The Week of Saturday, March 28 through Friday, April 3, 2020 [#37]
The Week’s Most Notable:
Another week deeper into the coronavirus crisis, and a new issue emerged: Does the U.S. have a real coronavirus plan? Almost everywhere the answer is no. In fact, as evidence of the gaps in effective planning, throughout the week diverse people such as Governor Cuomo, Rachel Maddow, and Doctor Fauci have offered their versions of what a plan should contain. Some call for a national quartermaster to run the business of requisitioning, collecting, and redistributing medical materials. Others call for the Army to get involved with medical logistics. Many believe there should be a nationally coordinated effort to use testing (both kinds, see page 3). There is a thought for a 9/11-style commission to monitor both the coronavirus crisis and the economic crisis. The suggestions are legion.
No suggestion has penetrated the administration. Trump does not want to dilute his show (he brags about his daily presser ratings) with another spokesperson or power center. He apparently does not want to take responsibility for a national plan, leaving that for governors and the Democrats. He will get no real-world guidance from his cabinet courtiers (Pence, Azar, DeVos, Carson, Barr, Pompeo, et al.), almost all ultra-conservative nationalist Christians, who have neither any conception of how nor any inclination to systematically marshal the powers of science and government (a la the New Deal) for the good of workaday citizens. They prefer solutions oriented to their peers in big corporations.
Given the historic double whammy of a medical crisis and economic crisis, the lack of an aggressive systematic national plan predictably means at a minimum an inefficient response, translating into unnecessary misery, illness, and death – this is not, unfortunately, hyperbole.
Saturday, March 28
[Coronavirus] U.S. Tops 100,000 Coronavirus Cases, 1,700 Deaths
[Coronavirus] Italy Death Toll Passes 10,000 – With 800 or 900 dying every day, it would seem Italy remains in the worst-case scenario, but there are signs, such as the leveling-out of new cases, that three weeks of national lockdown are having a positive effect.
Sunday, March 29
[Election 2020] Another Trump-Bump Poll – The Washington Post-ABC News poll for the first time showed Trump in a virtual dead-heat with Biden in the November election. This joins several other polls, notably Gallup, showing Trump’s approval increasing over the past several weeks. Considering the widespread sentiment that his handling of the crisis is inept (putting it mildly), the so-called “Trump Bump” seems a touch questionable. Most observers put it down to the “rally around the flag” syndrome. Americans want to support their president in times of emergency.
[Coronavirus] Trump Abandons Easter Restart of Economy – After weeks of touting an imminent reboot of the economy – a notion not shared by doctors and epidemiologists – Trump extended the social distancing guidelines until the end of April. (Also unrealistic and quickly hedged during the week.) Trump’s conversion apparently was the result of seeing projections for millions of deaths if nothing was done and “only” 100,000 to 200,000 deaths if mitigation efforts were successful. He also cited a personal friend suffering with Covid-19 as a motivating factor. Trump’s sudden but significant reversal caused embarrassing whiplash in the right-wing media deeply committed to calling the crisis a hoax.
[Coronavirus] First Flight of “Project Airbridge” Arrives in U.S. – Ironically, the first flight loaded with medical supplies and equipment is from China. Fifty similar flights are planned worldwide, something of a raid on scarce supplies that is drawing the anger of many similarly afflicted, but poorer, countries.
Monday, March 30
[Abortion] Federal Judges Block Coronavirus-related Abortion Bans – Texas, Ohio, and Alabama sought to use the coronavirus crisis as an excuse for banning abortions, calling them “elective” procedures.
[Coronavirus] Testing to Begin on Coronavirus Vaccine – Amid the claims of instant treatment and vaccines, Johnson & Johnson announced human testing of a coronavirus vaccine will begin in September with, if all goes well, distribution sometime next year. This is a billion-dollar crash program.
[Coronavirus Economy] Federal Reserve Estimates Unemployment to Hit 32% – Consider this an official estimate, which means over 45 million people out of work within the next one to two years. Unemployment at the height of the Great Depression was 25%.
Tuesday, March 31
[Stock Market] Worst First-Quarter in History – Stock markets worldwide suffered record-breaking losses with the S&P 500 down 20%, its worst first quarter ever.
[Coronavirus] “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die.” – These words, from a leaked report by Captain Brett Crozier of the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, called on the Navy to support transferring coronavirus affected sailors from the ship to Guam for isolation. At the time, 80 cases tested positive out of just under 5,000 sailors and officers; by the end of the week that number was 126. Three days later Captain Crozier was stripped of his command by order of the Secretary of the Navy under instructions from President Trump, who attacked Crozier publicly.
[Election 2020] Voting Rights for Florida Felons Upheld by Appeals Court – The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier ruling that blocked portions of the state law requiring felons to pay all fines and restitution before being allowed to vote.
[Climate Crisis] East Antarctica Heat Wave – For the first time, East Antarctica recorded temperatures near 50°F. Denman Glacier, located there, is now in rapid retreat and will ultimately contribute to a projected 5-foot rise in global sea levels.
[Climate Crisis] Trump Rolls Back Fuel Efficiency Standards – As part of his effort to undo anything Obama did, the rule changes allow cars and trucks to dump more carbon into the atmosphere and for manufacturers to abandon the quest for more efficient engines. Some states, namely California, and some manufacturers have already indicated they will continue to follow current policy. Not surprisingly, the Trump administration has threatened lawsuits for noncompliance of its pro-pollution position.
Wednesday, April 1
[Coronavirus] Under Pressure, Florida Issues Stay-at-Home Order – After more than a week of media and political pressure, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) dutifully followed the new Trump policy for social distancing, but exempted church services and meetings – a significant gap in coronavirus mitigation for a population of 21 million. (Eleven states still do not have coronavirus restrictions.)
Thursday, April 2
[Unemployment] Coronavirus Fallout: Record 6.6 Million Jobless Applications – Added to the 3.3 million from the previous week, almost 10 million people filed for unemployment benefits, far more than at any other time in U.S. history.
[Coronavirus] House Announces Select Committee for Coronavirus Response Oversight – As a follow-up to the record $2.2 trillion federal program for coronavirus and economic rescue, the House committee will become the watchdog for fraud and corruption in how that money is spent. Trump labeled it “another witch hunt.” Speaker Pelosi said it was the committee’ s job to make sure the money is spent properly, not to investigate the administration.
[Coronavirus] Democrats Move Convention to August – Realizing a convention scheduled for July was likely to be unfeasible, they joined the Republicans with a date in August, also problematic.
Friday, April 3
[Coronavirus] U.S. Tops 250,000 Coronavirus Cases, 6,000 Deaths – Worldwide cases surge to more than 1 million with more than 50,000 deaths.
[Coronavirus] CDC Recommends Masks in Public – Trump announced the CDC guidelines for nonmedical masks when Americans leave their homes. He reiterated several times that the guidelines are voluntary and that he would not be wearing a mask. Classic mixed signals in a situation where there is already confusion about using masks.
[Supreme Court] Supreme Court Cancels April Oral Arguments – The coronavirus crisis-related rescheduling to an undetermined time affects nine cases, including some involved with the Trump impeachment process.
[Government] Trump Continues Purge of Impeachment-Related Officials – The late-night Friday firing of Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson was transparently in retaliation for his approval of sending the whistleblower’s report on the Ukraine call to Congress. Trump has a long list and some of them will be missed.
Coronavirus Crisis Notes
Testing, testing, testing. In discussions of the coronavirus crisis you’ll see and hear this mantra repeatedly. Testing may not be the only thing that’s important in pandemic mitigation, but it is a sine qua non. Without testing the infected can’t be separated from the healthy, especially when they’re not presenting symptoms. Without testing those who have had the disease and have become immunized can’t be separated from those who are not. Unfortunately, it’s not widely recognized yet that these are two different tests.
COVID-19 Test: This is the most familiar test, the one that requires a swab and lab processing, although some quicker methods are now becoming available. It’s used to determine if you have the coronavirus in your body. Doctors use this test to separate the infected from the uninfected and to help determine a course of treatment. It’s the crucial test from the outset of an epidemic as it’s the only way to know how many cases there are and where they’re located. This is especially true of the Covid-19 virus which has a long latency (typically 5 to 7 days) before people show symptoms. During this time, they can unwittingly pass the virus to other people. Countries such as South Korea used this test to track where the virus was spreading and to guide their mobilization of resources. To do this required a lot of tests, literally millions. Many countries, including the U.S., do not have this capacity (not enough test kits, not enough processing equipment, not enough lab technicians). The U.S. still does not have this capacity
Serological Test: This is the test people are just beginning to talk about; it’s used after people have become sick and then developed some degree of immunization, which shows up in the blood as antibodies to the virus. Epidemiologists use the test results to determine the spread of a virus. However, this test may also be used to determine which people can go back to work, or to school, or to travel. For this, a relatively high percentage of the population needs to be tested, requiring millions of the test. Currently very few countries have this capacity, including the U.S. Unfortunately, any discussion of reviving the economy or going back to normal should involve testing people to see who can safely do that. Otherwise there’s a big risk of sending people who are still infectious back into the general population and potentially causing a new wave of illness.
Beware of anyone (such as Trump) who says we are able to do enough testing. They usually refer only to the first kind of testing and, display no understanding of the necessity of testing for tracking and mitigation.
Voting by mail, an urgent and likely important election issue. It seems obvious that during a time of social distancing, elections are safer when conducted by mail. Although unrestricted voting by mail is hardly new, its application is patchwork. Except for absentee ballots, some states don’t do it all, thirty-three have partial mail voting, three (Oregon, Washington, and Colorado) have done it comprehensively. The know-how exists, but a successful nationwide project would have to start – now. However, Republicans are prepared to fight it tooth and nail. Trump has already said absolutely no nationwide mail-in election. A few Republicans have candidly admitted that establishing a precedent for voting by mail would seriously hurt the Republican Party. (Based on the assumption that making voting easier and more broadly enfranchising favors the Democrats.) It’s likely there will be efforts to increase voting by mail this year, but it will not be comprehensive.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are passingly familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search (Google it).]
Quote of the Week
“N95 masks are going out the back door [and] hospitals are hoarding ventilators.”
Trump’s [unsubstantiated] claims at Virus Task Force Briefing, 3/30/2020