Bearing Witness to the Pandemic May 17-23 2020

President Trump once again stuns the nation in his behavior during the pandemic national crisis. This time by claiming he is taking the anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, to ward off COVID-19. This is a drug that national health officials say is not proven to be effective nor safe for this off-label use. Trump defended his decision saying “I think it’s good. I’ve heard a lot of good stories.” Yes, the President of the United States, who still refuses to wear a mask when out in the public or when in front of White House visitors, is promoting the use of a drug the FDA has warned is not safe for Americans. Even a Fox Newsless anchor encouraged its audience not to do as the President does. The next day he goes on the offensive and starts claiming there were studies and surveys which justify its use as safe and effective. There are not.

The week begins in America with over 85,000 deaths from 1.45 million confirmed cases. Globally, the coronavirus has infected over 4.5 million with more than 310,000 deaths reported. Most states in the U.S. are now in Phase 1 of opening back up, despite most of them not yet having met the minimum guidelines or data metrics provided by the federal agencies for doing so and the death toll keeps rising.

The head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, quits as a result of pressure, much of it from Trump. Trump had said that the WHO did a “very sad job” and had given “us a lot of bad advice, terrible advice” and “they were wrong so much.” The U.S. HHS head Alex Azar piled on and said that the WHO had let COVID-19 spin out of control. Hum, let me see, whom else might we want to fire who has done a very bad job, given the American public bad advice, was wrong about many things, and let things spin out of control? Previously Trump had threatened to withhold tens of millions of dollars in U.S. funding for the agency. Yes, nothing like having a global pandemic then blowing up the international agency that is to help minimize the harm to citizens of countries with far less capacity than our own when we have lost our capacity and compassion to do such. Trump continues to behave like a terrorist in blowing things up, all without knowing how to put anything back together again that requires cooperation or collaboration.

A scientist in Florida who created the state’s public portal into COVID-19 data alleges she was fired because she refused to manipulate and censor data. In the previous week it was reported that Florida was refusing to allow counties to issue their own morbidity data and that from now on only the state could do that. Now we know why. The state’s Republican Governor Ron De Santis is following the President’s play book of misleading the public by cooking data to drum up support for the plan to reopen the economy before there is widespread testing or contact tracing in place. No wonder this state’s actions are always suspect in every presidential election.

The next day reports surface of manipulated data being reported by other states – including Georgia, Virginia, Texas, Missouri and Vermont – to make their conditions appear better than they actually are. The most egregious abuse was in Georgia where the number of new COVID-19 cases were shown on a graph not in chronological order but in descending order which guaranteed the trend would look good, very good. Other states were fudging test data to imply that they were doing more testing than they actually were. Then even the CDC admits that it had combined viral and antibody tests numbers which gave the impression there was far more testing going on than there was.

This past week an additional 2.4 million filed for unemployment with their state agencies. This brings the total to nearly 39 million Americans. It takes your breath away. Who could possibly have imagined that 1 in 4 Americans would be thrown out of work so quickly or that nearly half of all families would experience a loss of household income or employment. In one state alone, Florida (yes, them again), there is a backlog of over 200,000 awaiting their first payments weeks after filing, or attempting to do so. The official national unemployment rate is still 15%, but that number trails the filings by nearly a month. It is expected to rise to 20-25% when all the data is in. Some states like Nevada are already reporting a whopping 28% unemployment rate. The economy is creating new jobs, but many of these are low-wage contractor positions such as for food delivery drivers, industrial cleaning services, and store shopping aides. Some economists are projecting that many, perhaps up to 40%, of the better-paying jobs recently lost will never come back. Hardest hit has been the travel and hospitality industry. And equally sad the news media industry which we need now more than ever is reporting more closings that have impacted tens of thousands of their journalists and other workers.

As more and more small, unique independent businesses shutter their doors large chains are issuing proclamations that they will rapidly expand to gobble up depressed real estate once the economy gets going again. Some of these larger businesses are reported to have even applied for and received PPP money. With good reason, some economists are worried that a lasting affect of the pandemic will be more extreme levels of income and wealth inequality across businesses and Americans who do survive.

The Federal Reserve central bank warns we are “in a downturn without modern precedent” and that more pessimistic guidance may follow should a second outbreak wave appear. A recent poll shows that many American consumers also have a bleak expectation for how long a recovery will take. The average consumer confidence is below 50. However, there is a nearly 20 point difference between that of Republicans (at 60) and Democrats (at 40). Even the deaths of nearly 100,000 fellow Americans cannot bridge the gap of reality for some.

Despite an economy in an urgent depression dive the Congressional Oversight Committee has found that the Treasury Department has been slow in disbursing some $500B of emergency relief provided in the CARES act for medium and large businesses in distressed industries along with state and local governments.

The 100-year old wife of former astronaut and senator John Glenn has died of complications from COVID-19. It is not lost on some Americans that over 50 years ago we united as a country to compete with the Russians to send Glenn into space as the first American to orbit the Earth. And now, decades of supposed progress later, our once-great nation that put man on the moon in less than ten years time was not prepared to respond to a pandemic of which we had many warnings would come. Nor did we have the leadership to stand up a national testing program fast enough to save the lives of a hundred thousand Americans. So instead we had to shutdown the whole damn economy as locking down the country was the only remedy to keep fatalities from being in the millions instead of thousands.

A study from Columbia University estimates that had the U.S. reacted faster with political leadership to enforce public health measures, like social distancing and mask wearing, some 36,000 lives could have been saved. Instead of leading Americans in preparing for what experts warned was to come, Trump was downplaying the pandemic saying in early March that “nothing is shut down, life and the economy will go on.” Well guess what, the opposite happened as is so often the case with what Trump says. Nearly everything was shutdown, life ended for many, and the economy did not go on.

This week President Trump visited an auto plant in Michigan with a campaign-style stop where he declares that the state’s auto industry would have been destroyed if not for his withdrawing the U.S. from international treaties. Of course we know that whatever comes out of his mouth the truth is usually the opposite of what he says. Once again, he is photographed on a tour of the plant while not wearing a face mask in flagrant violation of the recommendation from his own federal agencies. This even though the plant has been repurposed to produce face shields. He probably believes his own lies that by taking hydroxychloroquine not only will he not get COVID-19 but he cannot transmit the coronavirus. When ask why he would not wear a mask he was reported to have said “I don’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.” And because of that he risked infecting others as there are cases of COVID-19 within the White House which he had just left that morning. Rex Tillerson was right; what a moron.

President Trump, playing to his evangelical base, declared that churches and synagogues were essential businesses that should be allowed to reopen for worship services.  This just in time for the Memorial Day weekend where risks are already high enough due to family gatherings and holiday travel. (Bonus question for next week: over the Memorial Holiday will Trump attend an “essential” church service to pray for the millions of Americans hurting, or go play golf and then tweet lies and insults at others?)

While nearly all states are now loosening restrictions, about half of them still report uncontrolled community spread of the coronavirus. Can there be any doubt there will be a second wave? And the sick and dead will just be considered collateral damage by the Trump administration in its rush to open the country back up before a national testing program was in place, much less a vaccine or a cure, and after wasting weeks before taking action to prepare the country once it was clear there was a pandemic coming our way.

The week ends with a U.S. COVID-19 related death toll of over 92,000 from nearly 1.7 million cases. Additional demographic data continues to emerge that shows just how disparate the fatalities have become. We are not all experiencing this crisis together it seems and the President is not helping to bring us together. In some locations, like Mississippi and Chicago, black Americans are dying at a rate of 2-3 times that of their percentage of the population. An utter tragedy within a tragedy.


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 deaths a screen capture image from the Washington Post at https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/national/coronavirus-us-cases-deaths/. )