Coronavirus: Trump admits to slowing the testing rate, which allows unabated spread & more American deaths

Good morning everyone – I am posting this coronavirus-centric newsletter instead of the usual Lost in the Sauce because I am running behind after spending yesterday on Father’s Day activities. So tomorrow I will post Lost in the Sauce (covering the political and legal news that may have been overlooked last week).

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The World Health Organization on Sunday reported the pandemic’s largest single-day increase of confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 183,000 cases reported in the previous 24 hours. Brazil and the United States contributed the most to the surge in cases.


Testing

Trump says he told his administration to test fewer people: “Testing is a double-edged sword… When you do testing to that extent, you’re gonna find more people, you’re gonna find more cases. So I said to my people slow the testing down, please. They test and they test.” (video)

  • Congressman Andy Kim (NJ): When I requested FEMA to stand up a Coronavirus test site in South Jersey they told me the White House said no. Now we know why.

Just days earlier, Trump told the WSJ that testing for the coronavirus is “overrated,” arguing that it has led to an increase in confirmed cases in the U.S. that “makes us look bad.” Trump has made statements like this numerous times before.

  • Reminder: In March, Trump said he wanted to keep passengers and crew on an infected cruise ship so that coronavirus cases in the US don’t “double.” “I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship.”
  • Op-Ed: Trump Just Admitted to a Crime Against Humanity. No, He Wasn’t Joking.

Fact check: Controlling the spread of the pandemic demands finding the infected and isolating them until they can no longer spread the disease, alongside broader measures like social distancing. With an untold number of asymptomatic carriers, the only option to find out who truly has the virus is to test. Meanwhile, a lack of testing hampers the response to the virus. Health officials can’t preempt outbreaks in new regions. The threat then silently persists, infecting, killing, and draining resources. (Vox)

The U.S is now conducting more than 3 million coronavirus tests a week, far short of the 30 million tests per week experts say is needed to safely reopen. These experts aren’t just worried about the number of tests that labs can process. They are concerned about the logistical challenges of testing so many people, and the lag in setting up adequate contact tracing to find who may have been exposed.


Cases continue to rise

Experts abroad: “It really does feel like the U.S. has given up.” Comparing the rolling average of new coronavirus cases in the EU (pop. 446 million) to the US (pop. 330 million), shows the stark difference in results: the US rate is climbing back to its high point of ~30,000 average cases while the EU has stabilized at only 4,000 cases.

  • Note that since that graph was made, the US has surpassed that number: The CDC reported over 32,000 new cases for both Friday and Saturday – the highest daily totals since April 25. [See a few paragraphs below for state details]

Germany’s success in responding to the coronavirus pandemic was based on U.S. research that was ignored or dismissed by the U.S. government. “A large portion of [Germany’s] measures that proved effective was based on studies by leading U.S. research institutes,” said Karl Lauterbach, a Harvard-educated epidemiologist who is a member of the German parliament for the Social Democrats.

If the US had acted when other nations did, using the same information, 70%-99% of American covid deaths would have been avoided. The Oxford index shows that 14 days from the date of the 15th confirmed case in each country — a vital early window for action — the U.S. response to the outbreak lagged behind the others by miles…Due to exponential viral spread, our delay in action was devastating.

  • Meanwhile, at his Tulsa rally over the weekend, Trump boasted that “I have done a phenomenal job on it,” calling the coronavirus “the Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu.”

A dozen states have seen record highs of new COVID-19 cases since Friday… Those include Florida, Texas, Utah, South Carolina, Nevada, Georgia, Missouri, Montana, Arizona, California, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

  • Arizona’s coronavirus cases have nearly doubled in 14 days, from 26,989 on June 7 to 52,390 on June 21. Florida on Saturday reported 4,049 new coronavirus cases, another consecutive single-day record increase in cases. For the fourth time in five days, Texas reported a record number of new coronavirus cases Saturday.

Hundreds test positive at Tyson Foods plant in Arkansas… Of the 3,748 employees tested, 481 tested positive for COVID-19, and 455 were asymptomatic. [This asymptomatic number is surprising and raises the possibility that there may be contamination somewhere in the testing “chain.”]


Funding and equipment

Trump administration ends funding for new lung damage treatments… The coronavirus attacks the lungs, killing some and leaving others with severe lung ailments. Earlier this month, the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) abruptly notified companies and researchers that it was halting funding for treatments for this severe form of Covid-19. The new policy highlights how staunchly the Trump administration has placed its bet on vaccines.

Instead of COVID testing supplies, FEMA sent the Washington State Health Dept. tiny plastic preforms that can be made into 2-liter soda bottles… The Department of Health received 300,000 vials, all of which were unlabeled, unusually packaged, and unusable.

FEMA paid $7.3 million to a first-time federal contractor with a sketchy owner for these unusable mini soda bottles. The bottles are also contaminated, as employees did not wear masks and kept them in an unclean environment. FEMA reportedly sent them to all 50 states.

A DHS review found that the CDC’s earliest coronavirus test kits were contaminated… Scientists did not thoroughly check the kits despite “anomalies” during manufacturing, according to the federal review. The CDC’s failure with the test added many weeks of delays to the rollout of widespread testing.

One of Trump’s top fundraisers is cashing in on the pandemic… Brian Ballard uses his Trump connections to lobby the administration on behalf of companies seeking to market their health products or score federal relief money. “He’s playing the K Street lobbyist game, buying access to this administration and enjoying that access,” said Craig Holman, who works on ethics and lobbying issues for the watchdog group Public Citizen.

FEMA can find no records of criteria it uses to make distributions to states from the Strategic National Stockpile to address the coronavirus pandemic… The claim is especially concerning because the president has made statements suggesting that states should get federal assistance based on how he feels about the states’ governors.

TSA whistleblower alleges the agency endangered staff and passengers… TSA withheld N95 masks from staff and exhibited “gross mismanagement” in its response to the coronavirus crisis – leaving employees and travelers vulnerable during the most urgent days of the pandemic.

Airports beg government to set face mask policy for passengers… “I can’t emphasize that enough – we would welcome regulations on a temporary basis that you should wear a mask in an airport when you’re transferring through it,” Airports Council International – North America President Kevin M. Burke said this past week.

Concerns that Donald Trump’s inner circle might pressure the FDA to rush a coronavirus vaccine to market in time for the presidential election have risen after the White House attacked the agency for reversing itself on an experimental drug treatment. “And if you give it to people and they think ‘Wow, I’ve got the vaccine now,’ they’re likely not to physically distance, wear face masks. And then if it doesn’t actually work, Oh! We’ve got a disaster on our hands,” said Ezekiel Emanuel, a medical professor at the University of Pennsylvania and former Obama White House health policy adviser.


CARES Act and Paycheck Protection Program

Senators find $14 billion in unspent funds Congress approved in April to expand coronavirus testing and tracing… “While it has been months since these funds were first appropriated, the administration has failed to disburse significant amounts of this funding, leaving communities without the resources they need to address the significant challenges presented by the virus,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar on Sunday.

The pandemic is disproportionately hurting black-owned small businesses and the administration is not helping… Only 12 percent of black and Hispanic business owners polled between April 30 and May 12 received the funding they had requested. About one quarter received some funding. By contrast, half of all small businesses reported receiving from a single part of the stimulus packages — the Paycheck Protection Program — according to a census survey.

  • Only 2 percent of a $20 million city-wide small business loan program went to businesses in the Bronx, the New York City borough with the highest share of black people, according to a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Small Business Services, while 57 percent went to Manhattan businesses.

A coalition of civil rights groups including the ACLU sued the Trump administration for denying coronavirus relief loans to small business owners with criminal recordsarguing the restrictive policy violates the law and perpetuates systemic racial injustices by discriminating against people of color.

PPP failed to get money where it was most needed. 7 of the 10 states that received the smallest dollar amount of loans were among the 10 states with the highest number of people approved for unemployment claims as of May 23. South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Florida, and Nebraska received significantly more aid proportionally compared to states with higher covid-related unemployment rates like Nevada, Maine, Michigan, and Hawaii.

A federal judge is once again ordering Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to release the full amount of stimulus funding Congress set aside for Native American tribes. “The Secretary has now taken more than twice as much time as Congress directed to distribute all CARES Act funds,” Mehta wrote. Mehta’s decision blocked so-called Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs), which have vast land holdings and secure significant profits from timber and oil sales, from receiving funds, as they are not government entities.

The administration has so far failed to spend more than 75% of the American humanitarian aid that Congress provided three months ago to help overseas victims of the virus. Relief workers said they were alarmed and bewildered as to why the vast majority of the money was sitting unspent.

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