceutical companies may find an effective treatment for the coronavirus, but the highly touted malaria drug hydroxychloroquine may not be it. 

That’s the assessment from Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force. He warns Americans against assuming that the drug, which has been around for decades, is a “knockout drug”  in this fight.

“We still need to do the definitive studies to determine whether any intervention, not just this one, is truly safe and effective,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAD), told Fox News. “But when you don’t have that information, it’s understandable why people might want to take something anyway even with the slightest hint of being effective.”

From retainers to surgical masks

Teledentistry firm byte has offered its facilities in Ardmore, Olka., and Redlands, Calif., to begin turning out masks, face shields, and ventilator parts to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. 

The company’s digital labs and partner facilities currently produce dental specialty products, including dental aligners, and feature over 150 Juell3D printers. These printers will now be used to help make custom parts that are in short supply for healthcare providers across the country.

“During this unprecedented time, we want to do everything we can, in whatever way possible, to step up and contribute,” said byte co-founder Scott Cohen. “Every day, we hear of medical supply shortages across the country that are hindering medical professionals from doing their jobs, and we hope this initiative will alleviate some of these shortages. We will continue to do everything in our power to help.”

Around the nation

  • Michigan: Oakland County Circuit Judge Leo Bowman has reportedly thrown two people in jail this week for being late to court, even though the pandemic has shut down most mass transit. The Detroit Free Press reports that the judge is getting some serious shame from the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and lawyers for the jailed defendants.

  • Florida: State officials have relented and allowed a cruise liner with infected passengers to dock today. Fourteen critically ill passengers were removed from the ship on stretchers and taken to area hospitals, which are already reeling from a surge in virus cases.

  • Utah: Tech startups in the state are working with health officials to help predict where the coronavirus will strike next in the state. The goal is to prevent so-called hot spots from flaring up. So far, Utah has avoided a large number of cases.

Read more ...

Consumer News: Toyota recalls model year 2020 Highlanders with fuel supply issue

Photo source: Toyota
Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing is recalling 38,810 model year 2020 Highlanders with a 3.5 L, V6 (2GR-FKS) gasoline engine.

Due to an Engine Control Unit (ECU) programming error, fuel may not be correctly supplied to the engine while using the stop and restart feature.

Improper fuel supply programming can result in a vehicle stall, increasing the risk of a crash.

What to do

Toyota will notify owners, and dealers will reprogram the ECU free of charge.

The recall is expected to begin April 24, 2020.

Owners may contact Toyota customer service at (888) 270-9371. Toyota's number for this recall is 20TA06.

Read more ...

Consumer News: Stimulus checks may go out April 9, but some taxpayers may need to wait months to get one

Photo (c) MicroPixieStock - Getty Images
One of the bigger consumer questions looming around the coronavirus pandemic is when am I going to get that stimulus check the government promised?

Depending on the day and who you talk to, that answer keeps changing. And, guess what -- it’s changed again. 

According to a report in The Washington Post, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) now plans to send out $1,200 coronavirus stimulus payments beginning Thursday, April 9, with deposits being made by Tuesday, April 14 at the latest.

But that April 9 date is for ELECTRONIC payments and appears to be only a sure bet for Americans who have used direct deposit for tax refunds in the past. For taxpayers who didn’t go the direct deposit route, their stimulus check could take as long as five months -- in other words, right before Labor Day -- according to an internal IRS document obtained by The Post.

"If we know where to put the money, we're going to press the button and put it there next week," an anonymous IRS official told the publication.

“As quickly as possible.,..”

While the IRS offered no confirmation of the Post’s story, it did post a request on Friday morning that asked taxpayers to follow the agency’s official social media accounts to get the latest and most accurate updates on the economic impact payments. 

"The IRS is committed to sharing information as quickly as possible about the economic impact payments and other tax issues related to the coronavirus," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. "IRS social media channels offer taxpayers and others another fast, easy option to get the latest details as the IRS employees continue to work hard to support the nation."

The social media tools the IRS uses -- and requests taxpayers follow -- include:

For taxpayers who are tethered to their phones, the IRS also has a free mobile app called IRS2Go. On the app, taxpayers can check their refund status, pay taxes, find free tax help, watch IRS YouTube videos, and even get tax tips. 

The app is available on the Google Play Store for Android devices and on the Apple App Store for Apple devices. The app is also available in both English and Spanish.

Read more ...

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