Coronavirus: Trump throws holiday parties while 3,000 Americans die a day
Welcome, dear readers, to my semi-regular coronavirus roundup.
Friday, Dec. 11: The Covid Tracking Project reports the U.S. saw a record 232,000 cases and a record 108,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19. There were 2,749 deaths. The 7-day average for all four metrics is the highest it has been.
- HOW TO SUPPORT: I know we are all facing unprecedented financial hardships right now. If you are in the position to support my work, I have a patreon, venmo, and a paypal set up. No pressure though, I will keep posting these pieces no matter what – paywalls suck.
- NOTIFICATIONS: You can signup to receive notifications when these posts are done.
Late Friday, the FDA gave emergency use authorization to Pfizer’s vaccine, following threats from the president. Earlier in the day, the White House told FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn to submit his resignation if his agency did not approve the vaccine by day’s end. Trump has reportedly been upset that the U.K. has authorized a vaccine first and angry for what he perceives as a delay that harmed his campaign for re-election.
The outgoing president recently ranted to several advisers and associates about how vaccine manufacturers were possibly working to deny him the chance to declare victory in the pandemic, according to three people familiar with his private grumblings. One adviser told The Daily Beast that this month, the president asked if the heads of Pfizer, one of the main vaccine manufacturers, were “Democrats.”
“It kind of came out of nowhere and I didn’t really know how to respond,” this source recounted… “Donald Trump must get the credit for the vaccines. It is a miracle,” the president tweeted on Friday morning, referencing something said by a Fox Business host.
The Trump administration turned down repeated offers from Pfizer to lock in more than 100 million vaccine doses (enough for 50 million people) over the summer. The pharmaceutical company “repeatedly warned the Trump administration that demand could vastly outstrip supply and urged it to pre-order more doses, but were turned down.” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a member of Pfizer’s board, said the administration turned down additional doses even after the company released data showing the vaccine to be effective (clip).
As a consequence of the administration’s failure to reserve more doses, Pfizer says they cannot provide more until late June or July.
- For comparison, the EU has ordered 200 million Pfizer doses so far.
- Note: The U.S. paid $1.95 billion as part of a deal for 100 million doses. In contrast, the administration has spent $15 billion on Trump’s border wall.
Perhaps in an effort to suppress criticism of their failure to secure additional Pfizer doses, Trump issued an executive order to prioritize vaccine shipments to “Americans before other nations.” The order, however, does not appear to be not impactful or enforceable. Operation Warp Speed chief Moncef Slaoui told ABC News that he has no idea what the order accomplishes:
“Frankly, I don’t know, and frankly, I’m staying out of this. I can’t comment,” Slaoui said. “I literally don’t know…I don’t know exactly what this order is about.” (clip)
Experts say that even with Pfizer’s and Moderna’s doses, the U.S. is not going to be able to fulfill the Trump administration’s promise that most Americans will be vaccinated by May. The U.S. has purchased roughly 200 million total doses – enough for 100 million people – from the two vaccine front-runners. While the administration has also reserved hundreds of millions of doses from four other manufacturers, including 300 million from AstraZeneca, the outlook for those vaccines is mixed.
“We’re clearly not going to get there” with the Moderna and Pfizer shots, said Peter Hotez, a virologist and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, who is working on a vaccine candidate with partners in India. “We’re going to need four or five different vaccines.”
- UPDATE: After writing this post, HHS purchased another 100 million doses of the yet-to-be-approved Moderna vaccine. The expanded order would ensure continuous vaccine delivery through the end of June 2021, at a total cost of $3.2 billion
A little-noticed aspect of Operation Warp Speed: It explicitly states its goal is to deliver enough doses for just half of the U.S. population. “Operation Warp Speed’s goal is to produce and deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines with the initial doses available by January 2021,” the HHS website states. As mentioned above, it is highly unlikely the U.S. will even reach that goal.
Further reading on vaccines:
- “Trump administration leaves states to grapple with how to distribute scarce vaccines.” Politico.
- “Every state has its own COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. Find the one for yours here.” USA Today.
- “Find Your Place in the Vaccine Line.” NYT.
- “Jumping the line for a vaccine will be pretty easy.” Axios. “‘There absolutely will be a black market’: How the rich and privileged can skip the line for Covid-19 vaccines.” STAT.
- “The Freakout About Giving COVID Vaccines to Prisoners Has Already Begun.” Mother Jones.
- “Some States Balk After C.D.C. Asks for Personal Data of Those Vaccinated: The Trump administration is requiring states to submit personal data — including names, birth dates and addresses — of Covid-19 vaccine recipients.” NYT.
- “How the Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine Jeopardizes East Coast Shorebirds.” Audubon. “Horseshoe crabs help keep vaccines safe. Now, they’re in big trouble.” CBS News.
Just as Trump intervened to ensure Chris Christie and HUD Secretary Ben Carson received the same monoclonal antibody therapy that he did, Rudy Giuliani admits he was given the rare treatment due to his “celebrity” status. HHS Secretary Azar says the U.S. has allocated 278,000 doses of the antibody therapies, developed by Eli Lilly and Regeneron. Yesterday alone, a record 232,000 people tested positive for the virus and a record 108,000 people were hospitalized with the disease.
“If it wasn’t me, I wouldn’t have been put in a hospital, frankly,” Mr. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, told WABC radio in New York. “Sometimes when you’re a celebrity, they’re worried if something happens to you they’re going to examine it more carefully, and do everything right.”
When told that most Americans did not have access to the same VIP treatments, Giuliani was clueless: “I, well, I didn’t know that. I mean, they give it to us here at this hospital,” Giuliani told the radio hosts. He added that he was “not sure” their description was accurate.
- NYT: In fact, the antibody treatments are so scarce that officials in Utah have developed a ranking system to determine who is most likely to benefit from the drugs, while Colorado is using a lottery system.
Finally, just as with Trump, Giuliani’s VIP medical treatment reinforced his belief that the coronavirus is not a big deal, saying he has “exactly the same view” of the virus as he did before becoming ill.
On his YouTube show, Giuliani admitted to experiencing symptoms while on his election conspiracy tour visiting four different states. The former mayor said that Americans should get tested as soon as they start to show symptoms but admits he did not do the same:
“I’m not going to say I passed that test completely… I had symptoms, I probably did have symptoms for a few days, I was traveling, I was traveling very fast and going to one state after another testifying at the hearings concerning the election. I had gone in 5 days to 4 states – Pennsylvania, to Michigan, to Arizona, and to Georgia – and about five to six hearings in that period of time, preparing witnesses.” (clip)
Numerous state legislatures visited by Giuliani and Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis (who also tested positive) shut down after they exposed members and staff to the virus, including the Arizona Senate and House of Representatives and the Michigan House of Representatives.
- While in Michigan, Giuliani asked a woman sitting next to him to remove her mask during her testimony before a panel on election fraud; she declined (clip).
- In Michigan, the House of Representatives is being investigated by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration over violations to COVID-19 workplace regulations. Since the start of the pandemic, 11 Michigan state legislators and more than 30 legislative staffers have tested positive for coronavirus.
- Georgia state Sen. William Ligon, the chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee, said Giuliani was in “close proximity to senators, Senate staff, members of the media and the general public” during his visit. Videos show the former mayor was not wearing a mask. Dr. Megan Ranney told CNN that Giuliani could have potentially exposed “hundreds and hundreds” of people to the virus.
Despite the surging pandemic, Trump’s White House is continuing to hold indoor holiday parties. Jenna Ellis attended one of these parties just days before testing positive for the virus, angering attendees. According to ABC News, the White House has hosted at least 10 such parties and expects to hold at least 20 – at times with more than 200 guests.
At a Tuesday event touting his vaccine effort, a reporter asked, “Why are you modeling a different behavior to the American people than what your scientists tell?”
“They’re Christmas parties, and, frankly, we’ve reduced the number very substantially, as you know,” Trump responded (clip).
Mike Pompeo’s State Department is also hosting large parties, including an upcoming event with a guest list of over 900 people. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has called on Pompeo to cancel the parties, saying they violate his own guidelines against holding “non-mission critical” gatherings and “pose a significant health risk” to attendees and staff.
“It is one thing for individuals to engage in behavior that flies in the face of CDC and public health guidelines. But it is another to put employees and workers at risk, some of whom include contractors, such as catering and wait staff, who do not receive the full benefits of federal employment and may not have health insurance,” said the Menendez letter.
CDC Director Robert Redfield allegedly tried to “conceal and destroy evidence” of political interference with coronavirus scientific guidance. The Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis revealed testimony from a CDC career scientist that Redfield ordered subordinates to delete an email from political appointees who were attempting to alter language in a critical CDC report. Then HHS spokesman Michael Caputo and advisor Paul Alexander were forced out of the agency for their efforts to change and delay the reports earlier this year.
Dr. Kent stated in her interview, “I was instructed to delete the email.” She explained that she understood the instruction was relayed by Dr. Redfield to her supervisor and another member of her staff. She continued, “I went to look for it after I had been told to delete it, and it was already gone.” When asked who deleted the email, she replied, “I have no idea.” Dr. Kent stated, “I considered this to be very unusual.”
- Furthermore, Chairman James Clyburn accused HHS Secretary Alex Azar of stonewalling the subcommittee’s investigation into the matter, setting a deadline of Dec. 15 for production of requested materials and interviews.
Florida law enforcement agents searched the home of former state data scientist Rebekah Jones with guns drawn, claiming they were investigating an unauthorized message that was sent on a state communications system. Jones created a separate coronavirus-tracking system after she was fired from the Florida Department of Health for refusing to comply with alleged orders to manipulate data.
The state police seized her computer and phone in an attempt to prove that she’d sent an unauthorized “group text” through “a Department of Health messaging system” that is “to be used for emergencies only,” according to authorities. Further reporting has revealed that the warrant was issued on flimsy, fishy evidence:
the supposedly private messaging system that Jones might have accessed might have effectively just been an email address — an email address that the Florida Department of Health may have inadvertently published for anyone to see on the open web… I asked the FDLE to explain how it could have been accessed illegally — if the email address might have required someone to use private credentials somehow — but it declined, citing the active investigation.
12th Circuit Judicial Nomination Commission member Ron Filipkowski, a Republican, resigned in protest of the raid on Jones. In a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Filipkowski states that he has “been increasingly alarmed by the Governor’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“I have followed the events with Ms. Jones, seen the quality of her replacement, and reviewed the search warrant that led to her home being raided… Based on what I have seen and read, I find these actions unconscionable. Even if the facts alleged are true, I would still call her a hero… I no longer wish to serve the current government of Florida in any capacity.”
An investigation by a Florida newspaper found that “DeSantis’ administration engaged in a pattern of spin and concealment that misled the public” on the pandemic. According to the newspaper, Republican DeSantis influenced a state administration that “suppressed unfavorable facts, dispensed dangerous misinformation, dismissed public health professionals, and promoted the views of scientific dissenters” who supported the governor’s ambivalent approach to the disease.