Bearing Witness to the Pandemic June 2020

Week of June 1-6, 2020

The first week of June brings another 10,000 deaths and a total of nearly 110,000 fatalities from 1.9 million confirmed cases in the US. How sad that many deaths are for the lack of a better word, cruel, in that the dying are alone, removed from their families, and isolated in a hospital or a closed-off nursing home. And then memorial services to console the grieving families and celebrate the deceased’s life are impossible to hold at this time. It is also worrisome to think that we have nearly become immune not yet to the disease, but to these numbers and how people have passed.

Most states across the country continue to open up for business and relax restrictions despite many in the South still experiencing a rise in infections. Employees are returning back to shuttered shops, offices, and restaurants. But without a vaccine to prevent or a cure to care for the sick it is all new territory that is dystopian to watch unfold.

Another 1.9 million Americans filed for unemployment this past week bringing the total to nearly 42 million. However, in a surprise announcement, the BLS said that the economy added 2.5 million jobs last month and that the official national unemployment rate went down to 13%. How convenient for the Trump administration. But wait, another surprise, there was an “asterisk” stating that some data was misclassified. The actual number is now said to have been 16%. But wait some more, 42 million Americans have filed for unemployment which would make the unemployment closer to 25%. Can we believe anything that comes from this administration?

Many health officials have begun to worry about distribution of a vaccine once one hopefully becomes available. Our federal government under the (mis)leadership of Trump was never able to stand up a national testing program. How will they ever be able to organize vaccinations for hundreds of millions?

The pandemic does not keep millions of protesters around the world from taking to the streets to protest police brutality like that which killed George Floyd of Minneapolis. Health officials worry that with thousands of protesters in close proximity to each other, many not wearing masks with others shouting and chanting, a new wave of infections is likely to occur. But it seems people, young and old, black and white, understand that some things, like justice and making our democracy work for all citizens, are even more important than their own safety and worth fighting for. These are true patriots willing to die for their country, despite the demeaning names Trump calls them.

Week of June 7 – 13, 2020

Two studies published in the journal Nature have concluded that shutdowns of businesses and stay-at-home lockdowns of residents prevented several hundred million COVID-19 infections around the world and saved millions of lives. In the United States alone it was estimated that some 60 million infections were prevented. At a common fatality rate of 5% that would be 3,000,000 lives.

Despite the evidence that lockdowns worked, states across the U.S. continue to open up in rapid fashion. However, a dozen states, many across the South, are reporting growth in infection rates and hospitalizations which will likely translate into more deaths over the next few weeks. Dr. Anthony Fauci warned this past week that the outbreak was far from over.

In some states like Missouri the use of masks and protection of public health has become increasingly a display of party affiliation. It is no longer a surprise that the protection of public health has fallen victim to partisan politics, just like other matters of science such as climate change and environmental protections. Lawmakers from almost half of all states have reported becoming ill from Coronavirus, yet many Republicans refuse to wear masks or practice social distancing as if it was some fascist-like allegiance test for supporting fearless leader Trump. Democrats by far margins continue to treat the pandemic with the seriousness it deserves.

Week of June 14 – 20, 2020

Coronavirus surges across southern states, especially in rural counties, where new case numbers hit record highs in Florida, Arizona, Texas Nevada, and South Carolina. The Republican governors of Florida and Texas claim the rise is due to nothing more than more testing Well, duh, of course it is. Spoiler alert: President Trump will go on to say in the next week that the rise in cases was indeed due to more testing so he told his people to slow down the testing. Yes, he said that.  Some mistakenly if not maliciously blamed migrant communities and Hispanics in particular. What a grand strategy from the grand ole party; let’s scapegoat immigrant workers who are doing so many of the essential jobs while other non-essential workers Americans sit at home comfortably working on their computers.

Gov. Abbott of Texas refuses to allow mayors of the state to order mandatory wearing of face masks. Trump and members of his cabinet still refuse to wear face coverings. Public health and science have fallen victim to Republican demon-like demagoguery (mis)led by the President. Things have become so tense that some local public health officials have been fired or received death threats, while others have resigned in protest of their elected leaders driving their communities and states to reopen regardless of the outcomes or increased deaths.

Candidate Joe Biden summarized it rather succinctly when he said this week “Donald Trump wants to style himself as a wartime president. Unlike any other wartime leader, he takes no responsibility, he exercises no leadership, now he has just flat surrendered the fight.”

Not surprising, the CDC has revised its expectation of deaths in the U.S. to as high as 145,000 by midsummer. Communities of color are still taking a disproportionate share of COVID fatalities all during the same time that “Black Lives Matter” protesters bringing attention to unnecessary deaths of Black Americans at the hands, guns, and knees of their local police.  In some states the death rate for Blacks per hundred thousand is 4 times that of Whites in the same community. Nationally, 1 in 10 Black Americans report that a family member or close friend has died from COVID-19. For White Americans it is less than 5%. Even the Fed Chair Powell commented publicly on the economic disparities being experienced during the pandemic recession by so many poor and minority Americans. A Fed survey reported that nearly 40% of households with incomes less than $40,000 suffered job losses.

The FDA withdrew approval of two drugs that were promoted by Trump, without evidence like most of the things that come out of his mouth, for use in combating COVID-19. However, in some good news from England, a low-cost anti-inflammatory drug has been found to reduce death rates by up to a third for those on ventilators. In other news the U.S. company Moderna announced positive results from a small preliminary trial of its coronavirus vaccine. And in pure American style, never missing an opportunity to make money on sick people, the company within the same day announced it was going to sell a $1B of stock.

Week of June 21 –  27, 2020

Coronavirus infection rates are now spiking upward across 40 states, many that had decided to reopen for business early. States like Texas and Florida are reporting more than 5,000 new cases a day and the US as a whole passed on all-time high of 40,000 cases in a single day. Deaths are averaging about 600 per day bringing the total to over 125,000. Young people age 20-40, who previously may have thought they were safe and invincible, are now responsible for nearly half the cases in some locales. NIH Infectious Disease Chief Dr. Anthony Fauci told Congress that the virus is not under control and pleaded with Americans to stay at home, stay away from crowds, practice social distancing, and wear masks. All the while President Trump on the very same day was violating each of these guidelines.

The surge in infections included Arizona where the President visited this week to speak in a megachurch to an audience with few mask wearers. Trump declined to wear a mask even though the Governor pleaded with him to do so to set an example. Even Vice President Pence’s trip to Arizona suffered a delay when members of this secret service details sent there to plan tested positive. In Texas, Governor Abbott which had been ever so slow to allow cities to order mask wearing and went so far as to bar municipalities from doing such, has finally surrendered up his partisan-based ignorance as hospitals begin to reach capacity.

Rather predictably states and cities across the US begin to walk back previous decisions to allow businesses to reopen, commerce resume, and public gatherings return to normal. Much of our progress and sacrifices of Americans to date are being negated by a lack of leadership – no it’s worse than that; by an overabundance of ignorance, arrogance and malfeasance  – from the President. The country is still testing at about half the rate, around 500k per day when it needs to be in the low millions, to quickly head off and extinguish hotspots. As some states report that nearly 1 in 4 who are tested are found to be positive, there is no substitute for rapid testing to allow those infected to immediately quarantine themselves. Experts say that for every diagnosed case there may be another 10 untested virus carriers among the public, many of them asymptomatic and some superspreaders. It is estimated that over 20 million Americans may have been infected to date with only 2.4 million cases confirmed. And the NIH says that the country is till in the first wave, not the second with Florida passing 100K and Arizona 50,000 infections. And if current trends hold up, for every 1,000 to test positive up to 5% or 500 people may die from it in the weeks to come.

And here in freedom-loving gun-toting America, public health experts who close businesses or order masks to be worn continue to receive death threats or being pushed out of their jobs.  Even store clerks are being verbally and physically assaulted when asking visitors to wear a masks. All so pathetic that these Americans think it is just too damn much to ask of them to wear a mask when in public. Look, the country has been attacked and we are suffering gravely as if we were under a siege. They should be thankful we are not drafting these “patriots” into the army and sending them off to fight and die to protect the freedoms as our ancestors so bravely did without whining. We are just asking people to wear a friggin mask. But I suppose that is just too much of a “sacrifice” for many it seems. These phony patriots are nothing but selfish irresponsible citizens that don’t understand a core conservative principle that with freedom and rights comes responsibilities and obligations. The whole world is looking at America and wonder what has happened to us. I do as well.

Trump’s USDA continues to claim there is no reason to worry about America’s meat supply despite thousands of processing plant workers testing positive for COVID-19. The Chinese seem to know better as they banned shipments from some poultry plants in the US. While China has decided it does not want some of our food products, the EU has announced it does not want US visitors. Travelers from America are generally now prohibited due to the pandemic being considered out of control within the US. Americans have the dubious distinction of joining Russia and Brazil on the same list of banned visitors. Even Canada has asked US Americans to stayaway or go home if they are already in the country. This sure makes us feel great again.

States across the US like Illinois and New York that are in recovery mode are ordering visitors from other states to stay away or else quarantine for two weeks. The administration’s slow and poor handling of the pandemic, especially without a nationally coordinated plan for massive rapid testing, has now made it impossible for many Americans to travel abroad or domestically, or even within their own communities.

The World Health Organization reported an all-time daily high of over 183,000 cases with nearly 100,000 of those from just two countries, the US and Brazil. Total infections globally passed 9 million with 500,000 deaths. The death rate of nearly 5% is a nearly universal metric.

Another 1.48 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, bringing the total to over 47 million from 14 weeks since the recession hit in earnest during March. The good news is that several million workers were called back to work as many states reopened, albeit prematurely it now seems.

The White House Pandemic Task Force, facing the reality that that the country is rapidly losing ground and entering another abyss, holds its first public briefing in nearly two months. VP Pence spent much time trying to deliver an upbeat message and praising the President’s administration for what a remarkable job they had done in fighting the pandemic. He went so far to say all 50 states were opening up “safely and responsibly” as infections and hospitalizations soar. It is astonishing how the lying deceiving behavior of one man, Trump, can corrupt others around him who would normally be beyond reproach. Trump Americans are now experiencing the history we read about in our school years of so many other fallen totalitarian states like Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia whose leaders also lied to their people and tried to fabricate an alternative reality. To avoid contradicting the President, Pence would not even confirm Americans should wear masks or that campaign rallies like that the President is holding should be curtailed. All while Fauci and other officials stood b y on the same platform wearing masks when not speaking at the podium. They should be thankful we could not read their lips.

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 is a screen shot from the June 22 New York Times reporting on the Coronavirus Pandemic.

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