Bearing Witness to the Pandemic May 3-9 2020

Week of May 3-9, 2020

The week begins with over 68,000 fatalities from COVID-19 recorded in America from just over 1.2 million cases. And these are just the confirmed cases. The death to confirmed infected ratio of 4-6% has not budged much at a national or state level in recent weeks. It was expected that once more testing was performed the mortality rate would start to drop quickly to levels below 1%, similar to what happens with flu seasons. But sadly, that is just not happening. Some models forecast daily new case counts could rise to 200,000 by June. If that holds up, then each day we can expect another 1,000 deaths across America. Will we eventually become desensitized, in addition to demoralized, to all the dying? God, please don’t let us start to think this is an acceptable new normal!

Other health officials have begun to warn the county that with premature re-openings the average daily death rate may approach 3,000 during the summer and a final tally this year of 130-150,000. Nearly one-third of states are still seeing their case count and death tolls rise. All while more than two-thirds of all states are proceeding with relaxation of restrictions put into place to flatten the curve.

With an estimated 25,000 deaths from COVID-19 occurring at nursing homes with residents and workers (actual numbers are not clear as there are few reporting requirements and many residents, even those who passed, are not tested), that entire industry has begun a lobbying effort to seek immunity from legal claims. Sadly, it is the only immunity that seems likely to occur in the short term. Many of us wish we had immunity from Trump’s behavior.

With a complete failure in setting up a national testing program, Trump now says that “testing isn’t necessary” as it is imperfect. And he says this despite that he and much of the White House is being tested every day due to outbreaks within the administration. The obvious explanation for downplaying testing is his rush to ignore guidelines that get in the way of business; he wants to manipulate the data to show fewer confirmed cases than actually exist. He went so far as to say that when he was quoted  “…by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad.”  Yes, he said that. I suppose we should be ready for more of what they have been started in some Republican states like Florida where they appear to be suppressing the death count. As of now, the country is only testing around 300,000 people per day, far less than the million per day that some experts say is necessary before workers, students, teachers, diners, travelers, and shoppers can return en masse to their roles.

In a weekend interview with who else, Fox Newsless, President Trump admits that the U.S. death toll could approach 100,000 before it is all done. This is an upward revision of his last prediction of 60,000 which the nation went speeding past at the end of last week. But that is good news he says as the death toll without his leadership could have been two or four or even five million.  This all occurs with the interview being held in front of the Lincoln Monument. A great president that saw American through its darkest days of the civil war, Lincoln must have been weeping with the current President hell-bent on dividing and destroying our country. During the interview the President offered “They always said Lincoln — nobody got treated worse than Lincoln. I believe I am treated worse.” Yes, he said that sitting in front of a tribute to Abraham Lincoln.

Some federal prisons are reporting that more than half of their inmate populations have tested positive for COVID-19 and some as high as 70%. It has been reported that because of lockdowns some prisoners are passing without their family members being notified in time to say their final goodbyes.

The White House has prohibited Dr. Anthony Fauci from appearing before the House of Representatives. The House had wanted Dr. Fauci to testify in its investigation of the Trump’s delayed response to the pandemic. Fauci has a public approval rating of 80%, nearly twice that as Trump. Not surprising, Trump has moved him to the side of the daily briefings. We all feel for Dr. Fauci, knowing that no one gets within Trump’s toxic sphere without suffering a blow to their reputation and credibility.

The White House initially announces that it will wind down the Pandemic Task Force – which made Fauci a rock star and exposed Trump to be what he is – as if its job was done, a huge success, and we could all go back to normal and be completely safe. Trump promised a different form of a new task force will emerge since the original one’s work was pretty much done. Yes, we have no national testing program, no national program to procure and distribute tests, no program to ramp up contact tracing, and no science-based strategy and plan going forward to prepare for and execute our response to the next pandemic or even a second wave of this one so we can avoid shutting down the entire economy.  A few days later Trump reverses his plan and says he will keep the task force as he did not have any “idea how popular the task force is” speaking of it like it was just a television show where all that matters are the ratings.

Finally, Trump says something we can all believe. He admits that by opening up the economy some people will be “affected badly.” Yet, he cannot bring himself to say some people will die. Much less take responsibility that here we are in May when it all started in January and we still don’t have a nationwide testing and tracing program nor universal access to personal protection equipment.

Meanwhile, other Trump sycophants continue the attack on international alliances which helped protect the world for decades, including the WHO and the WTO. In a national editorial Missouri’s Senator Hawley goes so far to say the WTO should be completely abolished. He writes that “the global economic system as we know it is a relic that requires reform, top to bottom.” WTF did he just say about the WTO? He sounds like a Marxist more than a conservative Republican. He wants to blame foreign governments and their citizenry for taking advantage of America. Mr. Hawley, these countries did not do anything to us that your free-trade free-market unrestrained capitalism Republican party allowed them to do. And to be fair they were enabled by Democrats who closed their eyes and did not fight for new public policies to help American workers adapt to the global economy. Thousands of American businesses over decades moved their production offshore to Asia, with the loss of millions of jobs at home, all while the most important job of Americans went from producing goods to consuming debt to feed corporate profits and shareholder income. The hypocrisy to blame others for his own party’s blind faith in the right of business to do whatever was needed to maximize profits by producing wherever wages were the lowest, employees had the fewest rights with no unions, and costs to the environment externalized. Of course, maybe that is exactly what he means and desires when he says our economy needs to be reformed to compete with others.

In a demonstration of how partisan the Congress has become in its views on anything and everything, including science, the Democrat-led House says it will not call members back to D.C. while the Republican Senate says it will reopen that chamber this week. Even the capitol’s attending physician remarked they do not have access to enough tests for all Congress men and women and their staffs. What could possibly go wrong?

The Trump administration continues to work up a conspiracy that it was indeed a China virology lab that sprung the virus onto its own population then tried to cover it up. When Trump is asked for evidence, he says he is “not allowed to tell you that.” Trump goes on to blame the Chinese for downplaying the severity of the initial outbreak. Just another example of Trump projecting his own identical behavior, failures, and dark shadow on others to deflect responsibility. When Secretary of State Pompeo is asked the same question, he claims there is “enormous evidence” but also fails to provide any basis for such a claim. All while Intelligence agencies say there is absolutely no evidence. The Communist Party of China responds with the correct analysis; Trump is blaming them only as a politically motivated attempt to protect his own slow and miserable handling of a naturally-produced global pandemic. In another act of politicizing science, Trump after hearing about an American scientist who is researching  pandemics in collaboration with the Wuhan Virology Lab, and who recently stated that coronavirus was not manmade or intentional, has the NIH cancel the his grant funding to silence him.

As big and small businesses shed employees and file for bankruptcy, another 3.2M filed for unemployment insurance this past week bringing the total to over 33 million Americans. The official unemployment rate is about 15%, a number which most economists believe is still low by 5-10% has not been seen since the great depression. And of course these numbers do not include all those who have had their hours, wages, or income reduced to keep their jobs. Over 60% of Hispanic households are reported to have suffered a job loss, nearly 50% pf black families  but only slightly over 40% white families. A recent analysis of COVID-19 deaths by the Associated Press reports that African Americans make up only 14% of the hotspot COVID area populations but account for nearly 33% of the fatalities in these locales.

Long-awaited stimulus checks are showing up for those who did not get automatic bank deposits. In addition to Trump’s name on the check they are reportedly to have a letter from the President that was, of course, mostly about him.

Because we were not prepared, and then delayed our response, all this economic rescuing is costing present and future Americans a staggering sum of money beyond comprehension. The Treasury revised its forecasted borrowing for the 2Q to nearly $3 trillion dollars. For the entire budget year the new number is $4.5T. The CBO predicts that the government will run a final deficit of $3.7T compared to the $1T that was expected for spending when we had a very good economy, yet huge tax cuts.  Are they blind to see that our same attitude to the crisis of climate change and global warming will cause this to be all repeated on a bigger, albeit slower moving, scale?

In another example of a new bizarre normal, the Supreme Court begins the unprecedented move of hearing arguments remotely by telephone. And for once the proceedings are recorded for the entire world to hear, unlike previous sessions where only those lucky enough to be granted attendance to the court could listen. That however was not the biggest news of SCOTUS. It was Justice Clarence Thomas, who once went years before asking a single question of the opposing parties, and during one morning asked several.

President Trump, who has been locked up inside the White House for over a month and must be going crazier than he normally is, could not take it any longer and flies across the country to visit a mask manufacturing plant in Arizona. He could have stayed on the East Coast to have done the same thing. And yes, you guessed it, while his team visited the mask-producing site the President did not wear a mask, showing little respect to the workers at this facility or much less demonstrating with true leadership what other Americans should be doing when out in public. This is the same clueless behavior and pathetic attitude toward the public’s wellbeing as Vice President Pence when he visited the Mayo Clinic last week also without donning a mask when speaking with doctors and even a patient.

Governors like Mike Parson of Missouri go about traveling in their state and meeting with business leaders all without wearing a mask or practicing social distancing. Parson was quoted saying wearing a mask should be an individual personal decision for taking personal responsibility. As if wearing a mask was about protecting himself instead of protecting those he comes into contact with. Once again, another corruption of conservatism when you claim to have all these personal rights but ignore civic consequences that come from the exercise of those rights and your own behavior.

A top infectious disease and vaccine researcher who was removed from his HHS NIH post last month has applied for protection as a whistleblower. Rick Bright claims that he tried to sound the alarm about the coronavirus at the beginning of the year but was pushed aside by Trump administration appointees who did not want to hear any of this. Why are we no longer surprised when we hear things like the Trump administration removing qualified scientists, even one whose role was to develop vaccines in time of a pandemic exactly like the one we are in? In his complaint he goes on to allege that HHS’s political leadership kept pressing to make potentially harmful drugs available before their safety or efficacy could be proven. One of the drugs included the malaria-fighting hydroxychloroquine that Trump has been hawking like it was a penthouse in one of his real estate developments. Many wonder why Trump is so keen on promoting this one drug and asking what financial benefits the Trump family may earn from the government buying up huge stockpiles of the drug.

The city of Gallup, New Mexico becomes known around the world for blocking access with closed, guarded roads in and out of the city as they attempt to arrest an outbreak of COVID-19. Not totally unrelated, the FBI reports that gun background checks for the middle of April were one of the all-time highest weekly numbers since they begun tracking.

Scientists have reported more data from last month that pollution levels in major cities of the country have fallen by as much as 50% due to the shuttered economy. Traffic levels are also reported to have fallen also by about half of much. Most of us at home, with admittedly non-essential jobs, are surprised that reduction is not much greater.

Trump goes on a tirade against the ACA in front of visiting nurses to the White House. You cannot make this up. This occurred after he disputed one of the nurses who said she had to reuse her N95 mask because of shortages. Trump responded that there were no shortages. He then goes off on the ACA. Just think of the millions who now have insurance because of Obamacare, or those who would have never been eligible for it because they had a preexisting condition such as long-term effects of COVID-19. A White House spokesperson declares that Obamacare has been a “unlawful failure.” Yes, tell that to the millions of Americans who were able to secure healthcare that extended or saved their lives or that of a family member. Or what about the tens of millions of the newly unemployed who are now thrown out of the employer-provided insurance and might not have been able to get affordable full-coverage insurance without the ACA being in place. Imagine if they would have become sick; no insurance company would have written them a policy during a pandemic or made it so costly they could not have.

During the week the White House continues to distance itself from the CDC, the agency that should be educating and guiding the nation’s response to the pandemic. CDC Director Dr. Redfield and the rest of the agency has been largely MIA as part of the public platform. This is the first national health crisis that Americans have not been able to depend on the CDC for information and guidance. Now we find out that the CDC’s recommendations for how to open the country back up for business in a 17-page document have been rejected by the Trump administration. Officials were reporting to have said the agency’s recommendations were overly prescriptive and that they would “never see the light of day.” The administration then refused to share the report much less issue the guidance it recommended. With the lack of clear guidelines at a national level the rules for the conduct of business in the new norm vary from state to state as if it were the wild west. How many additional American deaths will this result in?

The President and Vice President continue to flout the recommendations of their own health experts by not wearing masks when around others. In addition to his Arizona trip to visit a mask factory, where he met with others while not donning a mask after leaving a White House experiencing community spread, Trump has met with lawmakers as well as WW II veterans all without a face mask. And to make matters even worse, a number of aides to both Trump and Pence were reported this week to have tested positive for COVID-19, including a personal valet for the President and the press secretary for the Vice President. After being in contact with their aides, did Trump and Pence immediately quarantine themselves or even try to restrict their personal interactions with social distancing, both of which have been mandated to Americans in emergency declarations? Of course not. It all just shows their ego and vanity is so much more important to them than the well-being of people with whom they come in contact. At least the heads of the NIH, FDA, and CDC who had been at the White House do the responsible thing and start self-isolating. Yet, other cabinet members mimic Trump’s arrogance, including Defense Chief Esper who was seen standing next to elderly WW II veterans also without wearing a mask.

Former President Barrack Obama, who has acted largely within the historic norms of ex-presidents in not criticizing the current president despite Trump trampling on the norms of his office and regularly disparaging the Obama presidency, was reported to have called Trump’s handling of the pandemic as an “absolute chaotic disaster.” Yes we can do better, America.

As the week ends the death total in the U.S. exceeds 78,000 from 1.3 million confirmed cases. Worldwide there are now over 4 million cases and 275,000 fatalities. The U.S. has nearly twice as many deaths as the next closest countries in Europe. A second wave that authorities warned against starts appearing in some Asian countries that had recently relieved restrictions. Some states in the US, even those that have relaxed restrictions claiming they satisfied the requirements to start reopening, continue to see an increase in cases and deaths.

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 worldwide COVID-19 deaths from Our World in Data and the European CDC)

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