Bearing Witness to the Pandemic September 2020

Week of Sept. 1 – 5, 2020

The month starts off with 6.2 million confirmed cases and over 187,000 deaths in the US. With the fall season rapidly approaching, a shocking new projection of deaths by year end is now over 400,000. The rate of infections of children and young adults has skyrocketed in recent weeks with hospitalizations and deaths up by several hundred percent.

Timed perfectly to impact the presidential election on Nov. 3, the CDC has notified states to be prepared to distribute a vaccine in late October or early November.  The FDA says it may issue an emergency use order before clinical trials have been completed. Phase 3 clinical trials to validate safety and efficacy have just begun on the leading vaccines. Some believe that is overly optimistic propaganda, and just more politicization of public health agencies. This administration has not been able to get a nationwide testing program in place so why should we believe them about a nationwide vaccine program?

Another 880,000 Americans filed for state unemployment this week in addition to over 750,000 gig workers. It is lower than recent weeks, which were all over 1 million, but the Labor Department said it has changed how it makes seasonal “adjustments” to the data. Yeah right, just like how they manipulate inflation data. It is said that over 13 million are unemployed, but 30 million are still collecting unemployment, out of the 60 million who have at one time or perhaps several times had to file for unemployment not including gig workers. Yet, the Feds claim that official unemployment rate has dropped dramatically in the last month from over 10% to 8.4% and half of the 22 million jobs originally lost have been regained. Does anyone else think these numbers don’t make sense?

The Fed also says to help recovery from the pandemic they will raise the targeted inflation rate to 2.5%. These central bankers are clueless that the cost of living to maintain the standard of living of most middle class Americans is already rising faster than that paltry number. It has been reported that prices of many food products– like eggs, coffee, condiments, meats, fruits and vegetables –  have gone up 5-10% since the start of the pandemic.

Congress and the White House have still not agreed on a new relief package. it has gotten so bad that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said they should not worry about how much or getting caught up on a number – a trillion here and a trillion there – but just get something done. As the recession moves on it appears more like a worsening depression for many laid off and essential workers, instead of the strong recovery the well-off are experiencing.  For the latter group house values are up, commuting expenses are down, household savings are increasing, and  retirement accounts are rising with stock market records. And with the Fed promising zero interest rates it will only exacerbate the inequality as the wealthy borrow their way into luxury living while their stock portfolios rise because there is no where else to put the trillions of dollars the Fed has pumped into the economy.

The total national debit, now over $20T is expected to exceed the size of our economy’s GDP for the first time since World War II. The $1.5 trillion tax cut of 2017 did not help as corporate tax payments are down by over a third. This year’s deficit is expected to reach $3.3 trillion. The pandemic has already added over $2T in unplanned funding.  Funny, there was no mention of the deficit at this year’s Republican National Convention. In the 2016 campaign, President Trump said he would have the national debt paid off in eight years. Oh, I forgot, debt only matters to Republicans when a Democrat is in the White House.  And investors don’t seem to care either as the stock market climbs.

Some economists are warning of a tidal wave of permanent small business closures who are struggling to survive. Estimates are that some 20-30% of all small businesses have closed at least temporarily. Big businesses are not doing that much better as major corporations like United Airlines and Ford Motor continue to announce the furloughing of tens of thousands of employees.

In an unusual move that had little to do with medicine, the CDC issued an order that suspended residential rental evictions. Is there any doubt where this came from?

President Trump’s newest pandemic task force member, Scott Atlas, continues to tout the benefits of lifting restrictions to help the country obtain herd immunity. Or did he mean herd mentality as the President once slipped? He argues that letting young healthy people get the disease is a good thing, not bad, and that children cannot pass the virus on to others. He also says we should be doing less testing, not more and that there is not need to test people not showing symptoms even if they have been in close contact with someone who is infected. Just don’t tell any of this to the older teachers and less healthy family members with whom they may come into contact. Some experts say that to get the US to a 65% herd-immunity infection rate, before we have treatments or a vaccine, would precipitate over 2 million deaths. Like many of Trump’s appointees that have no experience in the function they are suppose to be leading, Dr. Atlas is a neurologist with little background in epidemiology or public health policy. But he is a conservative that promotes policies the president likes which conflicts with those of the other members, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx. It is said that the President first heard of Dr. Atlas by watching him on Fox News. That seems about right.

President Trump along with other Republicans claimed this week by twitter that the death count from Covid-19 was greatly exaggerated. He was referring to the CDC report that only 6% of all the deaths listed Covid as the only cause of death. No, that is not true. As in many deaths the doctors, hospitals, and CDC list the other comorbidities which contributed to the deaths. And as in many diseases, including most cancers, the underlying disease triggers an avalanche of health problems which together finally take a human life.

The White House announced this week another go-it-alone strategy that the US will not participate in a 170-country international effort to develop and distribute a vaccine globally because the World Health Organization is involved. For all those evangelicals who support Trump, well, this certainly shows the world who truly has Christian values. Separately, the White House said it was not going to pay the $60M in back dues it owes the WHO.  A tear must be falling from Lady Liberty.

On a more positive note, Pope Francis said this week on the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation that the pandemic has led us to rediscover simpler and more sustainable lifestyles. And that the planet’s environment can recover if we allow it to rest from the constant demand for growth and endless consumption. Amen.

Week of Sept. 6 – 12

This week Covid-19 cases past 6.4 million with 194,000 deaths in the US.  The good news is that death rates, which in the spring were as high as 5-10% in some locales, have fallen to 1% or even lower as case counts among the healthier young have exploded.

Infection rates are still rising into double digits in many communities, especially college towns where student have returned to school. Cases per hundred thousand population are nearly double in many college counties compared to those without campuses.

The two states with the most out-of-control community spread infections are North Dakota and South Dakota which are leading the nation. Both are (mis)led by Republican governors who not only eschewed wearing masks but approved then encouraged large public gathering like the Mount Rushmore July 4th celebration and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  The positivity rate in South Dakota is a whopping 17%. Hundreds of new cases across the country have been traced back to participants in the rally. Governor Kristi Noem should be sent the bill for their care if not a criminal indictment for knowingly causing injury and risk of life that could have been prevented by her actions.

Excerpts from the new book “Rage” by Bob Woodward are released along with audio recordings of his 18 on-the-record interviews with the President. Trump admits to Woodward he knew how dangerous and more deadly the coronavirus was early on but chose to downplay the risks to the public. He did more than play it down to avoid panic; he purposefully misled and lied to the country time after time. And in doing so he kidded himself, failing to lead and mobilize the nation to confront it early on that would have saved tens of thousands of lives. The man is guilty of negligent manslaughter if not a crime against humanity. Presidential candidate Joe Biden called it a dereliction of duty, a disgrace, and life-and-death betrayal of the American people. 

The next day the White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnanny claims the President never minimized the virus. Did she not listen to the audio tapes where the President said that is exactly what he did and continued to do thru the summer? She continues to lie to the American public like everyone else in this corrupt shameless administration.

While many people were not all that surprised or shocked any longer, it does raise the question on why the President would agree to speak to Woodward that many times, with some of them initiated by the President’s late night phone calls to the author. Had he so drunk his own Kool Aid that his hubris and narcissism led him to believe he could outwit and con Woodward into writing a flattering book? And that suggests, as the author concludes and as others have said, that Trump is unfit for office.

The Washington Post this week reported over 100 times that President Trump has downplayed, misinformed, or lied about the coronavirus threat.  It starts on Jan. 22 when he said he was not worried at all about it as it was totally under control. He kept saying it was under control, not a threat, was going to go away soon, would disappear soon, that the country was prepared, things were going well, he’s done a fantastic job, the problem was with the testing not the virus, that the county is doing very well, and finally it is what it is.

The public has become rightfully concerned that the Trump administration will announce and rush before the election a vaccine that has not been proven safe. The President continues to say that a vaccine could be ready by the end of October. Recent announcements and reversals from the CDC on testing guidelines and FDA on treatment efficacy have only increased the public’s skepticism. Vaccine-maker CEOs have had to make a pledge that their approval processes will not be corrupted by outside pressure nor will they seek emergency use authorizations until a final round three of testing has proven safety.

Another week and another 880,000 file for unemployment. Yet, the labor department claims that the unemployment rate continues to fall and is now around 8%. With over 50 million having filed for unemployment, plus all the gig and contractors out of work, no one believes this number or much else coming from the administration.

Congress continues its stalemate and has yet to pass the next round of relief money to feed an economy that is running on fumes. The original enhanced weekly unemployment checks of $600 have stopped as well as additional loans and grants for businesses.

The Treasury Department confirmed what we knew was coming that the US budget deficit surpassed $3 trillion dollars for the 11 months of the current fiscal year. The year is expected to end at a record-breaking $3.3 trillion.

Week of Sept. 13 – 19

The President continues to disagree, bicker and undermine his own Pandemic Task Force Members and agency heads. This time it was CDC Director Robert Redfield who said that wearing a face covering was one of the best tools to combat the pandemic and might even be a better guarantee than a vaccine. Trump continues to forgo wearing a mast when in public. And of course he holds rallies with thousands in attendance who are not wearing face covering nor practicing social distancing. In front of the Senate hearing the CDC chief also said that a new vaccine would not be widely available until mid-2021. It only took a few hours for the President to respond by telling Americans that the head of the CDC was confused and mistaken. Redfield is not alone in his forecast of availability of a vaccine as most experts agree with his assessment.

The once respected and revered CDC has become so politicized and corrupted by the Trump administration how should the public know what to believe? The controversial guidance prepared last month retracting previous recommendations on who should be tested was not written by CDC scientists, but by HHS officials from the top down including Trump appointees. They now have reversed themselves and say anyone who came into close contact with someone infected should themselves be tested.

In a social media event the top spokesperson – or more likely minister of propaganda – at the Dept. of Health and Human Services, Michael Caputo, accused scientists at the CDC of sedition for presenting data that made the President look bad. He went on to say that the President’s opponents were organizing hit squads and preparing to wage war in case he was reelected, that these people did not want America to get well, folks should start stocking up on guns and ammunition, and that the deep state was out to get Trump.  Not surprising, Caputo’s qualifications for his job was serving as a former Trump campaign lackey. Yes, these are the type of people that the administration has hired to advise Americans during a health crisis. Mr. Caputo at least had the decency to apologize to his staff and then take a medical leave from his post. We should be so lucky if the rest of the administration and President would do the same.

Remember that the HHS recently acted to have pandemic data reporting, including weekly Morbidity and Mortality Reports, removed from the responsibility of the CDC and given to its own staff? A House subcommittee has now launched an investigation into what we knew was going to happen. Reports have surfaced that the HHS has been meddling with if not manipulating that data to better align with the President’s public statements and false assertions.

Pandemic-related layoffs continue as the number of workers filing state unemployment claims seems to be stuck in the 800,000s as if a broken record. This past week it was another 860,000. That does not include an additional 660,000 self-employed and freelance gig workers covered by the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Many workers who were furloughed early on in the crisis are now receiving notices they have been permanently terminated. Hundred’s of thousands of small businesses have been shuttered, many likely for good. Older workers are said to be dropping out of the work force for good, working parents with children at home are slow to returning, as well while younger ones are waiting to enter the work force for the first time. Yet many voters for Trump say one of the reasons they are voting to reelect the President is that he is good for the economy. What?

As the week begins an average of 1,000 Americans are still dying from coronavirus with nearly 40,000 new cases each day across the nation. It is ever so sad to realize that with every 1,000 new cases with a fatality rate of just 1% will likely lead to 10 additional deaths in the weeks to follow.

Week of Sept. 20 – 26

The country passes a once-unimaginable 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic. Case counts are still rising in more than 17 states with a total passing 7 million. Trump’s response was that he has done a “phenomenal job”, otherwise it would have been millions of fatalities. More than two-thirds of Americans do not agree as it is reported that only 30% of Americans approve how the President has responded to the emergency. And through all this tragedy, much but not all that could have been avoided, Trump has failed to help console, heal or unite the nation as nearly every other president has done during a time of national emergency and mourning.

Trust in the Trump Administration’s CDC and FDA suffered another blow this week. The CDC quietly posted then immediately removed guidance on its website that the virus spreads primarily through the air by droplets and tiny aerosol particles. Wearing masks, which the President rarely does, is the best way to protect against airborne spread. Just ask Missouri Governor Mike Parsons who announced this week that he and his wife had tested positive and were quarantining during his own reelection campaign. Parson had previously said wearing a “dang mask” was a personal choice and that children would be safe from severe reactions. Across much of the nation, especially in rural conservative Trump country, mask wearing has become so charged that few wear one, despite all the data that this helps to reduce infections and save lives. Trumpers attend his rallies and stage protests in complete idiotic denial of science and reality as if they were part of a extremist cult. They mistake their defiance as a conservative value and act of patriotism. But in reality it is just the opposite when by doing such a small thing they can protect the health and lives of their own family members, coworkers, and neighbors. This is the America Trump has made.

In much needed good news and as a tribute to American innovation and collaboration, there are at least 4 vaccines in final phase of testing. However, that even gets tarnished by the President who suggested he might not approve more stringent FDA safety processes for emergency use authorizations. These would ensure that no vaccine is rushed out to the public before it is proven to be effective and safe. Trump then accused the industry and agency of playing politics if the release is delayed. Not surprising, the public has become so skeptical and fearful of what the administration is saying and doing that only half of respondents in a poll said they would get vaccinated once one is approved.


The above news items have been taken from a number of local, regional, national and international news media  including print, broadcast, and digital sources, but no social media. Additional editorial opinions and comments about these news items are those of this author.

Featured image is from the CDC at https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/index.html#trends_dailytrends.