Tuesday Reads: The Long War Against Covid-19Posted: August 3, 2021
Thanks to the Delta variant, and people refusing to be vaccinated, Covid-19 cases are rising around the country, particularly in Florida, Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. At least Louisiana’s Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards is trying to get the situation under control. But in the other three states, governors are working against public health.
When Gov. John Bel Edwards lifted Louisiana’s mask mandate at the end of April, he warned that loosening restrictions wasn’t a “one way street” and that he would reimpose the rules if COVID-19 came roaring back.
On Monday, as hospitals statewide buckled under an unprecedented surge in patients, Edwards followed through on his word.
Schools, businesses, universities, churches, and any other indoor public settings in Louisiana will require a face mask for entry beginning on Wednesday, under a proclamation Edwards signed that expires September 1.
“It has become extremely clear that our current recommendations on their own are not strong enough to deal with Louisiana’s fourth surge of COVID. In fact, nobody should be laboring under the misapprehension that this just another surge,” Edwards told reporters Monday in announcing the order he had already signed. “This is the worst one we’ve had thus far.”
The return to restrictions comes as the pandemic enters a new stage defined by the delta variant, a highly contagious strain of COVID-19 first identified in India that now accounts for most new cases in Louisiana. On Monday, the state reported 11,109 new confirmed and probable infections of COVID-19. More than 2,000 of those cases were among children.
One-third of all US Covid-19 cases reported in the past week were in just two states – Florida and Texas – according to White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients.
The cases are mainly in areas where vaccination rates remain low, Zients said at a briefing Monday.
“In fact, seven states with the lowest vaccination rates represent just about 8- 1/2% of the US population, but account for more than 17% of cases, and one in three cases nationwide occurred in Florida and Texas, this past week,” Zients said.
In the past two weeks, daily case rates have gone up fourfold, according to Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.
The increase comes as the Delta variant spreads and the percentage of fully vaccinated Americans hovers around 49.7%, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hospitals are once again filling up with patients as the virus tears through the unvaccinated population.
“There are still about 90 million eligible Americans who are unvaccinated,” Zients said. “And we need them to do their part, roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated. Each and every shot matters.”
It doesn’t seem to matter to some Republican Governors.
On Saturday, Florida recorded 21,683 new cases of COVID-19, breaking its one-day record for new cases. But even as the state swells with fresh infections, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis remains hellbent on his war against mask mandates. He even recently barred school districts from instituting mask mandates when classes reconvene in August.
DeSantis feels so good about his war on masks, he’s even laughing about it. “Did you not get the CDC’s memo?” DeSantis joked to a largely maskless crowd at a conference for the American Legislative Exchange Council in Utah last week, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidelines recommending mask-wearing amid the surge of the Delta variant. “I don’t see you complying.”
He continued, prompting applause, “I think it’s very important that we say unequivocally, ‘No to lockdowns, no to school closures, no to restrictions, and no mandates.’ Floridians are free to choose and all Americans should be free to choose how they govern their affairs, how they take care of themselves and our families.”
The governor, who is reportedly eyeing a bid for president in 2024, has spent most of the pandemic fiercely opposing COVID safety measures—a stance public health officials say has allowed the virus to run rampant across the state and has now made Florida the epicenter of the pandemic in this country. To DeSantis’ sort-of credit, he has made recent efforts to boost vaccinations, though at the same time he’s selling anti-Anthony Fauci merchandise on his website.
In Mississippi, where ICU beds are nearing capacity with a surge of unvaccinated individuals, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves blasted the CDC’s mask guidelines as “foolish” and claimed that it reeked of “political panic.”
“It has nothing, let me say that again: It has nothing to do with rational science,” Reeves said on Thursday.
Except that it does. As Dr. Fauci warned on Sunday, “Things are going to get worse.” The country’s top expert on infectious diseases told ABC’s This Week, “You want them to wear a mask so that if in fact they do get infected, they don’t spread it to vulnerable people, perhaps in their own household, children, or people with underlying conditions.”
In Texas, Governor Abbott is also trying to kill his constitutents. The New York Times: Gov. Greg Abbott bars mandates for vaccinations and masks in Texas.
In an executive order issued on Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of the nation’s second-largest state, prohibited local governments and state agencies from mandating vaccines, saying that protection against the virus should be a matter of personal responsibility, not forced by a government edict.
The order also reinforced his prior directive prohibiting local officials from requiring face masks, despite growing calls from city leaders for greater flexibility to reverse the renewed spread of Covid.
The daily average of cases in Texas as of Friday was 8,820, according to a New York Times database, a 209 percent increase over the past 14 days. Cities across the state are facing a surge in hospitalizations reminiscent of the alarming spikes that occurred before Covid cases began nosing downward with the arrival of vaccines.
With 56 percent of the state’s population unvaccinated — including nearly five million children under 12 who are not eligible — health officials have expressed concern about the state’s vulnerability.
It was always going to be a long battle against the coronavirus, but many Americans didn’t want to face that fact. At STAT News, Megen Molteni writes: For many, the belated realization that Covid will be ‘a long war’ sparks anger and denial.
In May, when the CDC said fully vaccinated people could ditch masks and social distancing, it seemed to signal a return to normalcy. But epidemiologists cautioned at the time that the move wasn’t likely to be permanent, and shouldn’t be interpreted as the end of Covid-19 as a daily concern. Colder weather or a right hook in the virus’s evolution could bring restrictions right back.
Still, Americans seem shocked by the recent turn of events. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised everyone — even those who’ve gotten Covid-19 shots — to go back to indoor masking, a decision driven by new data showing the hyper-contagious Delta variant colonizes the nose and throat of some vaccinated people just as well as the unvaccinated, meaning they may just as easily spread this new version of the virus, while stilling being protected against the worst manifestations of the disease.
The prospect of contending with a prolonged outbreak phase — and adjusting again to a constantly evolving roster of restrictions — has brought back another feature of pandemic living in America: anger.
This time it’s not just the mostly Republican anti-masking refrain rearing its defiant head (though fights over school mask mandates have returned with a vengeance). Coast to coast, and across the political spectrum, contempt for unvaccinated people is rising. “It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, said on July 22, as her state, with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, reeled from a 530% rise in Covid-19 hospitalizations in just three weeks.
Among the vaccinated, there’s a sense that the freedoms they gained by getting the shots — travel, eating out, concerts, sports, school, seeing friends — are now being jeopardized by those who are still holding out.
Though this new flavor of outrage might look and sound like righteous indignation, mental health professionals say that what’s behind it is fear.
“It’s scary to admit that somebody else has power over you and you’re at their mercy and you’re afraid of them, but showing that is not a very American ideal,” said David Rosmarin, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a clinician at McLean Hospital. “Instead of expressing that fear, it’s a lot more comfortable to blame somebody else.”
Anger is what people in his profession refer to as a “secondary emotion.” It’s a feeling that arises in response to a more primal emotion, like fear and anxiety over having some aspect of your life threatened. “The reality is that there are millions of people who are miseducated about something, they’re making a big mistake that will have massive consequences that might affect you and your family and that makes you scared,” Rosmarin said. “But nobody is saying that.”
Unfortunately, there’s another looming disaster caused by the pandemic: the CDC eviction ban is expiring, and in Washington everyone is accusing everyone else of being responsible for dealing with the situation. And it’s complicated by a Supreme Court ruling.
The White House said Monday that it was unable to find a legal means to extend the eviction moratorium, despite the fact that millions of Americans could soon lose their homes even as the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has “been unable to find legal authority for a new, targeted eviction moratorium,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “Our team is redoubling efforts to identify all available legal authorities to provide necessary protections.”
Citing a Supreme Court decision issued in late June, the White House said it was unable to unilaterally extend the moratorium for evictions. Late last week, Psaki issued a statement pressuring Congress to act, but the House went into recess before a vote could be held. Were it to pass the House, it is unclear if an extension of the moratorium would be able to pass the Senate.
The federal eviction moratorium expired over the weekend, yet more than 6.5 million U.S. households are currently behind in rental payments totaling more than $20 billion, according to a study by the Aspen Institute and the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. Without federal protections in place, many renters will now need to pay months of back rent.
“On this particular issue, the president has not only kicked the tires, he has double, triple, quadruple checked,” Gene Sperling, the White House COVID-19 economic relief coordinator, said at a briefing on Monday, adding, “The rise off the Delta variant is particularly harmful for those who are most likely to face evictions, and as that reality became more clear going into the end of last week, I think all of us started asking what more can we do.”
Mark Joseph Stern at Slate: The Supreme Court Caused the Looming Eviction Disaster. Why Won’t Democrats Say So?
On July 31, the federal government’s eviction moratorium expired, potentially forcing millions of Americans out of their homes during yet another COVID surge. In the days before the eviction cliff, House Democrats attempted to extend the moratorium, but Republicans easily blocked their measure. Democratic lawmakers then spent the weekend arguing over who was to blame for the looming catastrophe.
Curiously, most Democrats chose not to focus on the primary culprit: the Supreme Court. In late June, five conservative justices signaled that they would not let the White House extend the eviction ban beyond July 31 absent further congressional authorization. These Republican-appointed justices set the terms of the debate, yet were largely absent from Democrats’ blame game. As a result, most vulnerable Americans will likely not understand they face homelessness in a pandemic because of SCOTUS. This strange dynamic is symptomatic of a deeper pathology in contemporary American politics: Democrats appear incapable of explaining how the Supreme Court stymies their own agenda—and the resulting confusion shields the court from criticism, consequences, and accountability when its decisions wreak havoc.
When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Biden to extend the eviction moratorium on his own, she framed the issue as a matter of morality. But the president’s inaction was almost certainly a legal calculation. To understand his hesitation, it’s key to remember that the recently expired moratorium was not the same policy that had been in effect since the start of the pandemic. Congress passed its first eviction ban in March 2020, explicitly prohibiting landlords from kicking out tenants who could not afford rent because of the pandemic. After this provision expired that August, Donald Trump issued an executive order asking the CDC to take action. The CDC responded in September with its own eviction moratorium set to run through the end of 2020. It was rooted in a federal law that allows the agency “to make and enforce such regulations” that are “necessary to prevent” the “spread of communicable diseases” between states. In December, Congress passed legislation that explicitly extended the CDC’s moratorium through Jan. 31, 2021. The agency then extended the ban several more times.
While the CDC kept the moratorium in place, a group of landlords sued to block it, claiming it exceeded the agency’s authority. On May 5, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich sided with the plaintiffs against the ban but stayed her order. One month later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit court refused to block the ban. The plaintiffs then appealed to SCOTUS, which came within an inch of ending the moratorium. Five justices—Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett—believed it violated the law. But Kavanaugh, who cast the decisive fifth vote, wrote separately to explain that although he believed the CDC had “exceeded its existing statutory authority,” he would not invalidate the ban. Instead, weighing the “balance of equities,” he would allow it to remain for “a few weeks.”
“In my view,” the justice declared, “clear and specific congressional authorization (via new legislation) would be necessary for the CDC to extend the moratorium past July 31.”
Kavanaugh’s analysis is dubious at best. (Maybe that’s why Chief Justice John Roberts didn’t join it, instead quietly voting to keep the moratorium in place.) Congress already gave the CDC expansive powers to fight the “spread of communicable diseases” between states. The agency acted pursuant to this law when it determined that mass evictions would force many Americans to live unhoused or crammed together in close quarters, transmitting the virus more widely. Crucially, when Congress chose to extend the moratorium, it simply passed a law extending the CDC’s own ban. By doing so, lawmakers chose “to embrace” the agency’s action and “expressly recognized” that it had the authority to issue the ban, in the words of the D.C. Circuit. It would not make a lick of sense for Congress to extend the CDC’s moratorium if it did not believe the CDC had authority to issue it.
More eviction reads:
The Washington Post Editorial Board: Opinion: There’s plenty of money to avoid evictions. States just have to spend it.
The Washington Post: Liberals erupt in fury at White House over end of eviction moratorium. [the “liberals” referred to in the headline are actually far left Bernie bro types]
That’s it for me today. Sorry this post is such a downer. As always, this is an open thread.