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Coronavirus: Politicization of face masks and ignorance of science

July 1, 2020 7:58 am Jess Coleman

The surge

Dr. Fauci testified yesterday: “We are now having 40,000+ new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn this around. So, I am very concerned.” (video)

Keep in mind, VP Pence said on Friday, June 26, that all 50 states “are opening up safely and responsibly” (video) and claimed that “we flattened the curve. (video).

Arizona

Daily confirmed coronavirus cases (date reported on):

  • June 29: 3,079 new cases
  • June 28: 3,858 new cases
  • June 27: 3,591 new cases
  • June 26: 3,428 new cases
  • June 25: 3,056 new cases

Inpatient beds and ICU beds in use continued to hit new records. As of Sunday, 84% of current inpatient beds and 88% of ICU beds were in use for COVID-19 and other patients. Arizona’s state health director on Monday declared that hospitals could activate “crisis care standards” that guide the allocation of scarce resources to patients based on factors such as their likelihood for survival.

Positive test rate 11.7% according to the state data and 23% according to a coronavirus data aggregator, Covid Act Now.

Republican governor Doug Ducey has ordered bars, movie theaters, gyms, and water parks to shut down for at least 30 days. “Our expectation is that our numbers next week will be worse,” he said.

Florida

Daily confirmed coronavirus cases (date reported on):

  • June 29: 6,012 new cases
  • June 28: 5,409 new cases
  • June 27: 8,424 new cases
  • June 26: 9,557 new cases
  • June 25: 8,813 new cases

The rate of positive new tests has increased during that time period. It was at 13.67% on Sunday, the most recent date available.

Florida changed the way ICU beds are reported: Now, hospitals will report only those who are receiving an “intensive level of care,” rather than the number of patients in intensive care unit beds. This could undercount the number of ICU coronavirus patients.

  • About 76 percent of the state’s hospital beds and about 79 percent of adult intensive-care unit beds were occupied Friday. Availability of beds, however, varies at the county level.

One-third of all patients admitted to Miami’s main public hospital over the past two weeks after going to the emergency room for car-crash injuries and other urgent problems have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Six-hour lines formed in Jacksonville over the weekend as thousands of people flocked to get drive-through tests.

Much of Florida’s new surge in cases appears to follow from the reopening of beaches, bars, restaurants, and other social activities. The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, announced Friday that the state is ending onsite consumption at bars, effectively moving the state back to an earlier phase of reopening. Jacksonville, where the Republican National Convention is slated to be held in August, is planning to institute a city-wide mask order.

Texas

Daily confirmed coronavirus cases:

  • June 29: 6,975 new cases
  • June 28: 4,288 new cases
  • June 27: 5,357 new cases
  • June 26: 5,742 new cases
  • June 25: 5,707 new cases

The rate of positive new tests has increased during that time period – from 11.7% on June 23 to 13.7% on June 28 (state dashboard). Austin health officials last week saw the highest rate of positive coronavirus tests of any metro area in the nation.

The 25-county region around Houston reported 2,042 beds occupied by all ICU patients, the highest total since the pandemic arrived in the city in March. The number of regional ICU patients has increased for eight consecutive days, rising by nearly 50 percent. The region’s base capacity of ICU beds is 2,202, with a surge capacity of 2,644.

  • In several counties in the state, hospitals and local officials are seeking to boost hospital capacity, seeking venues such as convention centers and stadiums that could potentially act as temporary ICU wards.

However, hospitalization data is in question in Texas: “Texas Medical Center hospitals stopped updating key metrics showing the stress rising numbers of COVID-19 patients were placing on their facilities for more than three days…When the charts reappeared, eight of the 17 original slides had been deleted — including any reference to hospital capacity or projections of future capacity.” Governor Abbott had expressed displeasure to hospital executives with negative headlines about ICU capacity.

On Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would roll back some of the state’s reopening plans, closing bars and reducing the capacity for indoor dining. Meanwhile, some city and county leaders are asking Abbott for the authority to roll back business reopenings and implement local stay-at-home orders.


Trump ignores it all

Trump’s campaign directed the removal of thousands of “Do Not Sit Here, Please!” stickers from seats in the Tulsa arena that were intended to establish social distance between attendees during his June 20 rally. When Trump took the stage on Saturday evening, the crowd was clustered together and attendees were not leaving empty seats between themselves.

Consequences of the rally: Dozens of Secret Service agents will be quarantined as a precaution following President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa. At least eight campaign staffers connected the event tested positive for the coronavirus. Donald Trump’s reelection campaign manager, Brad Parscale, and a group of campaign staffers are also in quarantine after attending the rally. Even a reporter at the event, who wore a face mask and practiced social distancing, tested positive in the following days.

Pence defended Trump’s drive to hold rallies with sparse public health measures by invoking freedom of speech and the election. During the first coronavirus task force briefing in months, a reporter pointed out that experts stress the importance of social distancing and warn about the threat of crowds, asking how the Trump campaign can justify holding rallies in spite of this consensus. Pence responded:

Pence: “The freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble is enshrined in the Constitution of the US, and we have an election coming up this fall.”

The Trump campaign wants to galvanize his base in part by continuing to urge the country to reopen faster… The president’s campaign advisers believe it comes down to getting a bigger proportion of the smaller group of people who love Trump to turn out than the larger group of voters who express tepid support for Biden.

Trump is planning a massive fireworks display at Mount Rushmore on July 3, despite environmental and public health concerns. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) said “we won’t be social distancing” at the event and masks are optional. South Dakota’s coronavirus rate is 720 confirmed cases per 100,000.

  • Several groups led by Native American activists are planning protests for Trump’s July 3 visit. The groups view the monument as a desecration of land violently stolen from them and used to pay homage to leaders hostile to Indigenous people.
  • Trump has long shown a fascination with Mount Rushmore.Gov. Noem said in 2018 that he once told her straight-faced that it was his dream to have his face carved into the monument.

After abandoning North Carolina due to required precautions like social distancing and masks, the RNC convention moved to Jacksonville – which now is requiring face masks, too. However, it is not clear if the mayor will require the convention attendees to wear masks. At the president’s rally in Phoenix last week, many attendees didn’t wear masks despite a city order to do so.

  • A poll by the University of North Florida found that 58 percent of Jacksonville voters surveyed oppose the RNC convention, and 42 percent support it. Seventy-one percent said they were concerned the coronavirus would spread due to the convention, and 65 percent said they worried about “social unrest,” the poll showed.

Amid record-breaking coronavirus cases, the Texas GOP is moving forward with plans to hold their in-person convention in Houston next month (July). The state party chair made it clear last week that any mask-wearing would be optional.

  • The situation has created what union leaders say is a potentially perilous situation for workers at the Hilton Americas-Houston hotel, which is connected to the convention center and expects to see an uptick in guests during the convention.

Funding and equipment

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters unveiled a report detailing delays by the Trump administration in distributing $175 billion in coronavirus relief funds to hospitals. Nearly three months after the CARES Act, about $72 billion, or 41%, of the funding approved by Congress to support hospitals has still not been distributed. The delays, Peters said, has led to layoffs and furloughs of healthcare workers during the pandemic.

The Indian Health Service, which purchased Chinese-made KN95 masks from a former Trump White House official through a $3 million contract, is now trying to return the masks but facing resistance… The masks it bought from former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Zach Fuentes do not meet Food and Drug Administration standards for use in health care settings.

A company created by a former Pentagon official who describes himself as a White House volunteer for Vice President Mike Pence won a $2.4 million dollar contract in May — its first federal award — to supply the Bureau of Prisons with surgical gowns.

Abbott Labs paid the husband of a White House Communications Director $400,000 while the White House promoted its coronavirus testing equipment. Political lobbyist Matt Schlapp, married to Mercedes Schlapp, worked with Abbott for two years, but was recently fired for controversy over racially insensitive comments. Trump promoted Abbott’s tests even as the FDA warned it was inaccurate.

Top Trump fundraiser Eric Beach sought to cash in on the pandemic by selling N95 masks at a marked up price. Four days after Trump feuded with 3M about the distribution of N95 masks, Beach – who had no experience in supplying medical goods – formed a company selling marked up masks with a 10% commission.

Gilead announces $3,120 price tag for Covid-19 drug remdesivir developed with $70 million in taxpayer support… “Allowing Gilead to set the terms during a pandemic represents a colossal failure of leadership by the Trump administration.”

  • The US has bought up virtually all the stocks for the next three months of remdesivir, leaving none for the UK, Europe, or most of the rest of the world.

Fear mounts Trump may pressure FDA to rush Covid-19 vaccine by election…

Trump keeps saying Obama left him ‘no ventilators.’ The number is 16,660. Most recently, on June 18, Trump said: “When we came here, you had very few ventilators in this country. … The cupboard was empty, and we filled up the cupboards.”


Anti-mask push

Evidence

Countries that quickly resorted to widespread mask-wearing had far lower death rates and shorter outbreaks, according to a new study. “It wasn’t just by a few per cent, it was up to a hundred times less mortality. The countries that introduced masks from the very beginning of their outbreak have had hardly any deaths.”

Coronavirus cases seem to be rising in states with relaxed policies on wearing masks… In the 11 states that mandate wearing masks in public — including New York, Illinois, and Michigan — new cases have fallen by 25% over the last two weeks. States that require masks only for employees of certain businesses have seen a 70% increase, on average, in new cases.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said that if 95% of Americans wore masks in public, it would prevent 33,000 deaths by October 1. In one simulation, researchers predicted that 80 percent of the population wearing masks would do more to reduce COVID-19 spread than a strict lockdown.

A federal mandate to wear masks would slow the spread of the coronavirus enough to save the economy from losing 5 percent of its value, according to a Goldman Sachs study. “We argue that a national face mask mandate could partially substitute for renewed lockdowns,” analysts wrote.

Ignorance

Trump has stressed from the beginning — and repeatedly — that wearing masks is voluntary. He has declined to be photographed publicly wearing one. He also has repeatedly ridiculed Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, for using a mask. Two weeks ago, Trump went so far as to suggest that masks could be counterproductive:“Masks are a double-edged sword,” he said. “People touch them. And they grab them and I see it all the time.”

Every single Republican on the House coronavirus subcommittee turned up to a Friday meeting without wearing a mask, prompting Chairman Clyburn to issue a statement that he will not grant speaking time to any members not complying with the mask rule. “My Republican colleagues’ refusal to wear masks is perplexing because you have asked repeatedly to hold in-person hearings, and you assured me that this could be done safely,” Clyburn wrote.

  • Video from Friday: Rep. Jamie Raskin on Rep. Jim Jordan: “People tease our friend Mr. Jordan about never wearing a jacket… That’s a fashion statement. But when he doesn’t wear a mask and interacts with other people in the legislative assembly, it’s dangerous. That is a public health menace.”
  • A day earlier, Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell ripped Jim Jordan for not wearing a mask. Video: “I find it incredibly disrespectful that you have been sitting here next to the chairman without wearing a mask. You’re putting other people’s lives and their families in danger.” (Nadler’s wife has cancer.)
  • Rep. Mark Green (R-TN), a former physician, led the charge against face masks at the meeting, saying we have an “irrational fear” of the coronavirus. Green also said he could “cite many other professionals” who advised against protective face coverings; Green did not proceed to cite any such professionals. Short clip and long clip.
  • Rep. Louie Gohmert also rarely wears a mask on the House floor, often talking with aides and lawmakers at length while not maintaining a social distance. Asked about his choice not to wear a face covering, Gohmert replied: “If I get it I’ll wear a mask.”

Speaker Pelosi called on the CDC to issue a federal mandate on wearing masks. “The president should be an example. Real men wear masks, be an example to the country, wear a mask,” Pelosi said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.” “It’s not about protecting yourself, it’s about protecting others.”

North Carolina lawmakers held a 2 a.m. vote to undermine the Democratic governor’s requirement that face coverings be worn in public. It’s normally illegal to wear masks in public in North Carolina because of a 1950s law targeted at the KKK. “We purposefully took out a provision that would have made it legal, and that just seems wrong to me in the middle of a pandemic,” Democratic Sen. Natasha Marcus of Mecklenburg County said.

  • Republicans insisted they weren’t trying to force people to forgo masks to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus, but rather want to avoid them being mandated. “We’re trying to work out that middle ground to where individuals can feel free to wear masks and can feel free of penalties and of being forced to wear masks,” Republican state Sen. Ralph Hise said at 3 a.m. Friday.

Citizens across the country appeared before local boards to denounce plans to require face masks in public. Perhaps the most extreme objections were raised in Trump’s new home county, Palm Beach, Florida. Most appeared to believe that masks were harmful to a person’s health. ““I’d like to say, in the beginning God formed man out of the earth and breathed his breath in him and he became a living soul…Where do you derive the authority to regulate human breathing?” one woman asked.


Testing

Since boasting at the Tulsa rally that he ordered staff to slow down testing, Trump has tripled down in numerous interviews and tweets. At a speech in Wisconsin on Thursday, Trump said: “If we didn’t wanna test, or if we didn’t test, we wouldn’t have cases. But we have cases because we test.” Later on Fox News, Trump again said “if we didn’t do testing, we’d have no cases.” Testing, he repeats, finds even a “kid with the sniffles” or people who didn’t know they were sick. “Maybe they weren’t. But it shows up in a test.”

  • Over subsequent days his “people” insisted that he was joking. However, asked to clarify whether he had merely been kidding, he told reporters Tuesday: “I don’t kid.” He went on to complain that testing was catching people who “aren’t sick or very little.” As if those who are “very little” sick will cease to be contagious if the world refuses to acknowledge their contagiousness.

Fact check: To understand why increased testing does not explain the rise in covid-19 cases, we have to look not just at the number of tests each state is doing, but at the positivity rate of those tests. In combination, those two metrics give a sense of whether infections are rising, declining or holding steady. And in too many states, the dispiriting answer is that the virus is racing ahead of public health measures to contain it. States are finding more cases relative to the amount of tests they are conducting – indicating the increase in cases is not due to more testing.

Days after arguing that testing should be slowed down, the federal government tried to do just that by pulling funding for more than a dozen drive-through testing sites across five states at the end of the month. Due to widespread outrage and pleading from Republicans, the Trump administration restored funding for give drive-thru testing sites in Texas, but only for two additional weeks. The federal government is still set to end funding in late June for six sites spread across four other states: Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

As Trump pushes states to reopen and reduce testing, measures to protect him from the virus are being scaled up. Everyone around him is [regularly](cnn.com/2020/06/26/politics/donald-trump-coronavirus-protocols/index.html) tested, all areas his visits are scrubbed and sanitized, and staff maintain a close accounting of who comes into contact with the President to enable proper contact tracing should someone test positive.

  • Op-Ed: “If Trump is cutting funds for coronavirus testing, he should start at the White House.” Reopen the White House, just as Trump wishes to reopen the economy… Alternatively, of course, rather than practicing what he preaches, Trump could preach what he already practices.

Arkansas governor calls on Trump to invoke Defense Production Act to increase testing capacity… Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson: “We’ve doubled the amount of our testing nationally. We’ve got to double it again… I really think we need to look at a greater use of the Defense Production Act so that we can make sure that supply keeps up with the demand that we know is going to continue growing.”

Coronavirus contact tracing is ‘not going well,’ Dr. Fauci says… CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield testified that about 27,000 or 28,000 people are doing contact tracing work across the country, but acknowledged we need about 100,000 tracers total. Former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden thinks the country will need even more, up to 300,000.


Miscellaneous

Stories that didn’t fit in previous sections…

  • The Trump administration is focused on the death total, as it has not greatly increased per day. Pence even bragged about it on Friday. There are two problems: (1) It is a lagging indicator and will take about 3 weeks to reflect changes. (2) While the bulk of new cases are younger people (varies by region), this is nothing to be celebrated. Covid-19 can cause chronic health issues that may never resolve, debilitating even those under 40 for an unknown period of time. This fact makes the administration’s continuing case to destroy the ACA even more egregious. Furthermore, without the ACA’s protections, Covid-19 could be treated as a pre-existing condition.
  • The European Union will open its borders to visitors from 15 countries as of Wednesday, but not to travelers from the United States, Brazil or Russia.
  • The White House has blocked Dr. Fauci from some appearances that he has requested to do in recent weeks, according to two people familiar with the matter. White House aides have argued that television interviewers often try to goad Fauci into criticizing the president or the administration’s approach, and that Fauci is not always good about “staying on message,” in the words of a senior administration official.
  • Amid threats and political pushback, public health officials are leaving their posts. Politicizing public health has put a target on health workers who are resigning after being publicly attacked by business groups, citizens, and elected officials.


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