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Coronavirus Roundup: Political advantages take precedent over public safety

August 1, 2020 8:52 am Adrienne Cobb

The surge

The coronavirus has officially killed more than 150,000 people in the United States, with Hispanics and Native Americans making up an increasing proportion of the deaths. The disease now accounts for nearly 20 percent of all deaths among those groups, higher than any other race or ethnicity in recent weeks.

  • Conservative think tank leader Vance Ginn (Texas Public Policy Foundation) says schools should reopen since most Texans dying from COVID-19 are elderly or Hispanic

The CDC projects COVID-19 death toll to top 180,000 within the next three weeks, according to documents reviewed by Yahoo News.

The U.S. has reported over 1,000 COVID deaths for five consecutive days, with 1,308 deaths reported yesterday. Florida on Friday reported 257 new coronavirus deaths in 24 hours, breaking the state’s daily deaths record for the fourth straight day.

Every single one of the dozen largest coronavirus clusters in the US are in jails and prisons, with Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio and San Quentin State Prison in California each having over 2,400 cases.

Nearly half of all states are now part of the government’s so-called “red zone” due to rising cases… Birx warned that hotspots threaten regions where cases are controlled.: “We can see the virus moving north. What we’re seeing across the south right now is both rural infections, as well as small metros and major metros, simultaneously.”

  • The states in the “red zone” – Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin – each had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people in the past week, the New York Times reported, according to internal federal figures.

Red states matter more… Trump only pivoted on coronavirus after reportedly being warned of spikes among “our people” in red states.

In the past couple of weeks, senior advisers began presenting Trump with maps and data showing spikes in coronavirus cases among “our people” in Republican states, a senior administration official said. They also shared projections predicting that virus surges could soon hit politically important states in the Midwest — including Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, the official said.


Reopening schools

Children of any age may be susceptible to the coronavirus and able to spread it, according to a CDC report. The study details an outbreak at a summer camp in Georgia last month, where at least 260 children — half of whom were 12 or younger — and staff contracted the virus in less than a week.

All in all, test results were available for 344 (58%) of the 597 attendees from Georgia; among these, 260 (76%) were positive. At least 44% — 260 of 597 — got infected, although the researchers say not everyone was tested so the rate could be even higher… Among 136 cases with available information on symptoms, 36 patients — 26% — reported no symptoms.

Children May Carry Coronavirus at High Levels, Study Finds… In a study of children under five who show mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19, those kids were found to contain higher concentrations of the virus compared to older children, teens and adults.

Infected children have at least as much of the coronavirus in their noses and throats as infected adults, according to the research. Indeed, children younger than age 5 may host up to 100 times as much of the virus in the upper respiratory tract as adults, the authors found.

  • On Thursday, Trump falsely claimed that “young people are almost immune to this disease” (video).

Child hospitalizations from Covid-19 surge 23% in Florida as schools statewide must reopen… On July 16, the state had a total of 23,170 children ages 17 and under who had tested positive since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Florida Department of Health. By July 24, that number jumped to 31,150. That’s a 34% increase in new cases among children in eight days.

Based on current infection rates, more than 80 percent of Americans live in a county where at least one infected person would be expected to show up to a school of 500 students and staff in the first week, if school started today. In the highest-risk areas — including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Nashville and Las Vegas — at least five students or staff would be expected to show up infected with the virus at a school of 500 people. NYT visualization by county).

  • Asked on Thursday how he can assure people that schools will be safe when reopened, Trump responded to the reporter: “So, can you assure anybody of anything?” (video)

A new study concluded that college students would need to be tested for covid-19 every two days, with rapid turnaround times and isolation dorms for those infected, if campuses are to reopen safely.


Testing

Let blue states suffer… Jared Kushner’s task force had begun developing a national testing plan when the virus first spiked in the U.S. but scrapped it entirely once it appeared the virus was largely hitting Democratic states. Vanity Fair reports:

Most troubling of all, perhaps, was a sentiment the expert said a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy,” said the expert.

That logic may have swayed Kushner. “It was very clear that Jared was ultimately the decision maker as to what [plan] was going to come out,” the expert said.

  • Kushner’s outfit procured 1 million defunct COVID-19 tests from a company that misspelled its own name in an invoice as Cogna Tecnology Solutions.
  • The team was made up of Kushner’s handpicked group of young business associates, “bankers and billionaires,” and included his former college roommate. “Other agencies were in their own bubbles,” apart from Kushner’s team, one of the participants told Vanity Fair. “The circles never overlapped.”

Just weeks after resolving shortages in swabs, researchers are struggling to find the chemicals and plastic pieces they need to carry out coronavirus tests in the lab — leading to long waiting times. “It’s like Groundhog Day,” said Scott Shone, director of the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health. “I feel like I lived this day four or five months ago.”

Trump’s testing czar Brett Giroir admitted to Congress yesterday that it is not currently possible to return COVID-19 diagnostic test results to Americans within 72 hours (video). Giroir further said 75 percent of test results are coming back within five days. Later in the hearing, Fauci acknowledged that such long delays “in many respects obviates the whole purpose of doing it.”

Further reading:

  • When Is a Coronavirus Test Not a Coronavirus Test? If it takes 12 days to get results, it’s basically pointless.
  • Turns Out the White House Is All About Contact Tracing—For Its Own Employees. The Trump administration appears more willing to follow the science and quickly adopt safety protocols when coronavirus hits close to home.

Masks and anti-masks

On Thursday, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers declared a public health emergency and issued an emergency order mandating people wear a face covering when not in a private residence.

  • The state Senate’s Republican leader, Scott Fitzgerald, suggested Friday that he has enough votes to strike down Evers’ mask order. “Republicans in the state Senate stand ready to convene the body to end the governor’s order…The governor has caved to the pressure of liberal groups on this.”

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp on Tuesday withdrew his emergency request for a court to stop enforcement of Atlanta’s requirement that faces masks be worn in all public places. Kemp sued Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the city two weeks ago to stop enforcement of the local mandate.

Sheriffs around the country are refusing to enforce or are even actively resisting Covid-19 mask laws and lockdowns… At least eight county sheriffs in Texas have said they will not enforce Governor Greg Abbott’s mask mandate. At least three sheriffs in Michigan, three in North Carolina, three in California, two in New Mexico, and one in Nevada made similar announcements about state orders. In Washington state last month, meanwhile, at least two sheriffs have gone further than saying that they won’t enforce the law: Rob Snaza, the Lewis county sheriff, said in a speech which became a viral video that anyone who complied with the instructions was a “sheep”.

Mask mandates won’t work — unless they are enforced. In short, warnings to anyone not wearing a mask need to be backed up with the threat of fines and, for chronic offenders, even arrest. There is no time to waste on half-measures.

Further reading:

  • Herman Cain, who recently died from COVID-19, attended Donald Trump’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally—at which several campaign staff members tested positive for COVID-19—on June 20 and was photographed and filmed in a tight crowd without wearing a mask.
  • Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) tested positive for coronavirus this week after refusing to wear a mask for months, including the day prior at a House Judiciary Committee hearing with AG Barr. “Too many Republicans have continued to act extraordinarily irresponsibly, including Louie Gohmert. Louie Gohmert ought to quarantine himself right now,” House Majority Leader Steny told reporters.
  • Doubling down on ignorance, Gohmert said he “can’t help but wonder” if wearing a mask caused him to contract the virus.
  • According to Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Gohmert knew he had the virus and continued to put others in danger by going to the member’s gym and even sleeping in his Washington, D.C. office. Speier went on to say the congressman “berated his staff for wearing masks and not wanting to be equally reckless.”
  • GOP staffers report being ridiculed for wearing a mask. Further: A tech staffer who enters both Republican and Democratic told Politico that mask-wearing is “nearly universal in Democratic offices” and “probably under 50%” in GOP offices.
  • Turning Point USA co-founders bill Montgomery died of coronavirus-related complications earlier this week. After his death, Turning Point deleted a tweet mocking those who wear face masks.

Equipment and supplies

On Tuesday, Trump announced he was invoking the Defense Production Act to furnish Kodak with a $765 million loan in order to launch Kodak Pharmaceuticals. Trump framed the move as part of an effort to lessen the U.S.’s dependence on foreign drug suppliers (video). One of the drugs that the company plans to produce is hydroxychloroquine.

Kodak stock shares subsequently surged 1,600%, just a day after CEO Jim Continenza was gifted 1.75 million stock options. Within 48 hours of the options grants, their value had ballooned, at least on paper, to about $50 million. Furthermore, Continenza bought 46,737 shares in June, a month after talks with Trump’s administration had begun.

  • Kodak stocks also saw a suspicious spike in trading volumes on Monday, a day before the announcement, which also raised concerns about insider information. Kodak representatives claim they had just accidentally told reporters about the loan a day before it was public and forgot to embargo it.

House Democrats find administration overspent for ventilators by as much as $500 million… Documents obtained by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee revealed that the Trump administration failed to enforce an existing contract with a major medical manufacturer, delayed negotiations for more than a month and subsequently overpaid as much as $500 million for tens of thousands of the devices

“The American people got ripped off, and Donald Trump and his team got taken to the cleaners. The Trump Administration’s mishandling of ventilator procurement for the nation’s stockpile cost the American people dearly during the worst public health crisis of our generation. Not only did the Administration jeopardize the health and safety of the American people – but it squandered more than half-a-billion dollars that could have been used to better support our nation’s crisis response efforts.”

  • The committee also found that the Trump administration did not pursue a ventilator deal until 6 weeks after one was offered: An official with ventilator maker Philips wrote to CDC official on Jan. 21: “Please let us know how we could help out or if you may expect a need to accelerate any shipments.” The administration responded on March 4.

Contrary to Trump’s claim that there are no outstanding supplies requests, officials in 13 states say they still have requests pending for critical equipment: These states include Oregon, Indiana, Georgia, New Hampshire, Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, North Carolina, Maryland, Michigan, Idaho, Utah, and Washington.

Further reading:

  • FEMA chief Peter Gaynor told the House Homeland Security Committee that the U.S. is still months away from meeting demand for COVID-19 personal protective equipment.
  • FEMA Sends Faulty Protective Gear to Nursing Homes Battling Virus
  • Moderna has been given $483 million in taxpayer funds to develop a vaccine yet refuses to sell the vaccine at cost, saying it must make a profit.
  • Trump’s Vaccine Chief Picks His Own Former Employer—Where He Still Holds Millions Worth of Stock—for $2.1 Billion Vaccine Deal
  • Surgical gowns cost my hospital 40 cents before the pandemic. Now they’re $9.

Data missteps and obfuscation

The Trump administration issued a directive to hospitals and states July 10, instructing them to submit daily COVID-19 hospital data to a new DHS database instead of the CDC.

The DHS public data hub created under the new system is updated erratically and is rife with inconsistencies and errors, data analysts say.

In a post, members of The COVID Tracking Project from The Atlantic describe the hospital capacity data as being “highly erratic in recent weeks,” and noted that data has been missing or incomplete from many states, including California, Texas, South Carolina, Idaho, Missouri, and Wyoming, due to complications related to switching reporting systems.

NPR found irregularities in the process by which the administration awarded a multi-million dollar contract to TeleTracking Technologies to gather the hospital data. Additionally, CEO Michael Zamagias had links to the New York real estate world — and in particular, a firm that financed billions of dollars in projects with the Trump Organization.

Further reading:

  • CDC Director Robert Redfield testified yesterday that he wasn’t told until after a decision was made that hospitals would be directed to bypass his agency (video).
  • Covid-19 Data in the US Is an ‘Information Catastrophe’: The order to reroute CDC hospitalization figures raised accuracy concerns. But that’s just one of the problems with how the country collects health data.


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