Bearing Witness to the Pandemic October 2020

October 1 – 10, 2020

A coronavirus infection strikes the President of the United States this week who after two days of illness is transported to Walter Reed Hospital. The President is at high risk due to his age, high blood pressure, and excess weight. However so tragic that it was the same President Trump who had shunned wearing masks, refused to practice social distancing, held public events, disputed the guidance of his public health agencies, bickered with his task force members, mocked others including Joe Biden for wearing masks, and admitted to intentionally delaying the country’s response to the growing health emergency back in the early spring. Not even the handling in the communication of the President’s health emergency was done well by the White House. Nor did his doctors level with the American people when they gave an overly optimistic report initially while insiders describe a perilous very concerning period before Trump left the White House for the hospital.

During the week prior to his illness the President presided over a Rose Garden celebration, participated in a debate debacle with Joe Biden (where members of his family in the audience refused to wear masks because they too are above any rules or agreements), hosted a Gold Star military reception, held campaign fund raisers, led a public rally in Minnesota, visited his NJ golf course to meet with supporters, traveled on Air Force One with a large contingent of staffers, and spoke at several news conferences. It was reported that after receiving his first positive test the President did not immediately quarantine himself but continued on with meetings and public events until he felt ill. After all, rules are made for suckers, not kings.

In the following week the virus strikes another dozen members of the President’s family, cabinet members, advisers, and White House staff, and fellow Republicans. The list includes First Lady Melania, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany and two aides, Campaign Manager Bill Stepien, Advisers Hope Hicks, Senior Adviser Stephen Miller, Spokesperson Kellyanne Conway, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, Utah Senator Mike Lee, former Governor Chris Christie, members of the White House press corps, and likely others who have yet to be announced. Even the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley along with most of  rest of the Chiefs went into self-quarantine. Most of the infected all had in common of working closely with the President, attending a Rose Garden event for Supreme Court Justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett where few wore masks or practiced social distancing, or traveled with the President onboard Air Force one. It appears that the President and one or more of his events may have been the super-spreader common denominator. Has he or will he take responsibility for this? Of course not.

Once at the hospital, and after he claimed “he gets it” and he has “learned a lot about COVID”, did the President as a fake conservative start taking his personal responsibility more seriously to protect others? Of course not; this is Donald Trump.  He had his secret service agents drive him in a tightly sealed vehicle to the front gates of the medical complex so that he could be adored and worshipped by supporters who had gathered. This was mostly to feed his fragile ego and stage the first of several photo opps over the next few days. Most Americans on both sides thought this was reckless behavior for a man who had high fever, low oxygen levels, likely still contagious, and was receiving numerous medicines and therapies, some experimental not available to the public.

The political theater continued on Tuesday when the President left the hospital after four days and returned to the White House. Upon departing his helicopter turned air ambulance he climbed the South Portico stairs, took off his mask, filmed a message, and walked into the people’s house where his aides had gathered, all without wearing a face covering. Thankfully, much of the White House has been vacated as a hazard zone because so many staffers have fallen ill or were isolating or in quarantine. He has not learned a damned thing and appears incapable of doing so. He could have come out of his illness with a sense of humility, thankfulness, and empathy for what millions of American families have endured. Instead it was with arrogance, bravado, contempt, and dismissiveness.

In a new propaganda video Trump told Americans to “don’t be afraid of it” and “you’re going to beat it” as we have the “best medical equipment” and “best medicines”, and “don’t let the virus dominate your life.” No, he has access to the best care and most advanced treatments, all at not cost to him, that we Americans do not. And he has abused it by his careless behavior that led him to become infected and well as by his Irresponsible actions afterwards without regard to the safety of others. Survivors across the country as well as the family of the deceased condemned the President for his cavalier words that made them feel as if they or their family members were just not strong enough and were to blame for letting the virus beat them.

Upon returning to the White House on Tuesday the President tweeted that he had called off negotiations on the next coronavirus economic relief package. Yes, he personally feels so good now that it is obviously no longer needed. Stock markets took a dive upon the President’s tweet. On Wednesday he fired off another 50 tweets including one abruptly reversing his decision the day before on shutting down negotiations. Other tweets and posts were flagged or removed by Twitter and Facebook as being judged “misleading and potentially harmful information” about minimizing the dangers of COVID-19.

The CDC has revised its guidance once again to say that the virus can not only spread by airborne particles but can do so by smaller aerosol particles more than six feet, especially in poorly ventilated enclosed spaces. And because of that masks should be worn outdoors and even when more than six feet of separation between individuals. Not surprising more than half of all Americans fault the U.S. government and Trump’s handling of the pandemic for the situation the country finds itself in.

The worldwide death toll passes 1 million at the start of the eighth month of the  global pandemic which was declared in early March. A second wave is gaining strength across Europe including Spain, Czech Republic, Italy, and parts of Eastern Europe with nearly 100,000 new cases reported daily. The WHO has revised its estimates that 1 in 10 people worldwide may have been infected by coronavirus. This puts the total infected some 20 times greater than previously thought, at nearly 750 million people instead of the 35 million confirmed cases. The good news is that puts the fatality rate at a much much lower rate. As the fall season begins, worrisome hot spots reappear throughout Europe including in Britain, Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, and Italy where some countries have declared new state of emergencies.

As the month begins confirmed new cases in the US continue to run about 40,000 per day with a total of just over 7.5 million. Just under 210,000 deaths have now been attributed to the virus. It seems we have leveled off at a new higher baseline norm after the second wave surge in infections of late summer compared to that of the spring.  Over 20 states report still having high levels of new infections while rates are rising in 33 states. Positivity rates in some states reach record highs, such as Missouri with a 15% rate for those tested. One rural impoverished county reported a rate of nearly 50%.

Hours before the President tweeted that discussions on a new aid package were off the table, the Fed Reserve Chairman Powell warned that there was still a long way to go and without another round household insolvencies and business bankruptcies could overtake the nation and derail a recovery. The pandemic recession continues to claim about 800,000 jobs each week in new state unemployment filings. Airlines alone, with their business down by over 70%, announced laying off another 30,000 employees this past week after no new financial aid appear imminent from the federal government. Companies like Allstate, Houghton Mifflin, and Walt Disney added another 30,000 lost jobs. These job losses are impacting women, single parents, minorities, immigrants, the less-educated, and lower-income workers at far higher rates than the white-collar professional class. For many of the industries that these workers were once employed in – travel, dining, entertainment, sports, hotels, arts, higher education – less than half of the jobs have returned. It is not an inconvenient recession for these Americans, but a nightmarish depression. All while the well-to-do employed enjoy record stock market portfolios, their home value rising 5-10% across much of the nation, and artificially low interest rates to buy luxury items and second homes.

Yet, Trump administration officials tout that the economy created over 600,000 new jobs for the month of September which they say lowers the official unemployment rate to just under 8%. Yet, the total of new unemployment claims from the state for that month exceeded 3 million, not including the gigs lost by self-employed or contract workers, which means a net job loss of 2.4 million. And the unemployment rate goes down? This is why we don’t believe anything coming out of this administration.

Pope Francis commented on the economic injustices from the pandemic in a new encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” meaning “brothers all.” He said that the fragility of perverse global economic systems cannot be resolved by market freedom but that proactive economic policies are needed. And that current political and economic institutions must be reformed by doing more than just improving what we are already doing or refining existing systems and regulations.

Week of October 11 – 17

A third wave of infections has clearly begun across much of the country. New daily infection rates are rising in 44 states and total above 50,000 cases per day. The week ends with the grim milestone of 8 million cases. The death rate in the US remains the highest of the developed world.

The disparity in health outcomes continues to grow. Black and Latino Americans have been found to be 2-3 times more likely to contract the virus, 4 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 3 times as likely to die from it. And while children have largely been safe from COVID-19, nearly 80% of those who have died were kids of color. Contributing causes to the disparity include job types, workplace protections, multigenerational families, housing density, income levels, nutrition, education, and of course preexisting health conditions and access to health care.

Health officials worry that a crippling fatigue has set in and Americans are going back to work, school, travel, and recreational activities with less attention to practicing safe distancing and wearing masks. Dr. Fauci warns that Americans should rethink their plans about the upcoming holidays.

The public has become so skeptical of claims by the Trump administration that less than half of the population says they will get a vaccine immediately after it is approved. Three of the most promising trials have at one time been paused due to safety concerns. Researchers say approvals or requests for emergency use authorizations should not be expected at least until the end of the year.

The skepticism is justifiable. The White House was reported to have installed two political appointees and Trump loyalists at the CDC to control the information and messaging it releases to the public. One was assigned to become the chief of staff to CDC Director Robert Redfield. The CDC, the one organization with clear mission to protect Americans from infectious diseases, was largely sidelined and then disparaged by the Trump administration in the early months of the pandemic.

The HHS has been meeting with maverick scientists who propose that we allow the virus to start circulating freely to build up herd immunity. This includes a member of the White House Pandemic Task Force, Dr. Scott Atlas, who has the ear of the President. Over 220,000 people in the US have already died but that must not be enough of a sacrifice to satisfy some.  Most scientists and public health experts say the idea is dangerous if not crazy as it could result in the death of not hundreds of thousands but millions more Americans. The WHO called it highly unethical. This would be in any other words a political genocide orchestrated by the Trump administration to allow the weak and vulnerable to die so that his economy, reputation, and reelection are saved.

A week after leaving the hospital, the President claimed that “the light at the end of the tunnel is near.” We can only hope he is speaking about his Presidency. He continues to host massive political rallies where he dismisses worries about the pandemic or threat of getting sick. All while his wife and First Lady, Melania Trump, remains out of sight still recovering from COVID-19 with no updates on her health being provided by the White House.

A news report surfaces that while the White House was publicly telling Americans that the virus was “very much under control’ and contained in late February, members of the administration were advising business organizations, hedge funds, and investors that the situation was much more worrisome. In the days to follow the stock market began falling as traders used inside information not available to the public to take their profits and prepare for the recession and volatility that was to come.

The treasury confirmed that the US budget deficit hit a record high for the fiscal year ending in September of $3.1 trillion dollars. Nearly two thirds of that was due to spending associated with the pandemic as well as reduced revenues due to falling economic activity and GDP.  During the Trump presidency the total US debt has increase from $14 trillion to $21 trillion, a 50% increase. Much of that occurred during good economic times when the nation should have been enjoying surpluses, but was not due to the President’s tax reduction and increased defense spending.

New jobless claims are going up, not down, with nearly 900,000 new claims reported this week. The total of all new state unemployment claims over the past seven months must now exceed 65 million.  Yet, the total receiving unemployment is said to be around 25 million, not even including self-employed and gig workers. It appears many out of work are dropping off the official counts as they have gone past their state’s unemployment insurance term length, or have completely dropped out of the workforce all together. The size of the US workforce was said to be 160 million at the start of this year. That would mean an unemployment rate of over 15%, not the 8% that the administration is claiming.

Regional Federal Reserve Presidents, like James Bullard in St. Louis, say the Fed has a “good policy” in place which has incited others to conclude that the economy is on a good path. Yeah, right, and the end of the pandemic is right around the corner too. They must be speaking for big banks which reported solid profits this past quarter despite an economy in shambles with many consumers and homeowners in forbearance and small businesses barely hanging on.

Week of October 18 – 24

Due to the Trump Administration’s lack of leadership, coronavirus infections have soared past 80,000 per day across the country and its territories, the highest ever, as the third wave gains momentum. Total cases reached 8.4 million with now just under 125,000 deaths. Hospital admissions are rising in 38 states with nearly all of them having hot spots. Health experts warn the new wave is far more dangerous than the first two as it is spread across the entire country in urban and rural areas, and across all age groups. Before this new surge it was possible to move health care workers around in a state or region to meet demand. Now, that is far more difficult with shortages of staff and critical drugs being reported.

Some doctors are warning that the next 12 weeks will be the darkest days of the entire pandemic. What dread this brings as we thought we heard that about this past summer. The University of Washington predicts that the death toll by Feb. may approach 400,000, nearly twice the present count. If those in the Trump Administration who are championing the lifting of restrictions to accelerate “herd immunity” get their way – what many say would be a criminal act of murder – deaths could rise to a staggering 800,000.

The CDC updated its count of excess deaths, which are those fatalities unexpected in normal times, for the year through October to be close to 300,000. This is some 75,000 above official COVID death reports. They cite nearly 100,000 more deaths indirectly related to complications from COVID that would not have occurred otherwise. I can attest to that by looking at the obituary pages in my local rural county newspaper which is twice the size of last year’s. Few conservative families in the mostly red rural heartland in which I am a blue speck are willing to admit the deaths of their loved ones was related to a disease their President dismisses as being for the weak.

The deepening third-wave crisis does not keep President Trump nor Vice President Pence off the campaign trail where they continue to misrepresent and lie to the American people that we have turned the corner,  the pandemic is about over, and the administration has done a good job. And to never miss an opportunity to make it all about him the President said “we’re in the best shape we’ve ever been in.” As more than 700 Americans die each day the President claimed people are tired of hearing about COVID-19, and that as soon as the election is over the fake news media will stop talking about it. The Vice President refused to follow recommendations of his own Pandemic Task Force, which he chairs, and isolate himself after members of his staff whom he was in close contact report being tested positive. Rules are after all only for suckers.

During the week Trump finds time to once again disparage the one man most Americans trust the most, Dr. Anthony Fauci, by labeling him a “disaster” and an “idiot.” Trump was angry because Dr. Fauci recently warned the public about the upcoming fall wave of cases and the need to reconsider new restrictions. Fauci also said he was not surprised the President’s garden party ended up being a super-spreader event. Not only did the President never take any responsibility for it, but they refused to conduct contact tracing or allow health agencies to do so. 

A new public affairs research poll shows that only 16% of those who responded completely trust information about the pandemic and coronavirus from the President. The public’s trust in the once widely-respected CDC and FDA, now under partisan control by the Trump Administration, has also been eroded to record lows. Is there anything the President has touched that has not been fouled or ruined?

New job losses were slightly less this week than previous, now falling below 800,000 according to new filings for state unemployment insurance. This is the lowest since the pandemic recession began destroying jobs in March. The total count of those receiving state unemployment is said to have also fallen to 8.4 million. However, this maybe due not to the unemployed finding jobs, but finding that they have been kicked off the roles, having exceeded their state’s benefit period which is typically 6 months or even less, or have given up looking for a job all together until the storm passes. It was reported that over two months more than 850,000 women left the work force,. nearly four times as many men who did, likely because of the demands of caring for children who were no longer in school or in child care facilities. The Ludwig Institute claims that the federally reported unemployment rate from the BLS is artificially depressed and the functional unemployment rate is actually closer to 25%, not 8%. This would include all those who seek a paying full-time job but cannot find one, and settle for a few hours of part-time work which removes them from the official count of the unemployed.

The housing market for the employed and wealthy continues to boom due to historically low interest rates and rapidly rising home values, locking out many first-time buyers.  The median price of a home has risen nearly 15% over a year ago. And when the rich can borrow money at 2% and immediately get a gain of 15%, well that is why the pandemic is accelerating the inequality of wealth. On the other end of the spectrum, over 3 million homeowners are in forbearance of their mortgage payments. They may eventually lose their homes to become part of the renter class as investors exploit the market by buying up properties in all cash deals. The pandemic is reported to have even widen the wealth gap in China which is said to also be experiencing a “K” recovery.

Americans continue to lose more and more parts of their culture due to the pandemic. Santa Claus won’t be appearing for children at many department stores this holiday season. Diners who brave eating out in cooler weather are being seated in protective bubbles surrounding their tables. Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday shopping sprees are being rolled back. Bars that are allowed to open no longer have bar stools for their patrons to sit at. Stadiums and sporting events like the World Series have a surreal apocalyptic look with so few spectators in the stands. Holiday parades are being cancelled or held for TV audiences only. More first release movies are only available on pay streaming services. Tens of millions of Americans stand in hours-long lines to cast their votes early for the upcoming presidential election. Food lines are still busy. Independent retailers like the few main street bookstores left, that dependent on author events and community gatherings, are closing up shop. One in five small businesses, over 500,000, are said to have closed. And still there is no new pandemic relief bill that the Republicans in Congress will agree too.

Week of October 25 – 31

The week starts with 8.6 million infections and 225,000 deaths but ends at 9.1 million and 230,000 fatalities due to a rising average of over 75,000 new cases and 800 deaths per day. This staggering number of 9 million occurred some 280 days after the first known case was reported in the US in the state of Washington. Nearly 100,000 cases were reported on Friday alone. It only took two weeks to go from 8 to 9 million. Some 47 states are reporting a rise in cases with some like the Dakotas breaking records from the spring and summer waves. Positivity rates are soaring above 30% in some states. Health officials are reporting that this the third wave is now out of control across many communities and entire states.

Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows went so far to imply the Trump administration has given up by saying that: “We’re not going to control the pandemic.” This was the day after the Vice President Pence’s Chief of Staff Marc Short had tested positive along with other members of his staff. Meanwhile, the President continues to falsely claim that the country has “rounded the turn” and it was only the “fake news media” that wanted to talk about COVID.

Some states like Illinois, Colorado, Idaho and Massachusetts are once again enforcing restrictions by closing dining establishments and sending students back home from their public schools and college campuses. States with Republican Governors and Legislatures are mostly echoing the President’s rhetoric by refusing mask mandates saying we just need to take personal responsibility and learn to live with it. Or as Joe Biden said in the debate the President really means Americans learning to die with it. Despite all the carnage many Americans, most of them Trump supporters, claim that staying indoors and wearing a mast is just too much of a sacrifice to keep others in their family and community safe.

Cumulative cases around the world are approaching 50 million with 1.2 million deaths. Across the Atlantic the European countries of Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, Poland, and Czech Republic are reporting new surges and record highs that have forced them back into placing restrictions, banning gatherings, and declaring states of emergency.  Citizens of all countries are reporting widespread COVID fatigue and despair.

Health care workers are equally tired of the public ignoring recommendations along with the lack of political courage to mandate face coverings for all when out in public. This has resulted once again in overworked medical staffs and hospital ICU beds at near capacity with field hospitals being prepared in cities like El Paso and Milwaukee. In some locales the frustration has turned into anger with acts of violence towards local public health officials that have attempted to restrict business operations or set mask mandates. Health officials are pleading for state’s to enforce and mask mandate with a growing call for a nationwide mandate. One study predicted that a universal mask requirement could save over 100,000 lives over the winter. All the while the President continues to mock those who wear masks.

The good news is that mortality rates, that were once as high as 30%, continue to move downward into the low single digits. This is largely due to more younger healthier people becoming sick and dramatic improvements in best practices in treating the severely ill who are hospitalized, despite the lack of a therapeutic cure. The overall mortality rate for all infected persons is now running at only 2-3% across many states. It is still considered 10 times more deadly than the common flu, and many of those who survive will face long-term respiratory, cardiac, and neurological complications that are rare with the flu.


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.