Bearing Witness to the Pandemic April 2020

Week of March 30, 2020

The week begins with 140,000 cases and 2,400 deaths in the US. Deaths from the pandemic continue to rise around the globe and at home where it has sadly surpassed 1,000 in New York alone.  Faced with such grim numbers after weeks of lost time downplaying the risks, President Trump seems to have finally come to his senses with the urgency of the situation and his tone has now completely changed. He can’t lie, hide, or deflect numbers like these any more and says it will be a “very, very painful next two weeks.” The White House starts to socialize that a sobering 100-240K Americans may die before it is all over. Not long ago he had said the number of cases would soon “be down to close to zero.” The President extends his recommended voluntary shutdown by another three weeks, instead of hoping to reopen American by Easter as he tendered just a week ago. More than 285 million Americans across 40 states have been ordered to shelter-in-place.

Our hero of the time, Dr. Anthony Fauci who is the government’s top infectious disease expert from the NIH and the most widely respected member of the pandemic task force, confirms that 100K deaths is a best case scenario. He is then given a security detail due to threats likely incited by pro-Trump right-wing bloggers who have disparaged Fauci for showing up Trump during the briefings and speaking truth to power. Another study says that without social distancing and a virtual shutdown of the economy the number of fatalities could be in the low millions. Nevertheless, Trump is quoted as saying “I’ve gotten great marks on what we’ve done with respect to this” despite getting a slow start.

Across the nation everyday life continues to unravel. Travelers are being stopped as they enter a new state and asked to quarantine upon their arrival. Food banks see lines of cars more than a mile long. Parks and playgrounds are closed after too many families crowd into them and refuse to keep social distancing much less staying at home. More states receive disaster declarations. Domestic violence is reported to have increased due to families struggling to stay together at home. Funerals have become a drive-thru experience with mourners asked to stay in their cars. Church services have all gone virtual. That is with the exception of a few mega churches in the South who refuse to comply with local emergency orders and whose pastors are now being arrested and charged.

Data starts to emerge that confirms impoverished communities of minority populations, as well as elderly communities in stressed or understaffed nursing homes, are experiencing higher per capital rates of infection and disproportionate death rates from those cases.  With schools closed and education gone virtual over the internet, student engagement and performance is reported to have begun to diverge between those who have access to high speed broadband and others who are poor or live in rural areas going without internet access. Even those in urban areas with highspeed internet report that their speeds have slowed as more work, learn, and recreate from home online.

The Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo begins begging for respirators, personal protection equipment, and volunteers as more than 500 are dying each day across his state. The field hospital in NYC’s Central Park grows as the U.S. military agrees to take over its staffing. He orders the national guard to take respirators from those facilities who aren’t using them. In a demonstration of what makes our country great, tens of thousands of retired medical workers respond to the call for volunteers. Even students in medical professions are being called up as eligible for service to facilities with shortages. Trump, without any proof as usual, in one of his daily briefings makes the accusation that some hospitals must be letting masks get stolen by their staffs and taken out the back door. Then he goes on to say he will not wear one despite what members of his federal agencies and task force are saying Americans should start doing to slow the spread. With a shortage of masks, healthcare workers and ordinary American families start making their own.

When state governors complain about the lack of help from the White House, Trump who takes great pleasure in calling himself a wartime president, claims that the federal government is merely a “backup” for state governments. He goes on to say that some states don’t actually need as much personal protection equipment and ventilators as they claim they do. Some network TV and radio stations decide to no longer broadcast the daily briefing which have become a circus of propaganda with Trump attacking the press while some members of his task force congratulate him on what a great job he has been doing. Other members watch their words to Americans ever so carefully to avoid offending the President.

The captain of a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Pacific, Commander Crozier, pleads with the Pentagon to evacuate his 5,000 member crew as hundreds have become infected or sick. He is then relieved of duty by acting Navy Secretary Modley for publicizing the plight of his crew and going around his commanders. Crozier himself is then found to be infected. Then the acting head of Navy flies to Guam to disparage the former captain in front of his men and women on his previous ship and says the captain was “naïve or stupid.” Modley then walks it back, then himself is forced out by DoD Chief Esper.

More news of the week…..With the postponement of so many state elections this Spring because of the pandemic, Democrats and Republicans alike start thinking about delaying their party’s conventions in the summer. Grocery store shelves are picked empty by shoppers storing up to last thru a shelter-in-place order that may go for months. In one week alone over 6 million Americans filed for unemployment bringing the two-week total to 10 million. It is reported that many more could never get access to websites that were crashing or phone lines that were perpetually busy. Some economists predict that the economy will contract by 25% in the coming months and could go from recession into depression without more stimulus. More major employers like Boeing, GE, Disney and Marriott announce layoffs of tens of thousand of their employees.  Others forecast that unemployment rates could top out at 30% with some 30-40 million eventually out of work. Wall Street markets continue to fall with the S&P having its worst quarter in 135 years. The White House and Congress squabble over who has oversight of the $500B funding program to help distressed businesses with the administration claiming authority despite what the bill said. Checks are yet to appear from the $350B promised to help small businesses and extended unemployment benefits. The IRS announces that tax filings and payments normally due on April 15 can be delayed until July 15.

Around the world more nations go into total lockdown. Prime Ministers like Israel’s Netanyahu go into quarantine fearing they have been infected, joining Canada’s Trudeau and Britain’s Johnson. Italy’s death toll surpasses 12,000 and Spain’s over 7,000. In London a convention center is converted into a 4,000 bed field hospital. Russia finally admits it has a problem with the shutdown of Moscow. China says new infection rates have gone to zero, but some question that the data has been manipulated as there is now a growing shortage of funeral urns. African leaders declare the pandemic could be an existential threat to their continent that is so ill-prepared to deal with it, especially without the help of the developed economies who are already in a health and financial crisis of their own. The issuance of new or renewal of existing passports of U.S. citizens is halted by the federal government unless it is deemed a life and death emergency.

Researchers have found that the coronavirus can live on surfaces for days, is more than twice as communicable as an ordinary flu, and that healthy people who never experienced any symptoms can pass it on to others. The last few states, mostly Republican-led, that had not issued state-wide stay at home orders finally do so. The governor of Georgia finally admits the virus can be spready by asymptomatic people who are healthy.

In good news thousands of volunteers have responded to calls from governors around the nation to help medial facilities. A convoy of ambulances arrives in NYC. Emergency medical corps are springing up over the country.  Even China responds to the call for help and sends a 1000 ventilators to New York. Families are reconnecting in earnest with each other. Neighbors are helping neighbors. Teachers are gaining more respect from parents now having to home school their children. Donations to help the homeless with shelter and food are up. The role of functioning effective local, state, and federal government bodies is greatly valued after years of being disparaged.  Time seems to have slowed down to that like which we experienced as kids. Some churches report more attendees of their remote virtual services than their previous live worships. A new genre of pandemic comfort music is aired over radios and streaming services.  Pet adoptions are up and shelters are empty. Siblings are playing together in their yards. People in general are more kind, gentle, and tolerant with each other. Business dealings don’t appear as competitive. Staying at home seems to have slowed the clock and given us all more time without constantly rushing around to perform what is sadly our most important job in the economy, buying and consuming. Americans appear to finally becoming united as one after a long decade of division, vitriol, and bitterness.

Week of April 5, 2020

The week begins with Surgeon General Jerome Adams warning the public that the upcoming week “would be the saddest week of most Americans’ lives approaching the tragedies of Pearl Harbor and 9/11.” President Trump’s mood was somber, in stark contrast to that of only a few weeks ago. He now says the next two weeks “are going to be very difficult.”

A report surfaces that Trump’s trade adviser Pater Navarro prepared two memos for the President’s National Security Council in January and February warning of a potential catastrophe. Yet Trump said as late as March that nobody could have predicted a pandemic or that something like this could ever happen. Another lie.

The White House orders the nation’s top health experts not to appear on CNN after the news network said it would no longer broadcast the entire daily briefings by the Pandemic Task Force headed by V.P. Pence. The briefings have turned into a campaign rally led by the President who routinely berates and blames anyone who questions his statements or confronts his lies. Later the President tweets that the ratings for the briefings are “through the roof” as this was all just a fun blockbuster movie featuring Trump and Friends.

Feeling the heat from a botched response, Trump lashes out and blames the World Health Organization and threatens to withhold funding. He claims that it was the WHO that missed the call on the pandemic and is responsible. Actually, the WHO began communicating and working with the CDC in early January, all while during that month and February the President was claiming that there was little to worry about and what few cases we had would soon be down to zero. It was Trump who blew it, not the WHO. Before blaming the WHO, Trump had cycled through attacking Democrat Governors, China, President Obama, Congress, various federal agencies, and of course the fake news media.

Next the President turns his ire on the Pentagon’s Inspector General Glenn Fine who previously was selected to oversee the $2T pandemic response spending under the CARES act approved by Congress. Trump is now seen to be openly flouting the provisions the White House agreed to for oversight of the funds dispersed by the CARES act. Trump’s avoidance of governance, accountability and responsibility clearly demonstrates he is anything but a conservative. He after all said that “he takes no responsibility at all” for a lack of testing in response to a reporter’s question and more recently claimed that “he could not have done it any better.”

The death toll at the start of the week was 9,000 with 1,000 dying per day. By the end of the week both had doubled with over 20,000 deaths at a heartbreaking rate of 2,000 some days. Nearly half of these in one state alone, New York. The total in NYC now surpasses the dead from the 9/11 terror attacks and the city begins burying bodies in a mass grave as morgues, funeral homes, and mortuaries are at capacity. Even a tiger in NYC’s Bronx Zoo contracts coronavirus in the first known transmission from humans back to animals. At the end of the week over the Easter holiday weekend nearly 4,000 Americans die. New hotspots worsen in Michigan, Louisiana, and Florida, especially in nursing homes where in some cases more than half of their residents and staff have become infected with dozens dying. In addition to nursing homes, state prisons, ICE detention camps, and meat-producing facilities report hundreds of cases in crowded working conditions. However, some states report that new infections and hospital admissions have leveled off giving hope that social distancing is working and that the worst case scenarios of 100-200K dead Americans will be averted.

Internationally, UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson becomes very ill, enters the hospital and then is placed under intensive care to save his life. In finally some encouraging global news, the pandemic in Italy and Spain appears to have plateaued, though hospitals remain overwhelmed with patients said to be in chairs and on the floor. Italian families weep at being unable to sit with those who are dying in their last few hours alive. By the end of the week American deaths surpass that of Italy to become the worst nation. European authorities use roadblocks, drones, and helicopters to track those violating the lockdown. Israel orders a lockdown over the most important Jewish holiday, Passover. Japan’s Prime Minister Abe declares a state of emergency in Tokyo. The global death count exceeds 100,000 during the week and confirmed infections exceed 1.5 million though they are thought to be grossly underreported. That is so shocking that even warring parties like those in the Mideast and Africa negotiate cease fires. Yet, good news emerges from China, where it all began late last year, that the 76-day lockdown in Wuhan has been lifted and life can slowly start to come back to a new normal. Chinese residents are seen emerging from their homes in jubilation after months in quarantine. They deserve to celebrate.

New reports surface confirming that the U.S. wasted two months of preparation and ordering supplies and ramping up testing from the time it was clear there was global contagion in January. As a consequence, we have had to shutdown the economy where another 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment this week bringing the total number of claims to over 17 million. Economists prepare us for a final unemployment of some 30-40 million. And that does not count the several million that are estimated to have been unable to navigate overwhelmed websites and phone lines with state agencies. Bankers have warned this may become a Great Depression II instead of a recession. State and local governments start laying off employees due to rapidly falling revenues since so much of the economy is based on consumer spending which is nearly nonexistent. Half of all American households report a loss of income. Checks are still slow in coming to small business owners who struggle with filing applications with banks for the risk-free SBA-guaranteed Payroll Protection Program. The President is expected to name a second pandemic task force soon, this time on planning to revive the economy. Various heads of agencies begin speculating how soon the economy could be turned back on, as if all they had to do was to push a button. It will not be that easy. Yet, there is still a nationwide shortage of testing which will be required to get millions of Americans back to work.

Fearing that the several trillion dollars already appropriated to rescue the economy will still not be enough, both Congress and the White House begin discussions on several hundred billion dollars more of emergency relief largely to businesses. Banks report they have received hundreds of thousands of loan applications which have flooded out a SBA system totally inadequate to disburse the funds which have already been approved. Thank goodness some businesses and their leaders are responding to the nation’s crisis, such as Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey who pledges an astonishing $1B of his own money.

Life in America continues to unravel and become more surreal as the county practices social distancing. Over 80 million students are now trying to complete their school year at home. Teachers organize drive-by parades thru neighborhoods to connect with their homebound students. A digital divide continues to widen for those rural or poor families without access to high-speed Internet. Churches hold drive-in services in vacant lots or live stream their services over the internet while Easter sanctuaries sit as empty as Jesus’ tomb once was. Those pastors who defy local orders and hold live on-premise worship services are threatened with arrest. Funerals are being banned. Only essential workers are permitted to continue to leave their home to go to work. Some states erect road blocks at their borders to dissuade and challenge people travelling into their state. Newspapers who have laid off staff write about little other news than the pandemic. The Democrat Party presumptive nominee, Joe Biden, socializes the possibility that the summer convention will be late and held virtually. Obituary pages of local pages are twice their normal length.  Tens of thousands of workers in the news media are furloughed from their jobs at a time the nation so desperately needs them. Local and national broadcast news programs are televised from the homes of their hosts. Store shelves remain empty of many basic essentials. Bread lines with hundreds of cars in mile-long lines have sprouted up across the country to provide food for the newly unemployed and poor. Everyone’s hair starts looking long, gray, and shabby.

It has now become standard that both workers and customers in grocery stores wear masks and gloves, especially now that these workers are falling ill and some dying. All across the country families are learning to make their own masks. A cottage industry has appeared overnight to produce personal protection equipment for healthcare workers and American families who feel their government has failed them. At the appointed hour across many big cities residents have taken to opening up their windows to make noise to show their support and appreciation of healthcare worker on the frontline who are risking their own lives. Empty college dorms and desolate hotels are being turned into accommodations for medical workers who fear returning home each night with the risk of infecting their own family. Traffic on highways is so reduced that auto insurance companies start providing rebates to their policy owners. Americans have taken to holding on-line meetings to host family reunions, neighborhood happy hours, job teams, church services, and e-visits with their doctors. People begin to worry that everyday activities like shopping, eating out, entertainment, sports, traveling, health care and personal services will be changed forever going forward. Women who are seeking family planning services including access to contraceptives find themselves travelling for hours or even out of state to attain these medical services. Millions suddenly thrown into unemployment with health insurance are worried where to go if they get sick as Trump has gutted much of the ACA hitting rural Americans, his base, particularly hard. Over ten million Americans have lost their health insurance after being let go from their jobs.

The act of voting requires courage as demonstrated this week in Wisconsin where the pandemic kept people at home to protect their health away from the polls, while others waited in congested lines for hours at understaffed polling locations. Even the courts, all the way up to the Supreme Court, and town hall meetings have gone virtual. Crime and killings are reported to be down in nearly all major U.S. cities, though it is unclear if it is because criminal acts like those associated with the illicit drug business has truly decreased or that the police forces with reduced manpower no longer have the capacity to pursue calls to the fullest extent. Or perhaps it is because people are always at home making burglaries far more dangerous for the criminal. Nevertheless, gun sales are still reported to be at all-time highs in some states, right after the sale of toilet paper. Health experts begin discussing the eventual need for Americans who are tested then having to keep with them “immunity certifications” declaring they are safe for travel, work, and social interactions. Infectious expert Dr. Fauci, whom has earned American’s respect, warns that while the curve is indeed flattening, if we scale back our efforts prematurely the disease will come roaring back.

An outrage starts across many cities around the U.S. due to the majority of deaths due to coronavirus are being experienced largely by the poor and minority populations, especially African Americans. Blacks in some cities such as Chicago, New York, Milwaukee, New Orleans and St. Louis are dying at much higher astonishing rates than their share of the population should indicate. While all Americans may be in the same boat experiencing the pandemic, it is now obvious that not all Americans will die at the same rate. There are many reasons being cited for this cruel disparity which include: the lack of access to healthcare; poorer health with more preexisting conditions like diabetes, obesity, and asthma; living in dense neighborhoods and multi-generational family settings; a lack of testing to deal with a health crisis;  more crowded public transportation options; systemic racism; and being on the frontline in public-facing jobs where they could not afford to take time off or shelter in place without paid leave. This is a tragedy within a tragedy.

Week of April 12, 2020

The week starts out with daily death counts consistently over 2,000 per day and peak at over 4,500 in one day alone. Total confirmed fatalities this week go from 20,000 to 25,000 then past 30,000 to 35,000 by the week’s end.  Nearly 10,000 health care workers are reported to have become infected. The death count from one city, New York, was reported to be over 3,500 in a single day as some previous deaths were reclassified as Covid-19 related. The deaths of the elderly at home have skyrocketed so much that coroner offices are using the national guard to pick up bodies. Surge morgues are being built in some major cities to handle an expected overflow of bodies that funeral homes and mortuaries cannot handle.

Over 3,300 of these have been from nursing homes where dozens of bodies have been found in one home alone. Many think this number is way low as there is no federal and few state laws forcing nursing homes to report deaths and the cause.

Worldwide, the number of confirmed cases surpassed 2 million and over 150,000 deaths. Poverty and misery that Americans will still never know has struck countries like India where over 1 billion of its citizens are in lockdown with hundreds of millions struggling to subsist on a few dollars a day of income.

President Trump starts the week out startling the nation by claiming that “When somebody is President of the United States, the authority is total.” Yes, he said that his authority is total. He was responding to a question about how quickly social distancing rules can be lifted so people can return to work and consuming, and thus the economy turned back on. Trump wants it open as soon as possible while health experts warn that we will suffer a second wave of deaths. In the same bizarre pandemic task force briefing, Trump shows a campaign-style video touting his glorious leadership.

Trump retweets a post that called for the firing the NIH Infectious Disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci. He is the only adult most Americans are paying attention to when the Task Force has their daily briefings.

Despite entering the fourth month of a global health crisis, only just over 3 million or about 1% of all Americans have been tested. Trump keeps saying that anyone who wants a test can get it but it is an absolute fabrication. The inability of the federal government to quickly stand up a national testing program will go down as one of the costliest and deadliest failures in our history resulting in the unnecessary deaths of thousands as well as an economy that had to be shutdown because we did not know who was infectious or not.

The governor of South Dakota had previously refused to order a state-wide lockdown saying that it was different in her rural state. Well, now a pork plant and surrounding towns have become one of the most severe Covid-19 hotspots in the nation with hundreds of workers testing positive. The plant was forced to shutdown. Within days other beef, poultry, and pork processing plants across the Midwest are idled due to massive outbreaks that send their workers home, many who are immigrants with little access to health care or paid sick leave. The public adds meat to their list of hoarding goods.

Shortages of personal protection equipment as well as testing materials continue across the country as local and state governments scramble to find sources, most of which are overseas, and end up competing with each other or even the federal government, and then pay exorbitant prices. Many fire departments, hospitals, and first responders are left on their own to find or make masks. Trump says that he is a war-time leader and has absolute power, but he fails to deliver upon what the country so desperately needs. State government officials like those in Illinois have gone so far as meeting profiteering brokers in parking lots in the middle of the night, after outbidding other states, with multi-million dollar checks to secure medical supplies for their states from international sources. They then charter a private airlift to fly materials into their state hoping to avoid scams, delays, and impoundments at the border. Many people, including frontline healthcare workers and first responders, say they still cannot get tested. Trump responds by claiming that the U.S. has “built the most advanced and robust testing anywhere in the world.” Another grand lie.

The AMA has estimated that treatment for the nation’s underinsured victims of coronavirus will be tens of billions of dollars. Yet, the Trump administration refuses to permit enrollment for the ACA be reopened to allow those who had decided not to enroll, but were eligible, when the last open period ended. It is projected that anywhere from 10-30 million Americans will lose or suffer a disruption to their employer-provided insurance. Hospitals big and large are laying off staff and closing facilities as routine exams, procedures, and elective surgeries have come to a grinding halt.

Trump orders a halt of payments from the U.S. to the World Health Organization in an obvious attempt to shift the blame from his own handling of the crisis to that of the WHO. How ironic that Trump claims that “the WHO failed in its basic duty and must be held accountable.” It seems that Trump has never once been held accountable for a damn thing he has done, or did not but should have, over is whole privileged life. He has his surrogates on Fox News and Congress attacking the WHO, then China’s government, then the Democrats, then the State Governors, then a new target of a Chinese biohazard lab.

Trump and governors from around the nation spar with each other over Twitter about the merits and timing for turning the economy back on by relaxing stay-at-home orders. A backlash begins to brew against the orders to shelter in place and close nonessential businesses across most of the country. Angry crowds disobey social distancing to congregate at state capitols to protest what they see as an infringement on their civil rights. They come waving flags, chanting for liberation as if they are the victims, carrying Trump signs and wearing MAGA hats. Some are fully masked and carrying rifles in an apocalyptical scene from a dystopian movie.  Many are protesting their sudden unemployment but their vitriol is directed toward the wrong elected officials. It was the Trump’s administration’s inability to take the world health emergency seriously at the very onset by organizing rapid testing so we would not have to isolate people and shutdown the entire economy. Trump inflames the civil disobedience in a tweet storm indicating his support of the LIBERATE protest. At the end of the week Trump comes up with a 3-phase plan to reopen the country and backs off of his previous statement that he had absolute power to order this be done. He now says he has given the governors “his authority” to act to open their states and they are “going to call your own shots.”

Another 5 plus million Americans file for unemployment this week. The total is now past 22 million and expected to go even higher with reports that many could still not get thru their state’s unemployment processes to file. Nearly 1 on 10 Americans are now said to be out of work. In some states like Michigan the number is closer to 1 out of 4. Some economists believe unemployment will hit 20% or more before recovering. There is no sector of the economy of industry that seems to be immune from job losses. Not surprising, consumer sales and retail activity has plummeted to depression levels. Markets are expected to crash once again.

The U.S. Treasury reports a delay in getting out pandemic relief checks because of an order to add President Trump’s name to be printed on the checks. It will be the first time that a president’s name has ever appeared on an official IRS disbursement.

State and local budgets are being ravaged by a drop in consumer spending, sales tax collections, employment wages, tolls, and fuel taxes. Some are rolling back their budgets by double digits and laying off even first responders.

The Defense Department for the first time has stopped accepting new recruits to avoid the spread of the virus within existing ranks. The DoD is also repositioning and then restricting the movement of American forces around the world to avert infections.

Farmers report a perfect storm has disrupted their big buyers, like schools and restaurants, as well as access to workers and distribution networks. As a result commodity prices have dropped where some farmers are dumping products and killing their own livestock. All while thousands of Americans are lining up in mile-long foodbanks

More states and counties, especially in once-resort locations, around the country are erecting traffic stops to ward off visitors by restricting non-residents from entering. These roadblocks restricting movement are unprecedented in the history of the United States with the exception of during the Civil War.

The U.S. legal system is grinding to a halt with thousands of civil and criminal courts cases on hold. Nearly all -in-person hearings have been cancelled or postponed.

Life insurance companies are reported to have stopped writing new policies for older Americans.

Local TV newscasts and newspapers are Covid-19 related stories, or full of ads and fluff such as happy birthday wishes to viewers and social media nonsense. Sadly, many have laid off staff and are unable to cover other local news even if they wanted.

Everywhere you turn you hear about another GoFundMe account having been set up to help this family, that cause, this business, these first responders, that non-profit, this closed business, and the list goes on and one. All are commendable goals to help people in need. But what type of a country are we when crowd funding and digital pan handling has become a substitute for public policy, safety nets, and a more fair and equitable economy to begin with? How fair and just is it that those with big contact lists or social media presences get help while others don’t?

Yet, there is much good news all around. Pet rescue shelters continue to empty out as families at home have taken to adopting dogs and cats during such a stressful time. Wild animals are returning to areas where humans had previously scared them off and out of sight. Violent crimes are down by a third in some major cities. Urban neighborhoods continue honor and celebrate health care workers with blue ribbons and blue lights. Strangers are thanking retail workers, cashiers, and shelf stockers whom previously they ignored. More spontaneous car parades occur in neighborhoods to celebrate marriages, birthdays, new births and those coming home from the hospital. Emergency rooms are empty with far fewer traffic accidents, sports injuries, crime victims and work accidents.

As more data is released, it is now believed that black Americans are suffering and dying at a 30% higher rate than white Americans. They are making up nearly 35% of all hospitalizations, more than twice what their percent of the population would have indicated as their share.

Psychologists are reporting more patients suffering mental distress, fear, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, they say that many are experiencing terrifying “pandemic dreams” alternating with bouts of sleeplessness. Medical experts predict that the decline of public health this year due to the coronavirus, as well as delayed routine services combined with additional stress, will result in the average life expectancy of Americans falling once again as it has been in recent years. It is indeed depressing when some experts suggest that social distancing may have to be the new norm for years to come.

Banks are reporting chaos as hundreds of thousands of businesses scramble to file for SBA-guaranteed loans under the $350B Payroll Protection Program. Later it comes out that much of the money went to not-so-small businesses that had thousands of employees or were publicly traded stocks with access to funding from other sources.

A week after a Harvard study reported that exposure to particulate matter found in industrial soot emissions contributed to Covid-19 deaths, the EPA declines to impose stricter regulations that had been in work for months within the agency and recommended by its scientists . The study had found residents in high counties of particulate matter in their air were 15% more likely to die from a respiratory illness like Covid-19.

With national parks closed and empty of human visitors, wildlife has come out of hiding and is venturing into areas which they have avoided for decades. Wildlife has even been seen on the streets of some towns and cities around the U.S. and Europe.

Week of April 19, 2020

The week starts out with over 35,000 Covid-19 related deaths in the U.S. and ends with a staggering 55,000 that steals the breath away from even the healthy. The good news is more evidence that social distancing and shelter-in-place orders have flattened the curve and final deaths may not reach the 100-200K initially expected. In some states more than a quarter of all cases and deaths are in nursing homes where ill patients suffer and die without loved ones being able to visit. The infected count has climbed to over 2 million confirmed cases at week’s end with some 200,000 deaths globally. In Europe there have been more than 1 million confirmed cases and 100,000 deaths, accounting for about half of the world’s cases and deaths.

So President Trump has indeed made America great again by making us the number one country in cases and deaths. When a reporter challenges the President at a daily briefing why he was praising himself for his performance during the crisis as the death count passed 40,000 Trump snaps back and says “you don’t have the brains you were born with.” Later he commands that a female reporter to “keep your voice down.” Many Americans are tiring of Trump’s performance as one poll reported that only 21% of respondents trust what he says. They give him far more credit than he deserves.

At the end of the week during a briefing that has become increasingly unhinged the President rambles on that digesting disinfectants should be tried to treat Covid-19. Yes, he said that as administration officials looked on in the same utter disbelief that Americans watching this had. The next morning the Surgeon General, poison control offices, and product manufacturers such as Lysol and Clorox issue emergency announcements warning people not to ingest their products, which they know some will surely do given it was our President who suggested it. Trump later claims that he made the comment “sarcastically.” Yet another lie that is so obvious when you hear the briefing replayed. Over the weekend the White House announces that the President will no longer participate in these daily briefings about the response to the Covid-19  pandemic but will now turn his attention to the saving the economy.  Yes, that is ever so reassuring.

Entering the third month of the pandemic and second month of shutdown, widespread testing for the virus or antibodies is still absent due largely to the lack of leadership and urgency from the White House. After weeks we have only tested about 3.5 millions people, or 1% of our population. Trump is fixated on getting the country back open for business before there is sufficient testing. Who wants to go back to work, shop or dine around other people who may be asymptomatic carriers but cannot get walk-up testing upon demand with quick results? The CDC has estimated that some 25% of infected people may show no symptoms and will be out spreading the disease unless there is more testing. Trump continues to lie about this and claim that “anybody who wants testing can get it” and that we “have the most expansive and accurate testing system anywhere in the world.” He goes onto say it is really the state’s responsibilities to set up testing. Critical shortages of such things as mundane as nasal swabs are keeping the numbers low without the mobilization of the federal government to remedy in a time of a national crisis. Trump takes no responsibility and blames “do nothing Democrats” for politicizing his failures to set up a nationwide testing program.

In the recent Wisconsin election it is reported that several dozen people who stood in long lines to vote as well as some poll workers have become ill from COVID-19. Yet the Republican Party across the nation stonewalls attempts to expand mail-in voting in upcoming elections. Why? The President explained it very clearly when he said “If we have mail-in voting, Republicans will lose.”

Elsewhere, not only are often taken-for-granted civil rights being sacrificed to save lives – a temporary bargain worth accepting – but democracy overall seems to have been suspended. Elections continue to be postponed, initiative petition drives cancelled, door-to-door campaigning by candidates abandoned, political advertising absent, congressional office phones unanswered, and heaven forbid lobbyists can no longer wine and dine our representatives. And of course despite the crisis the Republican Party continues its work to make voting harder, require more identification, gerrymandering districts, rejecting attempt to reform the electoral college, ignoring initiative petition results, taking voters off of roles, moving or closing poll locations, and suppressing or disenfranchising voters by other tactics wherever they can. This is the voter fraud we should all be talking about.

A third week of massive job losses is reported with an additional 4.4 million Americans filing unemployment bringing the total of over 26 million jobs. And this number is expected to climb higher as there are still states where many have been unable to file much less start collecting benefits. Now nearly 1 in 6 Americans have been thrown out of their work due to the pandemic, a number that has not been seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Negotiations in Congress drag on then finally produce another nearly $500B bill in relief to small businesses, hospitals, and local governments.  The first payroll protection program quickly ran out of money with more reports of large companies, big bank customers, publicly traded companies, cash rich businesses, those that had already been failing, and even sports teams securing millions in loans while so many small businesses were locked out. Congress has now appropriated nearly $3 trillion dollars in emergency spending to save the nation’s economy. Americans have rightfully become equally paralyzed by worries about both their personal health and the health of the national economy. This $3 trillion is on top of the money the Federal Reserve has pumped into the system, some estimate as much as $4 trillion additional dollars to backstop bond markets, municipal debt, banks, real estate lending, money market funds, and other financial instruments of an economy that years ago moved from manufacturing products to manufacturing debt as part of the financialization of our economy.

Life in America becomes, well, just more different and weirder every day. Drones are reported to be patrolling over parks looking for people who are not at home. “Contact Tracers” have now become a job in high demand. Silicon Valley is devising all sorts of Orwellian apps to automatically track individuals and the people we come too close to. Factory workers are wearing watch-like devices on their wrists that sound an alarm when they get within 6 feet of another. Body heat thermal sensors are being used to monitor temperatures in some public spaces across Asia and Europe, likely coming to the US soon. There is talk of the need to issue “immunity passports” for those who have tested negative for the virus or who have had it and test positive for antibodies. Network and local news and weathercasters are viewed reporting from home offices. Finally, most people out in public are wearing masks with many even disposable gloves, that is when they can be found in stores or made at home. Greetings, handshakes, and hugs are long gone. People scurry around grocery stores like zombies avoiding each other and trying to act as if they are alone. Hospitals and medical practices in urban areas are faced with huge financial losses and announce the furloughs of tens of thousands of employees despite being the middle of a health crisis. Rural hospitals were already suffering and many are now facing bankruptcy.  Social media is full of stories where people are being not just warned, which is appropriate, but abused for being out of their home by self-proclaimed social- distancing vigilantes. The owners of many independent shops, unique restaurants, and personal service providers are calling it quits forever, knowing things will never be the same. More than half of American households now have a prime membership with Amazon which has become a necessity for many home-bound families. Personal shoppers are expected to risk their lives in grocery stories to procure food for delivery to those too scared to venture out. Sales of beer and alcoholic beverages have increased by double digits. Shelves entering the second month are empty of hand sanitizer, toilet paper, toweling, and cleaning supplies. Movie theatres remain dark and Hollywood production along with new releases are postponed for months. Zoos and museums that remain closed begin live streaming programs including animals looking rather stressed without humans around as they have become accustomed to seeing. Families with kids are equally stressed with so few activities as spelling bees, sports leagues, part-time jobs, and after-school clubs are gone from once busy schedules. Summer vacations are cancelled and some European governments say they may force visiting Americans into quarantine since we are the worst-off country. Reckless drivers have taken to empty highways being clocked speeding over 120 mph thinking they could get away with it. Cities and states begin laying off employees at the time that their residents need the most help from government. Colleges have begun to do the same in anticipation of live classes not resuming this year along with the loss or profitable foreign students, in addition to collegiate sports and tournaments failing to generate the windfall in revenues that so many universities have come to depend upon. Gas prices at the pump are below two dollars in many areas and even one buck, a price not seen in decades, as global oil prices went negative due to a glut of oil with refineries and tanks full up. The rich have vacated big cities and retreated to their vacation homes in rural areas, often to the chagrins of their full-time residents who worry about the disease they may bring with them. White collar criminals are being let out of prison while others languish in what has become an institutional death sentence for some who remain behind with infection rates approaching half the prison population. Luxury hotels have been turned into quarantine sites for the infected patients as well as others into overnight dorm-style housing for healthcare workers fearful of returning home at night and spreading the infection to their families.  Social media scammers and influencers are preying on the unemployed and desperate with the lure of thousand dollar rewards for signing themselves and their friends up as followers. Far-right extremists, most who are Trump supporters, are filming hospital emergency entrances in their attempt to discredit the pandemic as a hoax and left-wing conspiracy. This all while healthcare workers inside risk their lives to save lives. Weddings, births, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, terminal illnesses, dying, and deaths are all being experienced in near solitude. Even our pets are now under threat as some have reportedly become ill from the coronavirus. Obituary pages in local newspapers are much larger than ever before with nearly all of them referencing a service to be held in some future date.

Whew, how much longer can this go on we are all asking and praying.

Week of April 26, 2020

The tragedy continues as the week starts with confirmed COVID-19 cases approaching 1 million and deaths in the U.S. topping 54,000. The daily death count is averaging 2,000 and peaked at 2,900 on Thursday of this week. Internationally, death totals surpassed 200,000 from 3 million cases. In some states about 10% of those infected end up requiring hospitalization. A heartbreaking almost half of those hospitalized, running 3-5% of the total infected, are reported to being dying in some of these Midwest states. It’s likely because many are not getting tested or showing up in the hospitals until they are already very ill. While rates are dropping in many states, the hardest hit cities and states are still reporting all-time record daily deaths. While it is said that we are “all in this together” more data is released showing how disparate the illness and death rates are for black or brown Americans, and especially those working in essential jobs on the front lines. And it is even worse for those trapped in nursing homes where over 15,000 of the total U.S. deaths come.  In one of the saddest news items from the month some 70 veterans have died in one soldier’s home alone.

A study by Yale looking at total deaths across the county from all sources estimates that actual mortality during the early weeks of the pandemic in the U.S. was much higher than those reported. Some states such as Florida have been accused of manipulating their numbers and then prohibiting county medical examiners from releasing their own numbers so the state totals could be checked. Other discrepancies are starting to creep up once some states realize that deaths in nursing homes that are obviously due to COVID-19 are not being reported as such because they “don’t test dead people.” And of course they still aren’t able to test that many live people either. What a mess.

Some state governors, mostly Republicans in conservative states, disregard federal guidelines and begin to lift stay-at-home orders. They are under pressure from protesters who while violating emergency orders and most definitely not practicing safe-distancing have gathered at state capitols demanding their states reopen for business. Newscasts are full of example statements from the quarantine protesters that are flatly wrong or full of misinformation and propaganda, likely from Fox Newsless. They were edged on by the President who recently tweeted out his support to “liberate” their states and calls protesters “good people” despite those carrying guns into state capitols and violating safe-distancing orders . This is an act of insurrection that no president has encouraged since the Civil War. Some protesters are seen without masks on shouting into the faces of police officers standing only a few feet away from them. They carry signs saying “give me liberty or give me death.” Ok, they can have their death, fine, but what about all the first responders, healthcare workers, grocery employees, their own families, and the public at large whom they might come into contact with should they get sick?  These folks are not true conservatives as they demand all their rights but take no personal responsibility for how the exercise of those rights endangers others. They claim to be patriots, waving the flag and acting like they are defending the constitution, but they are just selfish people like Trump. During this crisis, which is indeed the equivalent of a war which hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers are fighting and tens of thousands of fellow citizens are dying, it seems some are just unwilling to make any personal sacrifices for the common good.

Many businesses whose operations have been interrupted are finding that their insurance providers won’t honor business interruption coverage. Some companies claim that natural disasters and pandemics like this one are not covered. They then float the idea that the federal government should backstop these policies and cover any losses. This health pandemic and the economic calamity is indeed man-made, and not natural, from how the virus entered humanity from our treatment of wild animals to how Trump closed the nation for business because the federal government could not stand up testing fast enough after losing a month in denial of the threat. Some travel insurance companies follow the same playbook and say that trip interruption for a health emergency of this magnitude is not covered. This follows life insurance companies last week saying they were not going to insure new policies for older Americans who of course are most likely to die. Oh how stupid of me, I forgot, insurance companies are in the business of collecting premiums not paying claims.

More American politicians follow the lead of President Trump and now try scapegoating China for everything that has occurred and say they will pay a price. Some go so far as to say we should consider canceling U.S. debt to China. Trump states the virus could have been released by some sort of mistake or accident in a Chinese bio lab. Some states like Missouri are suing China and the Communist Party for damages. Good luck with that. Missouri’s junior Senator Josh Hawley proclaims that this moment is his generation’s 9/11. Yes, he is right. There was another Republican President at that time who ignored warnings from his national security advisors of an impending terrorist attack, also with a month to act and prepare for which was also wasted, just like now.

Economies around the world and in the U.S. continue their nosedive into a recession that appears more like a sudden-onset depression. Another 3.8 million Americans are reported to have filed for unemployment in the past week bringing official totals to over 30 million, or nearly 1 in every 5 once-employed Americans out of work. The final total may approach 20%, a number not seen since the Great Depression. Some state unemployment funds are approaching insolvency and may require a federal loan or complete bailout. No surprise as many unemployed are still having trouble filing claims with state program offices, in mostly Republican states, that were programmed to delay and deny claims, not process them with expediency. Hundreds of thousand who made it thru a maze of filing requirements are reported to have yet to receive any assistance from their state, much less the supplemental income promised by the CARES Act. Senate Majority Leader McConnell goes so far as to suggest the once unimaginable that some states should consider filing for bankruptcy. Yes, he said that. Can you imagine the turmoil in bond markets that would result, as well as the fear in international markets that the U.S. might consider this option and default on its debt.

Despite the second phase of the PPP act and after over $2T pumped directly into the economy, the economy is still crashing not yet hitting bottom. It is estimated that over half of all households have experienced a job loss, furlough, or reduction in wages. Individual corporations report staggering loses of hundreds of millions of dollars. One company alone, American Airlines reported a behemoth $2.3B loss. The economy contracted by nearly 5% in March with April predicted to be much greater, perhaps approaching 30%, making it the worse contraction since the Great Depression. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says that state and local governments may need another $1T bailout. Republicans claim they should not bail out these populous largely Democrat states who are suffering the most. Yet, it is these progressive states that consistently contribute more to the U.S. Treasury and economy overall than the Republican-led conservative states which are largely “takers.”

Despite all this suffering, the month closes out to be one of the best for stock markets although most indices began the month down some 30%. Corporations who announce massive layoffs, such as Boeing with laying off 10% of their workface, are rewarded with stock bumps. Yes, this is the ugly side of capitalism that rewards wealthy investors during a crisis while laid-off employees head to the unemployment office and food banks.

The next victim of the American supply chain to fall victim are meat producers and slaughterhouses. They start shuttering like dominoes with two dozen operations suspended or closed due to hundreds of infected workers. Some 50 plants alone are responsible for over 90% of the nation’s meat supply and one plant supplies over 5% of pork for the entire country. Unions estimate that over 5,000 workers and their families have fallen ill. Predictably, new shortages of pork and poultry start occurring across the nation as consumers begin to panic and buy up all that is in the stores refrigerated sections.  This too is a man-made calamity due to our dependence on animal meat raised in massive factory farms and CAFOs using immigrant labor doing jobs few are willing to do or should ever have to do for the wages they pay; industry consolidation that rewarded ever larger plants with ever faster production lines with fewer FDA inspectors; and working conditions that are likely unbearable in even the best of times. The President signs an order giving meat producers protection under the Defense Production Act so they can remain open, ignore local or state orders to close, and compel employees to work. The order contains provisions to protect companies from liability claims by giving them legal immunity if workers become sick or die. If a laid-off worker is called back to work at one of these plants but feels their health and safety is at risk, they are threatened with their unemployment assistance being terminated. This is the life in Trump’s “me-first” America.

Over 80K passengers and crew members are said to still be stuck onboard dozens of ships off the coast of the US. Even US citizens are being refused their right to disembark and enter their own country. All likely because there is still no widespread testing available to them or their employers.

Under pressure from the Trump administration and with more acts of civil disobedience, states across the country begin to relax restrictions on residents and businesses. Georgia has gone so far as to announce that of all places, gyms, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, massage parlors, hair salons, restaurants, bars, and private social clubs may reopen at the end of the month. Health officials warn once again that this is weeks premature and may cause a resurgence of the virus with a recovery that looks more like a W instead of a V.

Yet, there is still no national plan for testing on a massive scale. Only some 5 million have been tested to date with an average of 2% for states. Experts say we should be testing 400-500K per day which is more than twice our current rate. Trump continues to mislead the nation by saying that we are doing “much much more testing than anybody else in the world.” On a per-capital basis, which is what matters, that is simply not true. At least one state governor has used the national guard to secure and protect testing supplies and personal protection equipment from being seized by the federal government which seems completely inept at standing up a national testing program after two months.

News reporters and the public begin asking where is or what happened to the CDC; the agency that should have been leading the charge in preparing for then reacting to a pandemic. They don’t participate in daily briefings and have been MIA from the frontlines of this war. Have they been castrated by the Trump Administration and Republicans like other federal agencies originally chartered to protect the common good? Perhaps they too have they fallen prey to regulatory capture where their mission to protect the public has been hijacked by business who want their special interests protected.

In an unbelievable moment, Vice President Pence, who chairs the Pandemic Task Force, visits the Mayo Clinic to meet with doctors and a patient without wearing a mask while everyone else is. This one photo says everything you need to know about the whole damn Trump administration. Pence later claims he did not know of the requirement then defends his behavior by saying he was healthy and recently tested; a defense that is utterly ridiculous as many tests can be negative and some will shed the virus to others while asymptomatic themselves. He is seen continuing to shake hands and in the daily briefings he and the team are often standing shoulder-to-shoulder on stage together. The day after Pence’s office admonishes and bans from travel on Air Force 2  the reporter from the Voice of America who reported that his staff did indeed know about the requirements for all to wear a mask.

Finally, some overdue very hopeful good news in a new drug treatment has quickly emerged from clinical trials that reduces the time for recovery of COVID-19 patients by some 30%. In doing so it is thought to reduce mortality rates due largely to a reduction in complications from patients forced to spend a long time under intubation, coma, and ventilators.

The week ends with 3.3 million cases and 250,000 deaths worldwide and 1.1 million with 65,000 deaths in the U.S. The estimated final death toll projected for America is revised upward to 100,000. We fear that may prove be too low given the rush to open the country back up before their is widespread testing. Trump continues to proclaim his administration has been very successful and has done an amazing job.

The month of April 2020 is one that few of us will ever ever forget. It was cruel. It was heartbreaking. It has impacted and changed nearly all of us. By bearing witness to all that has happened, do we have the courage to learn the hard lessons that will drive us to make necessary changes? These changes include our relationship with wildlife where it is believed to have all started in a China wet market, our broken and stressed healthcare systems, how we care for the oldest among us by warehousing them in crowded nursing homes, racial disparities in our health and life expectancies, the dependency on employers to provide healthcare, our level of consumption that relies on foreign manufacturing, how we treat immigrant laborers, our increasingly unequal economy, and so much more that we have observed in the past few months.

As attributed to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, God please give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other. Amen.

The above news items have been taken from a number of international, national, regional, and local news media sources including print, digital, and broadcast. Additional editorial opinions and comments about these news items are those of this author.

(Featured image of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. taken from the CDC)

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