Your Thursday Update: Hertz Board Scraps Stock Sale, Orange County Face Mask Mandate, UF Eliminates “Gator Bait” Cheer, Florida Cases Jump by More Than 3,000
Persistently high layoffs suggest a slow US economic rebound
WASHINGTON (AP) — Three months after the viral outbreak shut down businesses across the country, U.S. employers are still shedding jobs at a heavy rate, a trend that points to a slow and prolonged recovery from the recession.
The number of laid-off workers seeking unemployment benefits barely fell last week to 1.5 million.
That figure was down from a peak of nearly 7 million in March, and it marked an 11th straight weekly drop.
But the number is still more than twice the record high that existed before the pandemic. And the total number of people receiving jobless aid remains a lofty 20.5 million.
Our Daily Breather: Daily practices for staying sane during the pandemic
Hertz board scraps planned $500M stock sale amid SEC review
The Associated Press
Hertz has scrapped a plan to sell $500 million worth of stock, a move coming a day after the car rental company in the throes of bankruptcy reorganization disclosed that federal regulators were reviewing the proposed offering.
In a regulatory filing Thursday, Hertz said that its board of directors determined that ditching the stock offering was in the best interests of the company.
Trading in Hertz shares were halted for several hours for the second day in a row Thursday and resumed following the disclosure. They ended down 10% at $1.80.
Hertz’s stock had been surging, climbing 80% this month, but remains down more than 88% this year.
Florida governor suggests closing schools during elections
The Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida could close schools during the state’s primary in August and during the presidential election in November under an executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The governor said he also is encouraging state workers to staff precincts.
The action was meant to provide more flexibility to elections officials across the state, who are worried that the coronavirus outbreak could pose challenges during key elections this year.
Elections officials said the governor’s order fell short of expections. They were hoping for consolidated voting sites and that the governor would allow voting to start sooner so they could begin counting absentee ballots earlier.
Orange County face mask mandate takes effect Saturday at midnight
Danielle Prieur, WMFE
Starting Saturday at midnight anyone working, visiting or living in Orange County will be required to wear a face covering in public.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings says he realizes Gov. Ron DeSantis is committed to reopening Florida, but the county needs to reduce cases first.
Demings says most of the recent positive test results are in people between the ages of 20 and 39-with the average age around 29 years old.
ATTN: Orange County small businesses. We’ll be distributing free PPE June 24-26. To receive PPE for your business, please visit https://t.co/T5YWHPXNrR for more information.
— Orange County FL (@OrangeCoFL) June 18, 2020
“So we’re going to have to put an increased emphasis on making certain that that demographic begins to wear a mask in greater numbers.”
Demings says if case numbers continue to rise, additional measures will be taken to stop community transmission of COVID-19.
He said in order to make sure employees at small businesses have face masks-the county will be distributing PPE kits Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of next week.
UF eliminates ‘Gator Bait’ cheer at sporting events…once games resume
Joe Byrnes, WMFE
The University of Florida has eliminated the “Gator Bait” cheer at sporting events as part of a larger effort to combat racism.
UF President Kent Fuchs says there’s no evidence that Gator fans mean anything racist by it, but the term is associated with “horrific historic racist imagery.”
It was used in drawings and songs in reference to black children.
Fuchs announced several steps Thursday toward what he calls “positive change against racism.”
They include training, research grants, speakers, town halls, retention and recruitment efforts, community outreach, police policy reviews, the removal of any Confederate monuments and the banning of prison farm labor.
Florida cases rise by more than 3,000 as three die in Lake County
Joe Byrnes, WMFE
Florida reported 3,207 new coronavirus cases Thursday, its biggest daily increase so far.
The death toll climbed by 43, to 3,061.
In Central Florida, six more people have died, including three from Lake County.
Following an outbreak at the jail, the number of Lake County cases has shot up to 568.
And 19 residents have died. The latest victims include a 103-year-old woman, a 55-year-old woman and a 74-year-old man.
Administrator Aaron Kissler says the health department recently distributed 67,000 masks.
“We continue to spread the message that everyone should be wearing masks in public, especially if you cannot practice social distancing all the time,” he said.
Kissler says his department is in “yellow-light mode.”
Earlier this week, he told the County Commission that hospitalizations were OK and holding steady.
“But,” he said, “we will have to watch that in the next couple of weeks because as our cases go up there’s usually a delayed effect of a couple of weeks at the hospitals.”
He is very concerned as the case numbers increase across Florida.
In historic, non-coronavirus news: Supreme Court upholds DACA
Nina Totenberg, NPR
A narrowly divided Supreme Court extended Thursday a life-support line to some 650,000 so-called “Dreamers,” allowing them to remain safe from deportation for now, while the Trump administration jumps through the administrative hoops that the court said are required before ending the program.
The vote was 5-to-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts casting the decisive fifth vote that sought to bridge the liberal and conservative wings of the court.
Roberts and the court’s four liberal justices said the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to rescind DACA was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act. (Read the decision here.)
Begun in 2012, the DACA program gave temporary protection from deportation to qualified individuals brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Under the program, the “Dreamers” were allowed to work legally and apply for college loans if they met certain requirements and passed a background check.
President Trump sought to end the program shortly after he took office, maintaining that it was illegal and unconstitutional from the start.
But he was blocked by the lower courts and appealed to the Supreme Court, where Thursday the justices divided over both substance and timing.
The muddled state of play likely prevents the administration from enacting any plans to begin deportations immediately, but there is little doubt that should President Trump be reelected, the second term president almost certainly would seek to end the program.
The court’s decision presents a particularly delicate political problem for congressional Republicans just four months before the national election in November.
Read the full article here.
Old Crow Medicine Show’s Ketch Secor writes a new song for a troubled America
David Greene, NPR
First, a pandemic, then economic collapse and now there are mass demonstrations over police brutality and racism.
In times of upheaval like this, music can be an escape. Maybe a way to reflect or try to make sense of things. This is what led to a new series we’re launching today. For the Morning Edition Song Project, we’ve been asking musicians to write and perform an original song for us.
“What I really wanted to do was to write a song that felt like ‘God Bless America,’ but I also wanted to have a little ‘This Land is Your Land,’ too,” says Ketch Secor, the lead singer of Old Crow Medicine Show and the first guest in the series.
“I think we, as songwriters, got to keep adding to the canon of songs about America because we need to update it,” he says. “These are troubling times and we need new songs about our country to inspire unity.”
When we approached Secor some weeks ago, we asked him to write a song about the pandemic. The demonstrations sparked by the police killing of George Floyd hadn’t started yet.
The song Secor wrote is called “Pray for America,” and he hopes it speaks to this moment as well.
“You know when you write music, you’re trying to make universal statements. Great songs like ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ they’re not about particular vantage points, they’re not about any particular side or affiliation,” he says. “Great songs are there for all to enjoy, and for all to see themselves in. So writing a song about COVID-19, if it’s any good, it ought to be able to translate from a global pandemic to a cry for justice.”
As states reopen, do they have the workforce they need to stop coronavirus outbreaks?
Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR
An NPR survey of state health departments shows that the national coronavirus contact tracing workforce has tripled in the past six weeks, from 11,142 workers to 37,110. Yet given their current case counts, only seven states and the District of Columbia are staffed to the level public health researchers say is needed to contain outbreaks.
Contact tracers are public health workers who reach out to each new positive coronavirus case, track down their contacts and connect both the sick person and those who were exposed with the services they need to be able to safely isolate themselves. This is an essential part of stamping out emerging outbreaks.
To understand how that picture had changed since NPR’s initial contact tracing survey in late April, NPR reached out again to all state health departments, as well as Washington, D.C., and the U.S. territories. In total, NPR reporters were able to assemble data from all 50 states along with D.C., Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Many states are still planning to hire more contact tracers, reassign existing government staff or train outside volunteers. Some already have a bank of trained staff or volunteers in waiting, able to pivot to tracing contacts if new positive cases spike. Many of them are relying on the National Guard, AmeriCorps, volunteers or part-time workers to fill these ranks. With the plans to hire and reserve staff, the national workforce grows to 68,525 contact tracers.
Read the full article here.
1.5 million more laid-off workers seek unemployment benefits
WASHINGTON (AP) — About 1.5 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, a historically high number, even as the economy increasingly reopens and employers bring some people back to work.
The latest figure from the Labor Department marks the 11th straight weekly decline in applications since they peaked at nearly 7 million in March as the coronavirus shut down much of the economy and caused tens of millions of layoffs.
The decline was much smaller than in recent weeks, falling just 58,000.
Economic analyst says restarting the economy, maintaining public health aren’t necessarily at odds
Nicole Darden Creston, WMFE
The state of Florida has reported its second-highest number of new cases in one day – 2,610 for Wednesday, which comes just one day after a new record high was set. This follows nearly three weeks of new cases totaling more than one thousand per day.
As case counts continue to climb, economic analyst Hank Fishkind says some hotspots in the Sunshine State may be forced into another shutdown.
But he says the two main goals of recovery – restarting the economy and maintaining public health – are not necessarily at odds.
“No, they only appear to be in the very short run. But if this virus really gets out of hand, we’re going to not be able to maintain our economy, too many people will be sick, there will be too many problems in our healthcare system. We can’t have a healthy economy without having a healthy population,” Fishkind said.
Fishkind says along with a reopening slowdown and more robust testing, he proposes a “Certified Safe” program to enhance shoppers’ peace of mind.
The process would include a health inspection and certification would only be awarded when a business meets standardized safety measures.
How other countries handled their jobs crises
The Indicator, NPR
There are about 21 million fewer people with jobs in the U.S. than there were back in February, right before coronavirus hit and began devastating the economy.
Did it have to be this way? Were there policies that could have prevented this catastrophe in the labor market while the virus was attacking the country’s public health?
One way to think about that question is to compare what happened in the U.S. to what happened in other countries. Martha Gimbel of Schmidt Futures compared America’s response to that of Germany, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Canada and Australia. Today she tells us which countries did better than others at keeping people employed. And she shares with us an idea that seems to be working in some of those countries — an idea that could be used a lot more in the U.S., if only more businesses and workers would try it.
Target makes extra coronavirus pay permanent, boosts hourly minimum to $15
Alina Selyukh, NPR
Target is raising its starting wage to $15 an hour, making permanent a $2 salary bump the company gave its U.S. workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
The retailer had previously planned to reach the $15-an-hour minimum by the end of 2020, but on Wednesday said the new pay minimum will kick in on July 5 instead. Target’s announcement comes as its “hazard pay” was slated to expire — after several extensions — at a time when many essential retailers have phased out their pandemic bonuses.
“Everything we aspire to do and be as a company builds on the central role our team members play in our strategy, their dedication to our purpose and the connection they create with our guests and communities,” CEO Brian Cornell said in a statement.
The new minimum will apply to all hourly full-time and part-time workers at stores, distribution centers and headquarters, Target said. The company had started phasing in wage increases in 2011, starting at $11 an hour and reaching $13 last year.
Among Target’s competitors, Amazon raised its starting salary to $15 an hour in 2018. That same year, Walmart raised its minimum pay to $11 an hour. Costco announced its $15 minimum in 2019. The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, though some states and cities have surpassed it.
Target, which has seen a massive surge in demand as it remained open during the pandemic, on Wednesday also said it will pay a one-time “recognition bonus” of $200 to eligible frontline workers and touted other perks.
Mayor Kriseman orders St. Pete workers to wear masks
Alysia Cruz, WUSF
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is continuing to ease restrictions related to the coronavirus, even as the state is seeing record increases in new cases of COVID-19.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman responded with an order requiring workers inside city limits to wear a mask starting Friday night.
Mayor Kriseman says young adults are letting their guard down. And coronavirus is spreading at several downtown establishments that closed after employees tested positive this past week.
He criticizes the governor who is attributing increases to more testing or isolated batches of positive tests at places like farms and prisons.
“He doesn’t seem to be very flexible and doesn’t seem to be paying attention to what’s happening in the state of Florida right now. And is not taking the data and the increases that we’re seeing in our percentages into consideration, and that’s problematic. And it’s forcing mayors like me and mayors around the state of Florida to take additional actions,” Kriseman said.
Kriseman says he may expand his order and require city residents to wear masks in public as soon as next week.
The cameras are rolling on “The Bold and The Beautiful”
Mandalit Del Barco, NPR
The CBS soap opera “The Bold and The Beautiful” resumed taping today, three months after the coronavirus pandemic shut down production in Hollywood. A spokesperson for the production company says it’s the first scripted series in the country to resume work on set.
The cast and crew of the daytime drama are back shooting in Los Angeles, following safety protocols set by union, city, county and state guidelines. That includes regular coronavirus testing of the cast and crew, fewer crew members on set and a COVID-19 coordinator to monitor compliance on set at all times. Actors are required to wear face masks when the cameras are not rolling and they will have to stand eight feet apart.
“We’re so excited to get back to work,” says actress Heather Tom, who plays the character Katie Logan. “And we were just positioned to go back as soon as they gave us the green light,” as the show’s producers and writers have been planning for safely resuming work on set for months. Tom says they’ve come up with creative ideas for taping all those love scenes that are such a staple of the genre. “We are used to… playing romance without having to be all over each other,” she says. “I think we can do lots with the smoldering look and the slow burn.”
CBS has been airing reruns of the daytime drama since production shut down on March 13 and the well of fresh episodes ran dry in April. On the last episode taped before lock down, Penny had knocked Flo unconscious and she and Sally dragged her outside in a panic, just as Wyatt returned home. Fans of “The Bold and the Beautiful,” which premiered in 1987, may have to wait until July to find out what happens next.
Masks now required inside businesses in the Keys
Nancy Klingener, WLRN
If you’re headed for the Florida Keys you should make sure to pack some sunscreen, maybe a bathing suit – and a mask.
Earlier this month, right after the Keys reopened to visitors, Monroe County Commissioners voted three to two against making masks mandatory inside businesses. They did recommend the wearing of masks.
But after a couple weeks of watching how people are behaving, they decided to revisit the issue.
Bob Eadie is the administrator of the state health department in the Keys.
“If anyone has been down Duval Street the last few days, you’ll notice that not only do I not see people wearing masks, I don’t even see people carrying masks,” Eadie said.
The Keys have had a low number of coronavirus infections – but also have very limited health care capacity, with three small hospitals, one of which is a temporary facility.
Spencer Krenke is with a group called the Masks in Public Project.
“Unfortunately, after the last three weeks, just watching what’s going on, I don’t believe visitors have respect for how fragile and limited our health care community really is,” Krenke said.
Commissioners voted unanimously to require masks inside of businesses. There are exceptions, for eating and drinking or working out at least six feet from other people.
The new rules apply immediately and are countywide. Local cities can opt out.
Gov. Ron DeSantis says agriculture workers caused spike in Florida’s COVID-19 numbers
Veronica Zaragovia, WLRN
Florida’s positive COVID-19 cases continue to spike.
At a press conference in Tallahassee this week, Governor Ron DeSantis listed reasons like more testing of inmates. And at long-term care facilities. And also workplace testing of employees without symptoms.
He also cited another group that he said is leading to more positive tests.
DeSantis said farm and construction workers are quote “overwhelmingly Hispanic workers and day laborers…”
“Some of these guys, they go to work in a school bus, and they’re all just like packed there like sardines going across like Palm Beach County or some of these other places and all of these opportunities to have transmission,” DeSantis said.
“No empujaron lo suficiente y legaron tarde los recursos, y ahora vemos que si, estamos en un punto alto.”
That’s Nely Rodriguez, an organizer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. She says the state waited too long to send resources to farm laborers.
The coalition has a petition on Change.org with more than 43,000 signatures asking state, federal and local officials for a field hospital, protective gear and funds so these workers can take time off from work to recover.
In a statement to WLRN, the Florida Health Department says it is “distributing cloth face coverings and COVID-19 testing opportunities.”
Most harvests are over now, and workers have moved on to other states. They usually return by the start of the school year.
With season still in jeopardy, Fauci says MLB should finish before fall
Austin Horn, NPR
While it’s still unclear when, if ever, Major League Baseball will play a 2020 season, a new recommendation from Dr. Anthony Fauci may have the league consider an earlier ending.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times that he would recommend the league finish its postseason before October.
“If the question is time, I would try to keep it in the core summer months and end it not with the way we play the World Series, until the end of October when it’s cold,” Fauci told the LA Times. “I would avoid that.”
The league, which usually starts play in April and ends in October, put opening day on hold back in March along with most major sports organizations. Though as states lifted restrictions, the league began eyeing a date to get the season underway. Unfortunately for fans, however, teams and the player’s union have been unable to agree on a schedule.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has also wavered in his confidence of a 2020 season, going from asserting that he was “100 %” certain to saying this year might not see any MLB games, according to the Associated Press.
Noting that the warmer states of California and Arizona are starting to see resurgences as they open, Fauci said the spread of the coronavirus is still a major threat during the summer months. Unlike in summer, however, a season that bled into winter would have to face the dual threat of the pandemic and flu season.
“If you look at the kinds of things that could happen, there’s no guarantee of anything. You would want to do it at a time when there isn’t the overlap between influenza and the possibility of a fall second wave, ” Fauci said.
Playing games amid both a pandemic and flu season, Fauci went on to say, is also only one of the risks a cold weather baseball season may entail.
“Under most circumstances — but we don’t know for sure here — viruses do better when the weather starts to get colder and people start spending more time inside, as opposed to outside,” Fauci said. “The community has a greater chance of getting infected. ”
Fauci was quick to point out, though, that “safety is just one concern among many.” Money disputes between players and owners have loomed largest in recent debates over when many professional sports organizations will resume play.
Judge denies request to force coronavirus safety measures at Trump’s Tulsa rally
Brakkton Booker, NPR
A group of Tulsa, Okla., residents, businesses and nonprofits tried to force event organizers to enforce social distancing protocols for this weekend’s upcoming campaign rally for President Trump. In a lawsuit, they said the rally, which is to take place at an indoor arena, could act as a superspreader event for the coronavirus.
But a Tulsa judge rejected their effort Tuesday, as Public Radio Tulsa reported.
The lawsuit said the event, as it is currently planned, “will endanger not only the health of the guests in attendance … but the entire Tulsa community and any community to which guests may afterward travel.”
The rally is scheduled to take place at the BOK Center, which is run by ASM Global and has 19,000 seats.
The plaintiffs said that ASM Global does not have adequate safeguards in place.
“If ASM Global moves forward with the event without adequate review, planning, training, protective equipment, and safeguards, cases of COVID-19 — and the unavoidable attendant deaths — will rise,” the lawsuit said.
A spokesperson for the BOK Center told The Washington Post that “government officials have advised that the campaign rally as planned is consistent with the guidance [from state authorities] for entertainment venues.” She added that “in the event that the governing authorities impose new restrictions, we will notify the event organizers immediately.”
There has been controversy surrounding the rally since it was announced. There are mounting concerns about the spread of the virus but also fears that Trump’s presence in the city will inflame racial tensions.
Before Trump moved his campaign rally to Saturday, it had been scheduled for June 19, also known as Juneteenth. It’s a date that commemorates the effective end of slavery in the United States.
Tulsa is also where one of the nation’s bloodiest massacres took place nearly 100 years ago.
Read the full article here.
Democrats call for more guidance on returning to work safely
Regan McCarthy, WFSU
While Governor Ron DeSantis says he won’t consider rolling back reopening plans even as the number of Florida coronavirus cases spike, others are calling for more safety measures for workers heading back to their jobs.
In a recent press conference with fellow Democrats, Miami Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez said everyone wants to get back to work, but they want to do so safely.
“There is a sense that a lot of people are being rushed back to work without first putting in place guidance—strong guidance for employers and especially small business owners on what it means to have a safe workplace. Without that guidance, a lot of businesses are going into a competitive environment trying to reopen and not knowing how far they have to go to protect their customers and employees,” Rodriguez said.
During a press conference Tuesday DeSantis said it doesn’t make sense to keep “working-age” people from returning to their jobs since he says people younger than 65 are less likely to suffer negative impacts from the coronavirus.
DeSantis said the reason for many of the mitigation efforts was to keep the state’s hospital system from getting overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. He says that is no longer a concern.
A day after promising deep cuts, DeSantis gets state budget
Lynn Hatter, WFSU
Governor Ron DeSantis has received the legislature’s spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.
The delivery comes a day after DeSantis warned of looming budget cuts. He told reporters he’s trying to preserve state worker and teacher pay raises, but the cuts will be coming:
“There’s going to be a lot more vetoes… It’s kind of the veto equivalent of the Red Wedding from Game of Thrones. There’s going to be things in my budget that I’m definitely going to veto. Just because the fiscal picture is different. I think we’re probably, hopefully going to recover quicker than we thought two months ago,” DeSantis said.
The state has lost nearly $890 million dollars in revenue and that number is expected to climb even higher, even as businesses reopen.
DeSantis is hoping for a quick recovery. He doesn’t anticipate lawmakers will have to return to Tallahassee early to address the budget and says the state will use some federal money to plug the budget holes.
Our Daily Breather: How to keep moving during the pandemic
Our Daily Breather was a daily series where we asked writers and artists to recommend one thing that’s helped them get through the days of isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. The series concluded on June 13, 2020. Many writers and artists suggested running, working out and other physical activities; here, we’ve collected some of their recommendations.
The Advice That Keeps One Runner ‘Showing Up’ During Uncertain Times
Who: Lyndsey McKenna
Where: Washington, D.C.
Lyndsey McKenna has been taking inspiration from Boston Marathon winner Des Linden: “‘Once I got over the fact that I wasn’t going to drop out, it was like, “Just show up for one more mile,”‘ Linden told NPR. ‘Show up for one more minute.’ It was a mantra Linden had shared earlier in her training cycle; her historic victory was proof of the possibilities that present themselves when you make that decision.
Ever since then, I’ve kept a Post-It note with those words at my desk at NPR HQ. Of course, I haven’t seen the actual Post-It in months, but that simple phrase feels even more powerful these days when I lace up for a long run.”
Read the full list of recommendations here.
State to require expanded nursing home coronavirus testing
Tom Urban, WLRN
Nursing home and assisted living facility staff will be required to be tested for COVID-19 every two weeks, under a pair of emergency rules issued by Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration Wednesday.
Facilities that don’t comply with the emergency rules could have their licenses revoked or suspended, while facing administrative fines.
The new rules reinforce the focus DeSantis has placed on trying to slow the spread of coronavirus in facilities that house many of the state’s most vulnerable residents.
“You test once and you’re negative, that’s great, but you can get it two weeks later. So, to constantly go back to the staff, which will be the entry point for this, is something that is very, very significant,” DeSantis said.
There were just shy of 4,200 long-term care residents with COVID-19 and more than 2,400 infected staff members, as of June 16.
Sixty-one percent of residents with coronavirus have been transferred out of the facilities where they contracted the disease, and into hospitals or other state designated COVID-19 facilities.
Frontline workers seek better protection and pay
Tom Urban, WLRN
Frontline workers rallied alongside organized labor in Tallahassee Wednesday, asking for more money and stronger safety protections, as they return to work amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Starting at a shopping mall, a caravan of about two dozen cars drove past the state capitol, honking and holding signs asking for better benefits, hazard pay, and better access to personal protective equipment.
Labor leaders hope the pandemic and its health and economic fallout will lead lawmakers to expand Medicaid to low-income Floridians during the 2021 session, an idea that has failed in the legislature for the past decade.
Florida AFL-CIO spokesman Michael Newberger says many essential restaurant, grocery store, and farm workers have little to no healthcare coverage or sick leave, if they get COVID-19.
He also feels some business owners are not taking the pandemic seriously.
“As Florida, among other states, is reopening, workers need to be confident that they can return to their workplace and have proper protective equipment, social distancing and making sure that this virus doesn’t spread anymore,” Newberger said.
Those in the caravan also say Florida’s unemployment spike due to coronavirus should not lead to businesses cutting pensions or other benefits for their workers.
Similar rallies were held Wednesday in nine other cities across Florida.
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