Tuesday Reads: The Pandemic Is Still With Us

Street Artist Corie Mattie, “I wanted to find some way to help raise awareness and also give hope.”

Good Morning!!

For the past couple of weeks, the Covid-19 pandemic has been pushed off the front pages by massive protests against police brutality triggered by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But the virus is still raging across the U.S. and we still are not doing enough to deal with the consequences, including economic ones.

The Washington Post: 14 states and Puerto Rico hit highest seven-day average of new coronavirus infections.

Since the start of June, 14 states and Puerto Rico have recorded their highest-ever seven-day average of new coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, according to data tracked by The Washington Post: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

If the pandemic’s first wave burned through dense metro hubs such as New York City, Chicago and Detroit, the highest percentages of new cases are coming from places with much smaller populations: Lincoln County, Ore., an area of less than 50,000, has averaged 20 new daily cases; the Bear River Health District in northern Utah has averaged 78 new cases a day in the past week, most of them tied to an outbreak at a meat processing plant in the small town of Hyrum.

The increase of coronavirus cases in counties with fewer than 60,000 people is part of the trend of new infections surging across the rural United States. Health experts worry those areas, already short of resources before the pandemic, will struggle to track new cases with the infrastructure that remains.

Adding to the disparity in health-care support, residents in states such as Mississippi, Florida and South Carolina are living under only minor-to-moderate restrictions — even as their average daily infection rate is rising.

Jules Muck, artist. Photo by Paul Lara

Here’s a story from one of those states, Arizona. Tucson.com: Arizona hospitals bracing for crisis as COVID-19 cases surge.

Last week marked the largest week-to-week increase of coronavirus cases in both Arizona and Pima County since the pandemic began, and Banner Health is reporting its ICUs are at full capacity in Maricopa County and rapidly approaching full capacity in Tucson.

New, confirmed cases in Arizona totaled 4,500 from May 24 to May 30, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services, as of Saturday morning. That’s nearly a 50% increase from the week before.

In Pima County, cases totaled 481 over the same period, marking an 85% increase from the previous week.

The county Health Department is watching closely to see if these cases will turn into hospitalizations, visits to intensive care units and ultimately deaths, said Dr. Francisco Garcia, the county’s chief medical officer….

Dr. Marjorie Bessel, Banner Health’s chief clinical officer, said on Friday that COVID-19 hospitalizations are rapidly increasing and that, if these trends continue, Banner will soon need to start surge planning and increase bed capacity.

Most concerning, she said, is the steep incline of COVID-19 patients on ventilators. As of Thursday, Banner had 116 COVID-19 patients on ventilators statewide.

According to newly released studies, closing down states’ economies and urging people to stay home worked to reduce spread of the virus. The Washington Post: Shutdowns prevented 60 million coronavirus infections in the U.S., study finds.

Shutdown orders prevented about 60 million novel coronavirus infections in the United States and 285 million in China, according to a research study published Monday that examined how stay-at-home orders and other restrictions limited the spread of the contagion.

A separate study from epidemiologists at Imperial College London estimated the shutdowns saved about 3.1 million lives in 11 European countries, including 500,000 in the United Kingdom, and dropped infection rates by an average of 82 percent, sufficient to drive the contagion well below epidemic levels.

Street art, NYC

The two reports, published simultaneously Monday in the journal Nature, used completely different methods to reach similar conclusions. They suggest that the aggressive and unprecedented shutdowns, which caused massive economic disruptions and job losses, were effective at halting the exponential spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Without these policies employed, we would have lived through a very different April and May,” said Solomon Hsiang, director of the Global Policy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley, and the leader of the research team that surveyed how six countries — China, the United States, France, Italy, Iran and South Korea — responded to the pandemic.

His team estimated that, in the initial days after the virus was seeded in each country, and before the shutdowns, the number of infections was doubling every two days.

“The disease was spreading at a really extraordinary rate that is rare even among very infectious diseases,” he said in an interview. The global response to covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, resulted in “saving more lives in a shorter period of time than ever before,” he said in a separate conference call with reporters.

But at The Atlantic, Alexis C. Madrigal and Robinson Meyer write: America Is Giving Up on the Pandemic.

After months of deserted public spaces and empty roads, Americans have returned to the streets. But they have come not for a joyous reopening to celebrate the country’s victory over the coronavirus. Instead, tens of thousands of people have ventured out to protest the killing of George Floyd by police.

Demonstrators have closely gathered all over the country, and in blocks-long crowds in large cities, singing and chanting and demanding justice. Police officers have dealt with them roughly, crowding protesters together, blasting them with lung and eye irritants, and cramming them into paddy wagons and jails.

London, street art

There’s no point in denying the obvious: Standing in a crowd for long periods raises the risk of increased transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This particular form of mass, in-person protest—and the corresponding police response—is a “perfect set-up” for transmission of the virus, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a radio interview on Friday. Some police-brutality activists (such as Black Lives Matter Seattle) have issued statements about the risk involved in the protests. Others have organized less risky forms of protests, such as Oakland’s Anti Police-Terror Project’s massive “caravan for justice.”

Americans may wish the virus to be gone, but it is not. While the outbreak has eased in the Northeast, driving down the overall national numbers, cases have only plateaued in the rest of the country, and they appear to be on the rise in recent days in COVID Tracking Project data. Twenty-two states reported 400 or more new cases Friday, and 14 other states and Puerto Rico reported cases in the triple digits. Several states—including Arizona, North Carolina, and California—are now seeing their highest numbers of known cases.

These numbers all reflect infections that likely began before this week of protest. An even larger spike now seems likely. Put another way: If the country doesn’t see a substantial increase in new COVID-19 cases after this week, it should prompt a rethinking of what epidemiologists believe about how the virus spreads.

This is a long article, and I hope you’ll read the rest at the link above. But I want to quote one more paragraph.

Americans have not fully grasped that we are not doing what countries that have returned to normal have done. Some countries have almost completely suppressed the virus. Others had large outbreaks, took intense measures, and have seen life return to normal. Americans, meanwhile, never stayed at home to the degree that most Europeans have, according to mobility data from Apple and Google. Our version of the spring lockdown looked more like Sweden’s looser approach than like the more substantial measures in Italy, or even the United Kingdom and France. Swedish public-health officials have acknowledged that this approach may not have been the best path forward.

A piece by Hijack Art in Los Angeles.

I’m really worried that we’ll soon see spikes in infections in states like mine (Massachusetts) and others that have managed to reduce the spread and are now reopening.

There is also the matter of the economy. Is Congress going to do anything further to help Americans who lost jobs and are now facing hunger? Eater: Food Banks Need More Government Help to Address Unprecedented Levels of Food Insecurity.

One of the lasting images of the coronavirus pandemic will be that of thousands of cars lined up bumper to bumper in front of food banks, a reminder of how many people in the U.S. have lost their incomes and the ability to feed themselves and their families over the past three months. Food pantries and other nonprofit organizations have struggled to respond to record demand in the face of such food insecurity, while also dealing with difficulties brought on by disrupted supply chains and volunteers who themselves may be vulnerable to virus exposure….

But some lawmakers say that federal agencies’ response to address this crisis has been slow. Out of the $850 million that the CARES Act and the Family First Coronavirus Response Act set aside for food banks nearly two months ago, less than $300 million has been sent out so far, Democratic members on the Senate Appropriations Committee told the Washington Post. The Post reports that those lawmakers aren’t accusing the Trump administration of “deliberate foot-dragging,” but rather, are saying that the status quo federal bureaucracy has not acted with the urgency that such an unprecedented situation requires.

The government appears to be slow-walking money that has already been appropriated. The Washington Post: Food banks and other key programs have received a fraction of allotted coronavirus money, angering some lawmakers.

More than two months after passage of the $2 trillion Cares Act, funding for some key programs to address the economic devastation from the coronavirus is moving out slowly or not at all. Even after the United States added 2.5 million jobs last month, 20 million people remain out of work and federal bureaucracies charged with processing record sums of money to respond to the crisis are struggling to snap into action.

The Cares Act directed $850 million for food banks, but less than $300 million has been sent out so far, according to Democratic staff members on the Senate Appropriations Committee. That’s despite unprecedented demand, with the number of people served at food banks increasing by more than 50 percent from a year ago, according to a recent survey by the nonprofit group Feeding America.

Street artist Ruben Rojas

Similarly, Congress appropriated $9 billion in March for the Community Development Block Grant and Emergency Solutions Grant programs, which fund health facilities, child care centers, and services for seniors and homeless people, among other things. Only about $250 million of that money has been obligated.

In another example, $100 million dedicated specifically to help nursing homes certify compliance standards for issues like infection control remains unspent two months after it became law as part of the Cares Act. Another $100 million to help ensure access to broadband for Americans in rural parts of the country also remains unspent.

A separate $100 million appropriation to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency purchase personal protective equipment for firefighters also hasn’t been spent. Additionally, less than half the $16 billion Congress dedicated over four separate pieces of legislation to bulking up critical medical supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile has been spent, according to the Democrats’ calculations.

Politico: Food Banks Pushed to the Brink.

The coronavirus pandemic and economic slowdown has left at least 20 million Americans out of work, sending demand skyrocketing at food banks and other feeding programs around the U.S. The Agriculture Department is already spending $3 billion on surplus meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables to help nonprofits meet their needs, but anti-hunger advocates say there’s another way Washington should help: Increase food stamp benefits so hungry families can buy more groceries instead of leaning on food banks.

Here’s the problem: Bolstering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is almost a nonstarter in Congress, even as lawmakers pour billions of dollars into unemployment insurance, stimulus checks and other aid, writes Pro Ag’s Helena Bottemiler Evich. Democrats and Republicans have waged a fierce partisan tug-of-war over whether to shrink or expand the food safety net, and before the pandemic, USDA had issued a series of rules aiming to crack down on SNAP benefits when the economy was strong.

Recent data shows that food insecurity rates are going through the roof. For example, a national survey in late April found that more than 17 percent of mothers reported that their children under the age of 12 weren’t getting enough to eat because the family couldn’t afford enough food — a more than 400 percent increase from when the government last measured hunger rates in 2018.

The ask: Anti-hunger groups have been pressing Congress to increase food stamp benefits by 15 percent until unemployment rates come down, a move that would give SNAP recipients about $25 more per month. The request has repeatedly been rejected by Republicans, but Democrats have pledged to make sure the provision is included in a future coronavirus response package.

I know these issues aren’t as exciting as the protests, but it’s important to remember that that virus hasn’t gone away and the protests are very likely to increase the spread. We’re face overwhelming problems as a country, but are we really ready to accept tens of thousands more unnecessary deaths? It appears that many Americans have already made that calculation.

Please take care everyone. Stay safe and stay healthy.

10 Comments on “Tuesday Reads: The Pandemic Is Still With Us”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Video at the link.

  2. dakinikat says:

  3. bostonboomer says:

  4. quixote says:

    Frazz had a good comment about the US attitude to the virus: when you’re fighting a gorilla, you don’t stop when you’re done. You stop when the gorilla is done.

    The data out of places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, with near-universal mask-wearing, suggests masks can drive transmission way down. Of course, that’s without tear gas and shouting driving droplet production way up. And clumping arrested people together in small enclosed spaces.

    I’m just mentally cramped into a ball for fear of the awful news about spikes that could hit us in the next weeks.

    It’s good to see people care about justice, it really is, it’s heartwarming. But at the same time I keep wishing we could have expressed it with long distance voter registration drives instead, boring as that would be.

  5. dakinikat says: