Coronavirus: Time to reopen, ready or not

Welcome, dear readers, to my coronavirus roundup. I’m posting these every Friday in addition to Lost in the Sauce on Mondays (for non-coronavirus news).

TRYING A NEW FORMAT. The goal is to fit more stories, which sacrifices details but since the sources are all linked you can learn more about those stories you’re interested in. Please let me know in comments if you like or don’t like it.

Housekeeping:

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Missed warnings & opportunities

The Trump administration delayed a CDC warning about travel from Europe early in the pandemic… About 66,000 European travelers were streaming into American airports every day during the week-long delay.

  • CDC officials say their agency’s efforts to mount a coordinated response to the Covid-19 pandemic have been hamstrung by a White House whose decisions are driven by politics rather than science.

If the U.S. had begun imposing social distancing measures one week earlier than it did in March, about 36,000 fewer people would have died in the coronavirus outbreak… And if the country had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, two weeks earlier than most people started staying home, the vast majority of the nation’s deaths — about 83 percent — would have been avoided, the researchers estimated.

Trump attacked coronavirus-whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright for criticizing the government’s pandemic response… “I don’t know this guy, never met him, but don’t like what I see. How can a creep like this show up to work tomorrow and report to [HHS Secretary Alex Azar], his boss, after trashing him on T.V.? This whole Whistleblower racket needs to be looked at very closely, it is causing great injustice and harm.” tweet


Reopening

Nearly 860,000 additional travelers flocked to parts of Maryland and Virginia over the weekend as the states began to reopen Friday… Many were from the Washington suburbs, which remained shut down because of their significantly higher coronavirus caseloads, increasing the risk of spreading the virus.

  • Maryland Reports Largest Rise Yet In Coronavirus Cases 4 Days After Reopening

Texas, North Carolina, and Arizona are among the states seeing rising numbers of coronavirus cases, intensifying concerns as they seek to reopen shuttered economies… Texas saw its largest one-day increase in cases on Saturday, with 1,801 new cases. North Carolina also saw its largest single-day jump on Saturday with 853 new cases. And Arizona reported 462 new cases that day, close to a record high.

New study shows coronavirus infections spiked in Wisconsin after holding an in-person election… In-person voting is resuming in Georgia, parts of Virginia, and some Pennslyvania localities.

Tyson Foods has yet another massive coronavirus outbreak at one of its meat processing plants… Almost 600 workers and contractors employed at its North Carolina chicken processing complex have tested positive for COVID-19.

Risks

A new analysis being reviewed by the White House shows southern states that moved too quickly to relax social distancing guidelines will see hundreds of additional cases by June 17… Particularly Texas, Florida, Alabama, and Virginia are at high risk for resurgence over the next four weeks.

Rhetoric

Republican political operatives are recruiting “extremely pro-Trump” doctors to go on television to prescribe reviving the U.S. economy as quickly as possible, without waiting to meet safety benchmarks proposed by the CDC.

The first fast-food franchisee to advise Trump on reopening restaurants has donated more than $400,000 to the president’s reelection — including $200,000 in March… James Bodenstedt is the CEO of Muy Cos., which operates Wendy’s, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut franchises.

Eric Trump suggested the president’s critics are keeping states closed to undermine the president’s rallies… He added: “And guess what, after November 3, coronavirus will magically, all of a sudden, go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen.”

  • Trump has not scheduled any rallies in Republican-led states — and his campaign has not reached out to governors in swing states to inquire about holding large political events.

Trump’s statements

  • On Tuesday, Paula Reid asked Trump why he hasn’t “announced a plan to get 36 million unemployed Americans back to work?” To which Trump responded: “I think we’ve announced a plan. We’re opening up our country – Just a rude person you are – We’re opening up our country. We’re opening it up very fast. Uh… the plan is that each state is opening and it’s opening up very effectively. When you see the numbers, even you will be impressed and it’s very hard to impress you.” (video)
  • Also on Tuesday, Trump used the White House press briefing to target Virginia’s Democratic governor Ralph Northam: “We’re going after Virginia, with your crazy governor, we’re going after Virginia. They want to take your Second Amendment away. You’ll have nobody guarding your potatoes.” (video)

Protests

A protester at an Open New York rally last week that was praised by President Trump held up a sign reading “Hang Fauci, Hang Gates”… Trump shared video of protestors verbally abusing reporters at the rally four times in 24 hours.

US lockdown protests may have spread virus widely, cellphone data suggests… Protestors are often traveling hundreds of miles to events, returning to all parts of their states, and even crossing into neighboring ones.


Coverup

The CDC is combining the results of viral tests, which show an active infection, with antibody tests, which show a past infection… Consequently, the CDC is overstating the country’s ability to test people who are sick with COVID-19. Mixing the two tests makes it much harder to understand the meaning of positive tests, and it clouds important information about the U.S. response to the pandemic.

  • Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Vermont are reportedly blending the data in the same way.

The number of COVID-19 tests performed in Florida is far higher in data reported by the CDC than what’s reported by the state Dept. of Health… With a 33% difference between the two agencies, Florida is one of 10 states to report such large discrepancies in testing numbers, with Florida being the most extreme case. Read the report here.

  • The discrepancy could be caused by the CDC reporting viral and antibody test results combined for Florida and other states (see above article).

The scientist who created Florida’s COVID-19 data portal was fired for refusing to ‘manipulate’ COVID-19 data… Rebekah Jones reportedly refused to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”

In early-to-mid February, the Florida Dept. of Health knew COVID-19 was likely already spreading throughout the state but did not warn the public for weeks… While the public was kept in the dark, top Florida health officials were scrambling to come up with a plan for a crisis they knew was upon them.

Arizona’s Dept. of Health argues that nursing home coronavirus cases should not be disclosed because it would “hurt business…” The Arizona Republic and other local news organizations are suing to bring that information to light.

States accused of fudging or bungling COVID-19 testing data… Georgia’s Dept. of Health published a misleading chart of COVID-19 cases with the dates out of order, incorrectly suggesting cases were declining over time.


Drugs and vaccines

Under Trump, public health experts worry, the United States could seek to gobble up early vaccine supplies — and set the stage for prolonged devastation in the rest of the world. Any U.S. effort to inoculate its entire population could incentivize other countries to refuse to share peripheral materials needed for mass vaccination, including vaccine vials and syringes.

The CEO of a company that won a contract to produce coronavirus-related drugs has a history of failed ventures and price-gouging critical drugs… The administration on Tuesday announced a four-year, $354 million contract with Phlow, which has no track record in drug manufacturing.

The Dept. of Veterans Affairs said that it will not halt use of hydroxychloroquine on veterans with COVID-19… As of Friday, 11,883 veterans had been confirmed to be infected with the virus and 985 had died.

Trump announced that he is taking hydroxychloroquine, dismissing a VA study that found it to be ineffective and dangerous as a “Trump enemy statement.” (video)

  • I’m not going to devote any more attention to Trump’s claim, which predictably dominated the news cycle for over 24 hours – then another 48 hours spent covering Pelosi and Trump trading insults. As former Trump adviser Steve Bannon once told Michael Lewis, “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

Testing

F.D.A. Halts Coronavirus Testing Program Backed by Bill Gates… The program allows people in the Seattle area to easily take a coronavirus test at home. Researchers say such testing is essential for future monitoring of the virus.

States struggle with contact tracing push… A half-dozen states have announced they’re building their own apps but they’re likely to be hampered by major gaps in data.

Harvard: We could stop the pandemic by July 4 if the government took these steps. A $74 billion investment in testing, tracing, and isolation could rescue the economy.

On Tuesday, Trump said the high number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. is “a badge of honor,” apparently believing that cases are only increasing because testing is increasing – not because of an actual spread of the virus. (video)


Supplies

FEMA sent a Washington state Health Dept. thousands of Q-tips instead of the 68,000 nasal swabs ordered to help expand coronavirus testing…“Having boxes full of swabs in bulk raises questions about sterility and whether we can use them at all,” a senior adviser to Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Trump administration paying huge premium for mask-cleaning machines. Which don’t do the job… The president pressured the FDA to waive rules for mask-cleaning machines that ballooned to 10 times the original cost. But the process may damage the masks.

3M was awarded the largest single COVID-19 federal contract, but once boasted it charged the Defense Department $7.63 for earplugs that cost 85 cents a pair to produce… The lack of transparency raises questions about whether U.S. taxpayers will be overcharged for the non-specific COVID-19 “medical supplies,” as they were for the earplugs.

Mismanagement of supply chain… “We got a letter from our chief saying there’s a national shortage of gloves, gowns, masks & goggles because the public is taking them,” said Brendan, a paramedic firefighter. “Then we walk into Walmart & see 90% of people have better masks than we do.”

Emails from FEMA show the government instructing state health officials to give coronavirus-tracking data directly to Palantir, despite the company saying publicly that it doesn’t handle this potentially lucrative information at all.

In exchange for ventilators that catch on fire and military chem masks, the U.S. sent Russia 50 ventilators with another 150 on the way as part of a $5.6 million humanitarian aid package. The April delivery to the U.S. was originally billed as a humanitarian donation, but Moscow later sent Trump a bill for $660,000.


Seized equipment

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz says a large supply of testing equipment was seized by FEMA… Additionally, Walz (D) says personal protective equipment gowns on the way to Minnesota never made it, and was instead diverted away from the state by the White House.

FEMA seized 50,000 N95 respirators from a non-profit founded to purchase and deliver masks to frontline workers… The federal government did not provide an explanation or inform Masks for America where those respirators were going.

A DC suburb in Virginia says FEMA redirected their order of personal protective equipment the county intended for frontline workers… The county had ordered 30,000 N95 masks at a cost of $160,000 from a supplier in The Netherlands.

Administrators at a Colorado nursing home hard hit by COVID-19 say shipments of personal protective equipment needed to protect their staff were seized and redirected by the federal government. “We placed an order on April 17 for some gowns, some face shields, and some disinfectant wipes. On April 24 we were notified that the disinfectant wipes had been reallocated by FEMA.”


Shifting blame

Trump sent a letter to the World Health Organization threatening to permanently withdraw US funding and membership… Trump accused the agency of accepting China’s attempts to downplay the outbreak in its early days, despite scientific reports indicating its urgency.

Wuhan lab-origin theory contradicted by Five Eyes intelligence network… Sources also cast doubt on 15-page dossier highlighted by Murdoch-owned Australian Daily Telegraph; Australia “annoyed” with the White House for seeking to link outbreak to a Chinese lab.

  • Another document used to bolster right-wing claims of a lab-origin – written by a Defense contractor – contains demonstrably false information.

The White House is pushing blame on to the CDC… In a private lunch with the GOP, Trump reportedly “excoriated” the CDC while White House adviser Peter Navarro said the agency “really let the country down with the testing.”

On Tuesday, Trump seemingly tried to blame an unnamed group of people for causing the global pandemic, but phrased it in a way that could easily be applied to himself: “We can never forget all of the people who have been left behind, that have died for some reason that should have never happened. Should have never happened – you know that, I know that, and the people that caused the problem, they know that, too. It’s too bad.” (video)


Miscellaneous

Leaked Pentagon memo warns of “real possibility” of a “significant resurgence of COVID-19 occur later this year.” Military also does not expect a vaccine until at least next summer.

Experts are increasingly alarmed about the conditions in the airports… There are no coronavirus screening procedures for domestic flights and a House probe found lax screening from international COVID hotspots.

US asks for abortion references to be removed from UN pandemic response plan… The Trump administration is urging the United Nations secretary general to remove any references to reproductive health, including abortions, from the UN’s humanitarian response plan to the coronavirus pandemic to “avoid creating controversy.”

Trump orders agencies to cut regulations that ‘inhibit economic recovery’… An executive order signed by President Trump Tuesday directs agencies to consider what sort of deregulatory action they might take that could spur economic growth.

The Dept. of Homeland Security inspector general is undertaking two new investigations into the department’s response to the coronavirus outbreak due to concerns that federal agencies mismanaged the pandemic.

No One Fled Harder From Coronavirus Than New York’s Wealthy… The population in some of New York’s wealthiest neighborhoods decreased by more than 40% between March and the beginning of May.

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