Bearing Witness to the Pandemic May 10-16 2020

The week starts with over 78,000 deaths and 1.3 million confirmed cases in the US and over 280,000 fatalities from 4 million cases worldwide. But there is some good news as finally, hospital admissions and daily death counts have started to decline. Americans take a long-deserved exhale and sigh of relief. We all just hope it is not premature as the nation starts opening back up for business still without a national testing program in place despite months of lost time. This lack of a national master response plan or “emergency playbook” will prove to be one of the largest failures in American history that ultimately results in the additional deaths of thousands of Americans who did not have to suffer or die. With the lack of leadership from the White House, Congress is racing ahead with proposals to provide for wide-scale testing in the next pandemic relief bill.

A leading infectious disease researcher, Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, has warned that we are still in the very early stages of the global pandemic and that final infection rates could hit some 60-70% of the population. At that point we will largely have “herd immunity” where the virus eventually disappears on its own. As of now best estimates are that somewhere between 5-20% of people in hot spots have been infected. That’s a long terrifying way to go from 20 to 60%.

The White House is in a near-lock down itself with staff ordered to practice social distancing and wear masks. That is with the exception of the President who apparently does not give a damn about the health of others, including his closest aides. If he did he would wear one to protect others he is around, instead of not doing so to protect his large yet fragile ego. The irony of a White House under attack and duress from a community-spread virus all while the President tells the nation it’s safe to open up and get back to work is lost on no one, except I imagine Fox Newsless. Later in the week, unlike last week’s trip to a mask manufacturer in Arizona, Trump stays closer to home and visits a mask distribution center in Pennsylvania where, despite leaving a White House with community spread Coronavirus and where he should be self-quarantine, he once again does not wear a mask as he meets and greets.

On Monday Trump presides over a Rose Garden briefing wearing no mask again while nearly everyone else did. He once again lies to the nation and tries to fabricate his own reality by insisting that every American who wants to be tested “should all be able to get a test right now.” He claims that his administration has “met the moment” and “prevailed.” Sure, tell that to the 80,000 dead Americans that make the U.S. number one in this grim statistic. Meanwhile, V.P. Pence led calls and meetings from an isolated room as at least he is practicing what he preaches. The briefing ends abruptly as Trump argues with a journalist who had tough questions for him he obviously did not like.

Twitter goes so far to announce it will start tagging misleading or disputed tweets about COVID-19. Yes, even if they come from the President of the United States.

In another demonstration of the President’s intent to divide our country up until we turn on each other, like other aspiring autocrats and despots have perfected, he encourages the residents of Pennsylvania to resist their Governor’s stay-at-home and business shutdown orders. He tweets out that “the great people of Pennsylvania wand their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails.” This sounds like more a call for open rebellion and insurrection that some extremists can be expected to carry too far. Trump once again acts more like a home-grown terrorist intent on destroying American institutions and norms.

After an estimated 27,000 deaths related to nursing homes the White House finally recommends tests for all nursing home residents. That action is overdue by two months. When exactly will they recommend testing for all Americans that they want to go back to work and consuming? Oh, I forgot, Trump recently said that testing is overrated. And that is why it is only needed for each member of his White House staff who comes near the President.

With a second wave starting in some parts of the globe, the WHO warns that there is a lack of capacity for virus contact tracing. New clusters have appeared this week in South Korea, China, and Germany. European nations have begun to recruit, train, and mobilize an army of contractors and volunteers for contact tracing. Here in America? Well, it seems to rank right after the importance of a nationwide testing strategy, which we all know by now is not going to happen. Brett Grior, the Assistant Secretary of HHS, appearing before the Senate testified that we need to be producing 2-3 million tests a day before returning the country to work is safe. We are doing about one-third of that.

The most respected health official, Dr. Anthony Fauci, testifies before the Senate (he was not allowed by the White House to appear before the House) that with the premature opening Americans will experience “suffering and death that could have been avoided.” He contradicted Trump’s claim that the virus would eventually die out on its own.  Predictably, the next day Trump goes on to attack Fauci saying he was trying “to play all sides of the equation.” So says the man who consistently lies and misinforms the public such that we never know which way the President is playing. Trump later says he totally disagrees with Fauci on keeping schools closed because the virus has very little impact on children. All while his own health agencies start issuing emergency guidance about a growing COVID-19 related syndrome in children that has recently emerged.

NIH immunologist and vaccine researcher Dr. Rick Bright, who was relieved from his job and filed for protection as a federal whistleblower, also testified in front of Congress this week. He said that America may face the “darkest winter ever” in the coming fall. He went on to say that if the country failed to develop a nationally-coordinated response based on science the pandemic will get much worse with a deadly resurgence later in the year. Trump does what Trump does and blamed the messenger as a disgruntled guy. Trump sure knows how to create a bunch of them.

Next, Trump finds time to dispute what CDC head Dr. Robert Redfield had to say that an impending second wave could be more difficult than what we just went through. Trump blames fake news for misquoting Redfield. They did not.

More details of the suppressed CDC guidelines for opening up American emerge despite the administration having shelved their recommendations. In the 63-page report leaked to the Associated Press the CDC advocated for a coordinated national response plan with specific step-by-step instructions for state and local governments to follow. CDC experts, like those at the NIH, have also now said that there will likely be a resurgence of cases in a second wave which local governments may not have the capacity to respond to keep them from becoming an outbreak that spirals out of control. Late in the week a 6-page series of one-page decision-tool recommendations is released by the CDC. Science loses one more time to politics in the Trump administration.

The House of Representatives have begun working on a $3T bill to rescue state and local governments that the Trump Administration is now putting most of the responsibility on to respond to the crisis and which he wasted time in doing nothing for over three months. The package includes money for state and local governments, housing assistance, unemployment insurance, hospitals, SNAP food assistance, the postal service, and for ensuring vote-by-mail in the Fall elections. The Republicans are said to want new tax cuts – of course tax cuts solve any problem – and legal immunity for businesses who open up before the pandemic has subsided and may face lawsuits from their employees and customers. It is reported that over 75% of small businesses took advantage of the CARES Payroll Protection Program act which was reported to have distributed more than $500B to those businesses in need.

Another week with massive job losses exceeding 3 million. The total is now some 36 million Americans who have been able to file for unemployment. Yet, news media report that in some states almost half of the newly unemployed have been delayed in filing their initial claim or have yet to see any payments. So the total loss could already be in excess of 40 million jobs, or approaching 1 in 4 previously-employed Americans. Federal officials have tendered that some 40% of the recent job losses may not be temporary, but permanent. Retail sales dropped over 20% from a year ago. More national retailers file for bankruptcy including J.C. Penney, J Crews, Nieman Marcus, and Gordmans marking the end of the era of rising prosperous middle class America we once knew and grew up in.

The Federal Reserve Chairman Powell warned that the nation could enter a long multi-year recession if the Congress and White House do not pump more aid into the economy as part of the ongoing rescue package. He cited the possibility of a runaway domino effect that feeds upon itself which will produce “a level of pain that is hard to capture in words.” That is nothing new to the 40% of American households earning less than $40K who have already suffered a job loss and wait in mile-long food lines. It’s already beyond a recession and is a depression.

State government are preparing to slash their employment roles, funding of education and other services such as health care and even public safety. This is due to an expected decrease of 15-20% in their revenues for the year. Income taxes have crashed as have retail sales taxes.

A divide grows wider across the country, largely along partisan lines, between those supporting the lock down and others who are taking to the streets and state capitols to protest it. Some protesters, such as those in Texas and Michigan, carry long arms in militia-like gatherings and ignore social distancing. A few armed vigilantes have one so far to “volunteer” to protect those businesses which have opened up early against local laws.  Some incidents have turned violent when a security guard was shot after asking someone to wear a mask, and employees at another store suffered injuries when a scuffle broke out while escorting a unmasked shopper off the premise. Other business owners are suing their states and cities for the right to open up, while others are just going ahead and doing it in defiance of emergency orders. Again, this is a corruption of conservatism. They want all their rights but reject any responsibility to their employees, customers, families and health care workers they may come into contact with.

The pandemic is said to have begun in a wet market in China where live caged animals were bought and slaughtered. And now halfway around the world our cruelty to animals continues. Meat plants have been shuttered throughout the Midwest leaving farmers with an oversupply of pigs that slaughter houses can no longer accept. An estimated 90,000 pigs have been killed, gassed, or shot by their own farmers.  The same thing is happening to some large chicken farms where there are no longer huge institutional buyers of poultry or eggs for schools, fast food establishments, and chain restaurants. All this while millions of Americans who are jobless seek out meals from food banks and charities. Others are rightfully more concerned for the health of farmers than their livestock where suicides are expected to rise.

The President in another Rose Garden campaign-style press conference at the end of the week promises that vaccines will be widely available by the end of the year. This despite guidance from his agencies and other public health officials that say this is highly unlikely. It is obvious that Trump, like a snake-oil salesman, plans to hawk to the public a “placebo” effect experience. He will likely force approval of some vaccine, safe or not, and mislead, exaggerate, or outright lie about its effectiveness and success.

The week ends with over 87,000 deaths from 1.46 million confirmed cases in the US. There is still no national testing or contact tracing program. Every state is making it up as they go along, just like they have had to do with acquiring medical supplies and PPE often competing with each other or other countries in the rawest most exploitive form of capitalism. Yes indeed, President Trump, it looks you have certainly prevailed to Make American Great Again.


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 new case count from CDC at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html)