Before I get to today’s news, here’s a little comic relief. This was in yesterday’s Boston Globe, but I can’t get past their rigid paywall. But I found the story at The Pest Control Daily: Boston Public Backyard used to have child alligators — sure, alligators — and other people fed them rodents. The “public backyard” is the Boston Public Garden, adjacent to the Boston Common. I had heard about cows grazing on the Common, but not about alligators in the Public Garden.
There are several newspaper articles from this period referring to the alligators who lived in a basin – or pond – near the entrance to Arlington Street amid a “magnificent” row of lilies. Reports vary, but for some time there were between three and four alligators on the site, strikingly complementing the many other exotic features of the public garden at the time.
A story in the September 19, 1901 issue of the Boston Post said three of the city’s alligators were given by “a Charlestown woman” who “became afraid of them and introduced them to the city of Boston.” The fourth alligator was given to the city by a man from Chelsea, though it’s just unclear why.
An article that appeared in an August 9, 1901 issue of the Boston Globe said the alligators – known as babies – belonged to William Doogue, the city’s superintendent for common and public reasons.
Doogue oversaw the public garden from 1878 to 1906, according to Friends of the Public Garden, a nonprofit advocating Boston Common, the public garden, and the nearby Commonwealth Avenue Mall and known for its exceptional green thumb….
The alligators have certainly rubbed some city dwellers the wrong way. But it wasn’t so much their presence that was annoying – people often huddled around the pool looking for them – it was how they were sometimes fed.
“Some objections to feeding live rats and mice to those in the public garden pond,” read the headline of the August Globe article.
The newspaper reported that in “warm weather” the alligators were put in the public garden and fed by park officials once a week….
“Live rats exposed to hungry alligators,” read a headline in the Boston Post on August 9, 1901. “The public garden exhibit attracts morbid interest from women and children.”
The article says, “The city doesn’t feed them in the summer … the city doesn’t have to” because “the alligators make their own living by entertaining the public”.
The story included an illustration of primitively dressed people gathered around a small pond-like structure and watched a man kneel to feed the alligators with the animals’ mouths wide open.
Apparently this was seen as a low-life activity. There is much more detail at the link about the feeding of the alligators. Apparently they were moved to the Franklin Park Zoo during the colder months, and their presence in the Boston Garden lasted for about 6 years.
White Supremacist News
Remember those neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us?” Fox News’ Tucker Carlson was trending on Twitter all day yesterday after he parroted a white supremacist conspiracy theory that liberals are trying to replace white people with immigrants.
For decades, white nationalists have invoked the specter of nonwhite immigration, multiculturalism, and declining birthrates to argue for the existence of a vast conspiracy aimed at eliminating white populations as a dominant demographic. On Fox News, Tucker Carlson is distributing the language, grievances, goals, and inherent call to action of the conspiracy theory to massive audiences.
On the April 8 broadcast of Fox News Primetime, Carlson offered perhaps his most explicit justification yet for the core belief of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory: that a wave of “Third World” invaders is coming to replace you and reshape your environment, and that you, the audience, should do something about it.
The Fox News host claimed that “what’s true” is that “the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World,” and no one should “sit back and take that.”
More from Media Matters: White nationalists praise Tucker Carlson’s full embrace of their “replacement” conspiracy theory.
White supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes explained what Carlson actually meant in his statements, lamenting that Carlson wasn’t more direct and theorizing that he probably had to dial it back in order to avoid consequences at Fox….
Other racist and extreme far-right media personalities and social media accounts also backed Carlson, celebrating him for broadcasting “what nationalists have been talking about for decades” and defending him against criticism.
Matt Gaetz Updates
The Washington Post: House opens ethics investigation into Florida Republican Matt Gaetz.
Click the link for more details.
Fred Grimm at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Scandal leaves Florida’s congressional provocateur with few friends.
His fellow congressional Republicans have risen as one to defend Matt Gaetz.
Oh, sorry. My bad. Make that two.
Jim Jordan of Ohio — Abbott to Gaetz’s Costello in their Capitol Hill clown act — came through for Matt. Sort of. After Gaetz denied allegations that he had been galivanting with escorts and even a 17-year-old girl, with allusions to orgies and illicit drug use, Jordan managed a four-word tweet: “I believe Matt Gaetz.” Which seemed an understated reaction from the likes of Jordan, whose usual outbursts have been unfettered by propriety, truth or the national interest.
You’d think the pugnacious Jim Jordan, of all people, would have come up with a more defiant defense of his fellow provocateur. But no.
Which left Marjorie Taylor Greene from Planet QAnon as his defender-in-chief. “Take it from me rumors and headlines don’t equal truth. I stand with @mattgaetz,” tweeted the Georgia congresswoman, a propagator of astounding untruths, slanders and conspiracy theories. Not sure that character references from the woman who suggested California wildfires had been ignited by Jewish space lasers can rehabilitate Gaetz’s mucky reputation.
Support was also slow coming from Mar-a-Lago, although Gaetz had been Donald Trump’s most outlandish congressional defender through two impeachments and an insurrection. Yet, the ex-president kept quiet in the week after The New York Times reported that the FBI has widened an investigation of former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg — who faces a slew of federal charges — to include his former best buddy and fellow philanderer. The Times said the FBI is looking into allegations that Greenberg and Gaetz arranged sexual trysts with paid escorts, including a 17-year girl. (Which Gaetz denies.)
It wasn’t until reports surfaced that, during Trump’s final days in office, Gaetz had sought a preemptive pardon for any federal charges that might come his way, that the ex-president finally said something. Not much, but something. His office issued a carefully worded, unTrumpian statement: “Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” adding, like an afterthought, “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
I just can’t get enough of Gaetzgate.
The Washington Post: Trump officials celebrated efforts to change CDC reports on coronavirus, emails show.
I’m going to focus on Covid-19 news today, because–despite the fact that 110 million Americans have been vaccinated–it looks like we are headed into a dangerous surge of new cases. Here’s the latest:
The number of new Covid-19 cases has plateaued at a “disturbingly high level,” and the US is at risk from a new surge, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned on Wednesday.
While lower than the peak earlier this year, there were still more than 61,000 new cases reported on Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. And the lack of continued significant decreases in infections is a concern, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, particularly given the spread of variants.
“It’s almost a race between getting people vaccinated and this surge that seems to want to increase,” Fauci said, noting Europe is experiencing a spike much like the one experts worry about for the US.
The US is vaccinating people quickly, with just over 33% of the population — more than 109 million people — having received at least one dose of the vaccine and all 50 states committed to opening vaccinations to all adults by April 19.
Those vaccines may be behind the decrease in Covid-19 fatalities, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday.
This is also concerning: Walensky says that the British variant of the virus is now causing most U.S. cases.
The New York Times: More Contagious Virus Variant Is Now Dominant in U.S., C.D.C. Chief Says.
A highly infectious variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in Britain has become the most common source of new infections in the United States, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday. The worrisome development comes as officials and scientists warn of a possible fourth surge of infections.
Federal health officials said in January that the B.1.1.7 variant, which began surging in Britain in December and has since slammed Europe, could become the dominant source of coronavirus infections in the United States, leading to a huge increase in cases and deaths.
At that point, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths were at an all-time high. From that peak, the numbers all declined until late February, according to a New York Times database. After several weeks at a plateau, new cases and hospitalizations are increasing again. The average number of new cases in the country has reached nearly 65,000 a day as of Tuesday, concentrated mostly in metro areas in Michigan as well as in the New York City region. That is an increase of 19 percent compared with the figure two weeks ago.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, who warned last week that she felt a recurring sense of “impending doom,” said on Wednesday that 52 of the agency’s 64 jurisdictions — which include states, some major cities and territories — are now reporting cases of these so-called “variants of concern,” including B.1.1.7.
More on the British variant:
B.1.1.7, the first variant to come to widespread attention, is about 60 percent more contagious and 67 percent more deadly than the original form of the coronavirus, according to the most recent estimates. The C.D.C. has also been tracking the spread of other variants, such as B.1.351, first found in South Africa, and P.1, which was first identified in Brazil.
The percentage of cases caused by variants is clearly increasing. Helix, a lab testing company, has tracked the relentless increase of B.1.1.7 since the beginning of the year. As of April 3, it estimated that the variant made up 58.9 percent of all new tests.
That variant has been found to be most prevalent in Michigan, Florida, Colorado, California, Minnesota and Massachusetts, according to the C.D.C. Until recently, the variant’s rise was somewhat camouflaged by falling infection rates over all, leading some political leaders to relax restrictions on indoor dining, social distancing and other measures.
Doctors and hospitals are seeing more infections in young people.
After-school activities are creating clusters where coronavirus can spread among children, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We know that these increases are due, in part, to more highly transmissible variants, which we are very closely monitoring,” Walensky said Monday at the White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing.
The virus was linked to high school wrestling tournaments in Florida last December where 38 people tested positive, according to a CDC report published in January.
In Minnesota, the B.1.1.7 variant of SARS-CoV-2 spread through Carver County with at least 68 cases linked to youth sport activities including hockey, wrestling and basketball, according to the Minnesota Department of Health….
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned about the spread of Covid-19 among children who participate in youth sports.
“We’re finding out that it’s the team sports where kids are getting together, obviously many without masks, that are driving it, rather than in the classroom spread,” Fauci told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos Tuesday on “Good Morning America.” “When you go back and take a look and try and track where these clusters of cases are coming from in the school, it’s just that.
The New York Times: Is the U.S. heading for a new wave? The Upper Midwest may offer a hint.
As states lift restrictions and coronavirus variants spread, scientists and federal health officials have warned that a fourth surge of cases could arise in the United States even as the nation’s vaccination campaign gathers speed. The seeds of such a surge may now be sprouting in the Upper Midwest and the Northeast.
Michigan is in tough shape. New cases and hospitalizations there have more than doubled in the last two weeks, and the six metro areas in the United States with the greatest number of new cases relative to their population are all in Michigan.
Several other states in the Upper Midwest, including Minnesota and Illinois, have also reported significant increases in new cases and hospitalizations. And in the Northeast, New York and New Jersey have continued to see elevated case counts.
Illinois is seeing a spike in cases as well. The daily average for new cases there has jumped about 56 percent in the past two weeks, to about 2,832 a day. Hospitalizations have risen about 28 percent from two weeks ago. Wisconsin and North Dakota have also seen their average case counts jump 50 percent or more in the last two weeks.
Stat reports that Biden has so far declined to increase the number of vaccine doses available to Michigan, despite the precipitous rise in cases: Biden officials rebuff appeals to surge Covid-19 vaccine to Michigan amid growing crisis.
Amid Michigan’s worst-in-the-nation coronavirus surge, scientists and public health officials are urging the Biden administration to flood the state with additional vaccine doses.
So far, though, their plea has fallen on deaf ears. Instead, the federal government is sticking to a vaccine-allocation strategy that largely awards doses to states and territories based on their population. As a result, most jurisdictions are still receiving similar per-capita vaccine supplies, regardless of how many people there are getting sick — or how many excess vaccine doses they have.
Experts have cast a surge in Michigan’s vaccine supply as a critical tool in combating the state’s most recent Covid-19 crisis. The state is currently recording nearly 7,000 new cases per day, just shy of its all-time peak in December. Hospitalizations and deaths, which tend to lag a few weeks behind increasing case counts, are also on the rise.
“I would be surging a lot of vaccines to Michigan right now,” said Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “To me, this is a no-brainer policy, and I would be curious to hear why the Biden team hasn’t done this.”
During a media briefing on Wednesday, White House officials acknowledged that Michigan’s situation is dire. They gave no indication, though, that they would send additional vaccines there to help quell the surge, when STAT asked. They argued that it is too early in the national vaccine campaign to begin targeting supply based on case rates.
Read more at Stat.
From An Diamond and Fenit Nirappil at The Washington Post: ‘A moment of peril’: Biden sees infections climb on his watch.
David Axe at The Daily Beast: There’s One Truly Alarming Reason to Worry About the Latest COVID Surge—Even With Vaccines.
…the [current] surge—driven by the spread of dangerous new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and a reckless rush by governors and mayors to end a year of mask mandates and social distancing rules—isn’t just an immediate threat to unvaccinated people.
It also represents a long-term danger to the whole country. More cases mean more opportunities for the novel coronavirus to mutate. And the more the pathogen mutates, the greater the chance it will evolve into an even deadlier variant—“lineage” is the scientific term—than even the ones we’re dealing with now.
It’s even possible that, given time and a certain critical mass of cases, SARS-CoV-2 could mutate into a lineage that can overpower our vaccines.
That’s the worst-case scenario—and potentially the biggest cause for concern as the spring surge spreads across the United States. “The greater the spread of the virus populations to new individuals, because of relaxation of social measures, the more the chances of new mutations,” Edwin Michael, an epidemiologist at the Center for Global Health Infectious Disease Research at the University of South Florida, told The Daily Beast.
If all this sounds like conjecture—it’s not. The steady mutation of the novel coronavirus over the 16 months since it first took root in China is a big reason America’s experiencing another surge.
Any given patient’s load of the virus mutates every two weeks, on average. Niema Moshiri, a geneticist at the University of California-San Diego, compared each case to a slot machine that an infection pulls twice a month. Jackpot is a new and deadlier lineage.
Now imagine tens of millions of Americans with active COVID infections, with each case pulling that handle every 14 days. The more gamblers, and the more time they have to gamble, the better chances of a big win for SARS-CoV-2. Our goal, Moshiri said, should be “to lessen the number of parallel slot machines we give to the virus.”
A few more related stories to check out:
The New York Times: Top Official Warned That Covid Vaccine Plant Had to Be ‘Monitored Closely.’ “An Operation Warp Speed report last June flagged staffing and quality control concerns at Emergent BioSolutions’ factory in Baltimore. The troubled plant recently had to throw out up to 15 million doses.”
David Corn at Mother Jones: Will the Public Ever Get a Full Accounting of Trump’s Disastrous COVID Response?
What else is happening? As always, this is an open thread.
As Christmas approaches, we are beginning to see the aftereffects of Thanksgiving travel and get-togethers. Today The New York Times reports: The U.S. has recorded over 250,000 cases in a day for the first time.
As the United States welcomed the news Friday that a second vaccine, by Moderna, had been authorized by the federal government for emergency use, the country confronted another stark reminder of how desperately vaccines are needed: a single-day caseload of over 251,000 new coronavirus cases, a once-unthinkable record.
It’s been only a week since the Food and Drug Administration first approved a Covid-19 vaccine, the one created by Pfizer and BioNTech. As trucks have carried vials across the country and Americans began pulling up their sleeves for inoculations, more ominous numbers have piled up:
Monday: 300,000 total dead in the United States.
Wednesday: 3,611 deaths in a single day, shattering the previous record of 3,157 on Dec. 9.
Thursday: Over 1 million new cases in just five days, pushing the country’s total of confirmed cases past 17 million.
Three months ago, new cases were trending downward and death reports were flat, but those gains have been lost. Now there are nearly six times as many cases being reported each day, and three times as many deaths, according to a New York Times database.
The South is on a particularly worrisome trajectory. Georgia, Arkansas and South Carolina have all set weekly case records. Tennessee is confirming new cases at the highest per capita rate in the country.
As cases continue to spike, officials are warning that hospitals, which now hold a record of nearly 115,000 Covid-19 patients, could soon be overwhelmed. More than a third of Americans live in areas where hospitals are running critically short of intensive care beds, federal data show. A recent New York Times analysis found that 10 percent of Americans — across a large swath of the Midwest, South and Southwest — live in areas where I.C.U.s are either completely full or have less than 5 percent of beds available.
On Wednesday, the US reported a record of 3,448 deaths. In total, more than 312,000 have died in the country since the beginning of the pandemic (though that’s almost certainly an undercount).
This week alone, two school teachers in Texas who’d been married 30 years died together, holding hands. A convent in Wisconsin lost eight nuns. COVID-19 claimed a Chicago paramedic — the fire department’s third coronavirus death. An elder of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe died of the virus, just a month after his wife.
This unprecedented and tragic surge in fatalities is, in part, a product of pandemic fatigue, cold weather that has led people indoors, and the patchwork nature state policies on masks and closures — many of which are quite lax. But these recent record-breaking days of death, in particular, are the result of infections contracted around Thanksgiving.
Despite CDC warnings to the contrary, an NPR analysis of mobile phone data found that 13% of Americans ventured more than 31 miles from home on Thanksgiving Day. That’s not a huge drop from last year, when it was 17%.
But it’s common knowledge that the most Thanksgiving travel comes in the days before and after the holiday. The Transportation Security Administration screened 9.5 million airline passengers during the 10-day Thanksgiving travel period. That’s less than half of what the TSA reported in 2019, but it still included some of the busiest days since the pandemic began.
Cases generally take about two weeks to appear in official tallies, since the virus incubates in the body for an average of five days, then people usually wait a few days to get tested after symptoms appear. Then there’s the multiday wait for results, and the subsequent process of reporting them to health agencies.
Deaths, in turn, generally follow one to three weeks after a rise in cases.
Like clockwork, that is what we’re seeing now.
Read much more–with individual stories–at the BI link.
More on the horrific situation in California at The Guardian: California sees record 379 coronavirus deaths as ICU capacity plummets. State has 1.7m cases, nearly as many as Spain, with ICU capacity in southern California at 0%.
The coronavirus toll in California reached another frightening milestone on Thursday, with health officials announcing a one-day record of 379 deaths and a two-day total of nearly 106,000 newly confirmed cases.
The most populous US state has recorded more than 1,000 deaths in the last five days. Its overall case total now tops 1.7m, a figure nearly equal to Spain’s and only surpassed by eight countries. The state’s overall death toll has reached 21,860.
Many of California’s hospitals are running out of capacity to treat the severest cases, and the situation is complicating care for non-Covid patients. ICU capacity in southern California hit 0% on Thursday.
“It’s pretty much all Covid,” said Arlene Brion, a respiratory therapist at Fountain Valley regional hospital in Orange county, where she is assigned six or seven patients rather than the usual one to three. “There’s probably two areas that are clean but we’re all thinking eventually it’s all going to be Covid.”
The Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, who is quarantining after his daughter was exposed, gave a stark briefing to city residents, warning that within days LA county may declare a systemwide crisis, with all hospitals out of usual space and staffing. The hospitals are planning by identifying areas such as parking lots and conference rooms that can be used for patient care.
He also reminded residents that the governor earlier announced the state had ordered 5,000 additional body bags and has dozens of refrigerated trucks ready to use as temporary morgues to handle bodies too numerous for existing morgues. “That frightens me, and it should frighten you,” Garcetti said.
The Washington Post has a video and photo essay on a struggling California hospital. Is this what other states will face soon? Overwhelmed: Covid patients are treated in parking lots, hallways and lobbies of a California
hospital that, like the nation, is struggling to keep pace with the pandemic.
APPLE VALLEY, Calif. — The hospital spreads over a block along Happy Trails Highway, which splits this high-desert town in half as it runs low and wide down a gentle hill.
All around St. Mary Medical Center is a new silence.
Fat Jack’s Bar & Grill is shuttered, never to reopen. The Chamber of Commerce, featuring a rearing, life-size model of the mid-century movie-star horse Trigger, is empty.
“Intermission,” reads the marquee of the High Desert Center for the Arts, which sits at the edge of this longtime home of antique Hollywood royalty, the singing cowboy Roy Rogers and his co-star wife, Dale Evans.
The hospital, though, is alive with the dying.
Head over to the WaPo to experience it.
I wonder how many people boarded planes to visit relatives last month? How many of those people were carrying the virus? Check out this story at The New York Times: United Helps to Contact Passengers After Possible Covid-19-Related Death on Flight.
United Airlines said on Friday that it was working with health officials to contact passengers who might have been exposed to the coronavirus by a male passenger who died after a medical emergency on a recent flight.
The four flight attendants who responded to the emergency on board the flight, United 591, also went into quarantine for 14 days after the plane landed at its destination in Los Angeles, the flight attendants’ union said.
The flight, which took off from Orlando, Fla., and was diverted to New Orleans, prompted widespread alarm on social media after reports indicated that the man’s wife had told emergency medical workers that he had tested positive for the virus.
United Airlines said on Friday that the man’s wife was overheard telling an emergency medical worker that her husband had symptoms of Covid-19, including loss of taste and smell.
But United officials said medical professionals did not confirm at the time that the man had tested positive for the virus, and they are still not sure if he was infected. When the flight was diverted to New Orleans, the airline said, it was told that the passenger had experienced cardiac arrest.
Nevertheless, United Airlines said it had been contacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We are sharing requested information with the agency so they can work with local health officials to conduct outreach to any customer the C.D.C. believes may be at risk for possible exposure or infection,” the airline said.
But the U.S. Government is coming to the rescue with vaccines, right? Wrong.
As Vice President Mike Pence sat for his COVID-19 vaccine shot on Friday morning, governors’ offices across the country were fuming, confused as to why their states were set to receive significantly fewer Pfizer doses than originally expected.
For months, states worked with the federal government to iron out plans for how many doses they’d receive, where and when they’d be distributed, and who would get the shots first. Senior officials with Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership to fast-track a vaccine, touted the administration’s planning as a success, saying that the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) had worked with states to make the distribution go smoothly.
But within days of declaring an unambiguous triumph, things have gone seriously awry.
As vaccines have made their way from warehouses to hospitals across the country, state officials from Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Georgia, and Washington State, among others, have been notified that they will receive thousands fewer doses than expected. Officials with two states told The Daily Beast that they would receive 30 percent less vaccine than planned. And when officials approached the federal government for answers, they said they were greeted with more confusion.
The search for answers extended up the ranks of the Trump COVID task force as well, where top members copped to being unaware as to why there were discrepancies between the numbers originally communicated to states and the number of doses shipped. As of Friday, the task force has not convened to discuss the issue, according to people familiar with the matter, even as a second vaccine from Moderna received its own emergency-use authorization.
Click the link to read the rest.
USA Today says they know what the problem is: States were left scrambling after finding out they’d get 20-40% less vaccine than promised. We now know why.
States were given estimates that turned out to be based on vaccine doses produced, not those that had completed quality control and were releasable.Only on Wednesday and later were states informed of the actual numbers.
“The ripple effect is huge,” said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers. “The planning piece is critical. We cannot roll this vaccine out on the fly.”
After three days of confusion, the source of the problem was finally clarified Friday night by Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state. He tweeted he’d had a “very productive” conversation with Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer for Operation Warp Speed, the administration’s COVID-19 treatment and vaccine program.
“That discrepancy was the source of the change in allocations,” Inslee tweeted. “It appears this is not indicative of long-term challenges with vaccine production.”
The sudden shift represents a huge headache for states as they scramble to adjust their vaccination programs.
A letter sent to governors Friday night from Heath and Human Services explained the discrepancy as confusion.
“We want to provide further perspective on the planning numbers generated in mid-November that are being compared with official weekly allocations. Official allocation numbers are only made available the week prior to distribution as they are based on the number of vaccine doses that have met FDA certification standards and have been released to the U.S. government,” it said.
“We hoped it was clear that those figures and the underlying projections from the companies were for planning purposes and could be refined, and that if the number of releasable doses from a manufacturer changed, the allocations to jurisdictions would change, too,” the letter went on to say.
That was in fact not clear to states. Governors nationwide have been asking for details and explanations since Wednesday.
Whatever. The truth is we don’t have a president right now, and even when the Trump people were paying attention, they didn’t really know what they were doing. Guess who was allowed to tell the CDC what to do during the pandemic?
Bess Levin at Vanity Fair: Ivanka Trump, Famed Public Health Expert, Screened CDC Guidance to Make Sure It Was Nice to Her Dad.
In an interview with The New York Times about how the administration manipulated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two former Trump political appointees say what they saw during their time at the Atlanta agency shocked them, the newspaper writes: “Washington’s dismissal of science, the White House’s slow suffocation of the agency’s voice, the meddling in its messages and the siphoning of its budget.” According to Kyle McGowan, a former chief of staff at the CDC, and his deputy, Amanda Campbell, the White House insisted on reviewing, and often editing, the agency’s COVID-19 guidance documents, “the most prominent public expression of its latest research and scientific consensus on the spread of the virus.” The guidance was not just vetted by the administration’s coronavirus task force but “an endless loop of political appointees across Washington.” The White House, McGowan says, was obsessed with the economic implications of the public health crisis. For example, the White House’s budget director took issue with the agency’s specific spacing guidelines for restaurants. “It is not the CDC’s role to determine the economic viability of a guidance document,” McGowan told the Times. That battle ultimately led to the agency simply offering a vague recommendation of “social distancing,” which could, really, mean anything, instead of strongly suggesting restaurants ensure six feet between patrons.
And then there were the times the CDC’s scientists were screened by a former purveyor of shoes and purses, Ivanka Trump, in addition to the White House’s undersecretary for lies, Kellyanne Conway:
Part of Campbell’s job was to help get approval for the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report—a closely watched and previously apolitical guide on infectious diseases. However, political appointees at the Department of Health and Human Services repeatedly requested that the CDC “revise, delay, and even scuttle drafts” they thought might be viewed as somehow critical of Donald Trump. “It wasn’t until something was in the MMWR that was in contradiction to what message the White House and HHS were trying to put forward that they became scrutinized,” Campbell said.
One more from The Daily Beast: History Will Agree That Trump Used Americans as Lab Rats.
Wednesday was a bad day in the fight against COVID-19. The government announced a record number of deaths, more than 3,600. Meanwhile, a House committee released internal Trump administration messages, which demonstrated that Americans were unknowing lab rats in the president’s grail-quest for herd immunity.
In a July 4, 2020 email, Paul Alexander, a political appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services, spelled it all out. In his words, infants, young adults, and middle-aged folks with no conditions had “zero risk,” and were there to take the hit as America marched off a cliff. “We want them infected,” declared Alexander.
Unfortunately, the administration never asked their permission to become human guinea pigs. Indeed, as fate would have it, younger Americans are now dying at historic rates, according to a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. As for herd immunity, it’s a lot like waiting for Godot.
But then again, Alexander is the same fellow who also tried to muzzle Anthony Fauci and criticized the CDC as alarmist. In fact, he even commented that the agency’s COVID warning to pregnant women read as if it were designed to frighten as opposed to inform. As Alexander saw things, the agency was portraying the president and his administration as if they “can’t fix this” and that things are “getting worse.”
For the record, Alexander got it wrong on both counts. Donald J. Trump and his minions failed to fix things, and the situation has gone from bad to horrific. The CDC’s worries were borne out.
Early administration projections of no more than 70,000 dead now read like fantasies or wishful thinking. Come Joe Biden’s inauguration—a month away, as we’re losing around 3,000 Americans every day—the death toll may even surpass 400,000.
I’ve seen projections of 500,000 deaths by spring. And I doubt that will be the end of it, despite the vaccines.
I know this is a long and depressing post, but it’s important to understand how bad things are and how much worse they may get over the upcoming long winter. Take care, Sky Dancers. Please stay home as much as possible and wear your masks when you have to go out.
This morning Trump appeared on Fox and Friends and rambled on for 47 minutes. At the end of the interview, Steve Doocy expressed some surprising hostility toward the fake “president.”
Wow! Doocy’s getting a little fed up with Trump’s word salad, I guess. He even offered equal time to Joe Biden.
In another headline-grabbing moment, Trump told his Fox and Friends pals that he wanted to assassinate Syria’s Bashar al-Assad awhile back.
The Washington Post: Trump confirms he wanted to assassinate Assad. In 2018, he denied it was even considered.
In the Fox interview, Trump criticized former defense secretary Jim Mattis, who has in recent months warned the country strongly against reelecting Trump. But in the course of making that case, Trump offered an odd claim: He said Mattis had effectively stood in the way of his efforts to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“I would’ve rather taken him out,” Trump said. “I had him all set. Mattis didn’t want to do it. Mattis was a highly overrated general.”
When asked whether he regretted not taking Assad out, Trump added: “No, I don’t regret that. … I had a shot to take him out if I wanted. Mattis was against it.”
The first problem with this argument is that Trump is disparaging Mattis for opposing something that Trump doesn’t even say he regrets. The second is that the commander in chief makes these decisions, full stop. If Trump wanted to do it, Mattis couldn’t block him.
In 2018, Woodward published “Fear.” In the book, he reported that Trump had considered assassinating Assad. Trump, on Sept. 5, 2018, flatly denied it.
“I heard somewhere where they said the assassination of President Assad by the United States. Never even discussed,” Trump said, adding: “No, that was never even contemplated, nor would it be contemplated.”
He even held it up as evidence that the book shouldn’t have been published.
Breaking news: Trump is a pathological liar.
Lets see . . . what else is happening in the United States of crazy?
As Dakinikat wrote yesterday, Trump seems determined to continue holding super-spreader rallies that threaten the lives of his own supporters and staff. The Washington Post suggests that Trump is using these events to “rebuke” Democratic governors and mayors who have established restrictions on public behavior in order to protect their citizens.
President Trump’s first indoor rally in months was staged as a rebuke to Democrats he accuses of using coronavirus restrictions against him, but the campaign event in Nevada also prompted sharp denunciations from critics on Monday as a symbol of the president’s failure to effectively confront the deadly covid-19 crisis.
The Sunday night gathering came as the pandemic has caused at least 190,000 deaths in the United States, with the number expected to pass 200,000 sometime before Trump holds his next official campaign events on Friday. The Nov. 3 election had already become a referendum on the president’s often dismissive approach to the pandemic before revelations last week that he had told Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward he knew the severity of the virus but preferred to play it down in public….
On Monday, Trump held another indoor campaign event at a luxury hotel in Phoenix that was billed as a roundtable with Latino supporters. The White House pool reporter traveling with Trump described the scene as looking much like a rally, with more than 100 people crowded closely together inside a ballroom. Television footage showed mask-free supporters waving campaign signs.
“I know this was supposed to be, you know the fake news, they said that this is supposed to be a roundtable, but it looks like a rally,” Trump said. “But it is a rally because we love each other.” He then added that “it is a roundtable.”
President Donald Trump is running as the “law and order” candidate. But that hasn’t stopped him and his campaign from openly defying state emergency orders and flouting his own administration’s coronavirus guidelines as he holds ever-growing rallies in battleground states.
Democratic governors and local leaders have urged the president to reconsider the events, warning that he’s putting lives at risk. But they have largely not tried to block the gatherings of thousands of people, which Trump and his team deem “peaceful protests” protected by the First Amendment.
“If you can join tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets, gamble in a casino, or burn down small businesses in riots, you can gather peacefully under the 1st Amendment to hear from the President of the United States,” Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesperson, said in a statement….
Trump’s campaign insisted that it takes appropriate health precautions, including handing out masks and hand sanitizer and checking the temperatures of rallygoers.
But images of thousands of maskless supporters standing shoulder to shoulder remain jarring in a country where sports are still played in empty arenas and concerts have been largely banned. That’s especially true for those who have lost loved ones or spent months isolating at home and worry that rallies will further spread infection, undermining hard-fought progress. An indoor rally that Trump held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June was blamed for a surge of virus infections there.
In an interview yesterday, Trump demonstrated that he couldn’t care less about threatening the health of his supporters, as long as he himself is protected. The New York Times: Trump Defends Indoor Rally, but Aides Express Concern.
President Trump and his campaign are defending his right to rally indoors, despite the private unease of aides who called it a game of political Russian roulette and growing concern that such gatherings could prolong the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m on a stage, and it’s very far away,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with The Las Vegas Review-Journal on Monday, after thousands of his supporters gathered on Sunday night inside a manufacturing plant in a Las Vegas suburb, flouting a state directive limiting indoor gatherings to fewer than 50 people.
The president did not address health concerns about the rally attendees, a vast majority of whom did not wear masks or practice any social distancing. When it came to his own safety, he said, “I’m not at all concerned.”
He is simply incapable of caring about anyone but himself.
Yesterday afternoon, Trump met with California officials and told them they are clueless about how to deal with wildfires. Forbes: ‘I Don’t Think Science Knows, Actually’: Trump Dismisses Climate Science In California Wildfire Discussion.
After multiple California officials confronted President Donald Trump Monday about ignoring climate change’s role in the raging west coast wildfires, the president dismissed their concerns and raised skepticism about the “science” that has concluded the Earth is warming.
“It’ll start getting cooler,” Trump said in response to California Natural Resource Secretary Wade Crawfoot, who pressed the president to acknowledge the fact untamed vegetation is not solely responsible for the wildfires in the Golden State.
“I wish science agreed with you,” Crawfoot replied back, to which the president replied, “I don’t think science knows, actually.”
Trump’s solution to the wildfire problem:
In other insane news, Trump loyalist Michael Caputo, who “interfered with CDC reports on Covid-19” made wild claims about a conspiracy involving the CDC and “left-wing hit squads.” The New York Times: Trump Health Aide Pushes Bizarre Conspiracies and Warns of Armed Revolt.
The top communications official at the powerful cabinet department in charge of combating the coronavirus made outlandish and false accusations on Sunday that career government scientists were engaging in “sedition” in their handling of the pandemic and that left-wing hit squads were preparing for armed insurrection after the election.
Michael R. Caputo, the assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, accused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of harboring a “resistance unit” determined to undermine President Trump, even if that opposition bolsters the Covid-19 death toll.
Mr. Caputo, who has faced intense criticism for leading efforts to warp C.D.C. weekly bulletins to fit Mr. Trump’s pandemic narrative, suggested that he personally could be in danger from opponents of the administration. “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get,” he urged his followers.
“I don’t like being alone in Washington,” Mr. Caputo said, describing “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.” He also said the mounting number of Covid-19 deaths was taking a toll on him, telling his viewers, “You are not waking up every morning and talking about dead Americans.” [….]
To a certain extent, Mr. Caputo’s comments in a video he hosted live on his personal Facebook page were simply an amplified version of remarks that the president himself has made. Both men have singled out government scientists and health officials as disloyal, suggested that the election will not be fairly decided, and insinuated that left-wing groups are secretly plotting to incite violence across the United States.
Read more at the NYT link.
Also at The New York Times, Jamelle Bouie argues that there’s a serious side to these conspiracy theories, even though they make no sense to normal people: Trump’s Perverse Campaign Strategy: If the president’s allies are talking about the moment “shooting will begin” and “martial law,” it’s not by accident.
On Sunday, Michael Caputo, the assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, warned of left-wing insurrectionists and “sedition” within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a video he hosted live on his Facebook page. After predicting victory for President Trump in the upcoming election, Caputo warned that Joe Biden wouldn’t concede. “And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” he said. “The drills that you’ve seen are nothing.” [….]
…Trump isn’t actually running for re-election — or at least, not running in the traditional manner. He has a campaign, yes, but it is not a campaign to win votes or persuade the public outside of a few, select slivers of the electorate. Instead, it’s a campaign to hold on to power by any means necessary, using every tool available to him as president of the United States. Caputo, in that sense, is only taking cues from his boss.
Of course, Trump would like to obtain a proper victory. But it’s clear he’s not counting on it. That is why the most visible aspect of Trump’s campaign for continued power is his attack on the election itself. If he doesn’t win, he says again and again, then the outcome isn’t legitimate….
Along with this warning comes Trump’s call for supporters to act as “poll watchers” to prevent imaginary fraud at voting locations….
There’s also the president’s rhetoric toward his political opponents. Asked on Fox News about “riots” if he wins re-election, Trump said he would “put them down very quickly,” before adding:
Look, it’s called insurrection. We just send in and we do it, very easy. I mean, it’s very easy. I’d rather not do that because there’s no reason for it, but if we had to we’d do that and put it down within minutes.
Trump also indicated that he supports extrajudicial killings.
Later in the interview, Trump commented on the Sept. 3 killing of Michael Forest Reinoehl by U.S. marshals. Reinoehl was suspected of shooting a member of the far-right group Patriot Prayer during a protest in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 29. Trump, who swore to uphold the Constitution when he was inaugurated, claimed to have essentially called for an extrajudicial killing:
Now we sent in the U.S. marshals for the killer, the man that killed the young man in the street. Two and a half days went by, and I put out “when are you going to go get him.” And the U.S. marshals went in to get him. There was a shootout. This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. marshalls killed him. And I’ll tell you something — that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution.
Instead of making a conventional appeal to voters to give him another term in office, Trump is issuing a threat, of sorts: I cannot lose. If I do lose, the election was stolen. Anyone protesting my effort to hold onto power is an insurrectionist. And sometimes, “there has to be retribution.”
I guess that’s enough crazy for today. Take care of yourselves folks and check in if you can to let us know what’s happening where you are. We’ll be thinking of those of you who are in the paths of wildfires and hurricanes.
Hurricane Laura made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane in Louisiana overnight. I haven’t been able to find a lot of information on the damage so far. Right now Russel Honore is on MSNBC attacking the lack of action by FEMA. He explained that the areas that have been hit hardest are the poorest in the state; many live in mobile homes.
CBS News is posting live updates. The latest:
“Extremely dangerous” Hurricane Laura made landfall overnight near Cameron, Louisiana, bringing “catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding” to portions of the state, the National Hurricane Center said early Thursday. The storm had intensified rapidly into a Category 4 hurricane before slamming into the Gulf Coast near the Louisiana-Texas border.
Several hours after it came ashore, the storm was downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane, although the storm was still extremely dangerous. The hurricane center said life-threatening storm surge was continuing early Thursday along much of Louisiana’s coastline.
As of 7 a.m. local time, the storm was located about 20 miles north of Fort Polk, Louisiana, moving north at 15 mph. It was forecast to move across western and northern Louisiana through this afternoon and over Arkansas tonight, and become a tropical storm later on Thursday.
Trump recently took funds from FEMA to pay for his stupid executive orders.
…less than three weeks ago, instead of working with Congress to craft comprehensive legislation to address the ongoing crisis and deliver desperately-needed aid, President Trump looted FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to the tune of $44 billion — authorizing the agency to pay for a $300 per week supplement to regular unemployment benefits.
The $300 a week benefit supplement is similar to the $600 one that was included in the CARES Act passed at the start of the pandemic. An extension of that $600 benefit was included in second relief package that the House has already approved, but that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t hold a vote on. And because the Senate won’t sign off on the House bill and Trump didn’t work with lawmakers to reach a compromise, the unemployment supplement isn’t coming from money appropriated by Congress. It’s coming from the government account meant to cover natural disasters like the one presently bearing down on Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
“I am extremely concerned about the health and safety of Americans when Hurricane Laura comes ashore,” Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), head of the subcommittee on emergency preparedness, response, and recovery, said in a statement. “The fact that President Trump would take up to $44 billion from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund right before a possibly record-setting hurricane season shows his inability to protect our country during a crisis. If he had convinced his Senate allies to pass our Heroes Act, we would have extended unemployment benefits and still had plenty of money for FEMA and states to use to help Americans recover from a natural disaster, like Hurricane Laura.”
Meanwhile, Trump has been busy trying to reduce Covid-19 testing so that fewer cases will be discovered.
A sudden change in federal guidelines on coronavirus testing came this week as a result of pressure from the upper ranks of the Trump administration, a federal health official close to the process tells CNN, and a key White House coronavirus task force member was not part of the meeting when the new guidelines were discussed.
“It’s coming from the top down,” the official said of the new directive from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci said he was in surgery and not part of the discussion during the August 20 task force meeting when updated guidelines were discussed….
“I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact it is,” he said.
The new guidelines raise the bar on who should get tested, advising that some people without symptoms probably don’t need it — even if they’ve been in close contact with an infected person.
Previously, the CDC said viral testing was appropriate for people with recent or suspected exposure, even if they were asymptomatic.
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said Wednesday that changes to the testing guidelines were made after “updated recommendations” from the White House coronavirus task force.
This will lead to more cases and deaths, because people can transmit the virus when they are not yet having symptoms. Trump couldn’t care less how many Americans sicken and die as long as he has a chance of being reelected.
If this guidance is followed there will be more super-spreader events like this:
PharmaLive.com: Biogen Conference Led to 20,000 Covid-19 Cases, Study Suggests.
A Biogen corporate meeting held in Boston in March that was initially connected to about 100 cases of COVID-19 could have led to a significantly higher number of infections. A new study suggests the meeting could have contributed to about 20,000 cases across four Massachusetts counties.
A new, 64-page study that has not been peer-reviewed, extrapolates the number of infections that stemmed from the company’s corporate meeting held at the Marriott Long Wharf hotel in February, the early days of the pandemic in the United States. According to The Boston Globe, researchers studied the genetic makeup of confirmed COVID-19 cases from 772 patients in Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, and Suffolk counties in the Bay State and concluded the meeting was a super-spreader event that infected “tens of thousands.” Jacob Lemieux, an infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and one of the researchers involved in the study told the Globe he is confident in the method used to reason out the high number of infections associated with the meeting.
The research team analyzed the genetic sequence of the 772 patients and identified more than 80 distinct SARS-CoV-2 genomes that plagued the Boston area through the month of May. The origin of most of the genomes in those patients could be identified as having come from Europe or other parts of the United States. But, as the Globe reports, one virus had a unique genetic signature found in 289 of those patients. That particular signature was traceable to the Biogen meeting in February, the researchers said.
“By multiplying the proportion of conference-related viral genomes in each of the four counties by the total number of coronavirus infections in Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk and Suffolk, the scientists estimate that 20,000 infections could be linked to the Marriott event,” the Globe reported.
According to WBUR, this event “Seeded 40% Of Boston Coronavirus Cases.”
Cases stemming from the 460,000-person event, which kicked off on August 7, have now been spotted in eight states: Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Washington. That’s in addition to the cases spotted in South Dakota, where new cases spiked to 251 on August 22 and the seven-day average of new cases continues to climb. Altogether, the cases total more than 100, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Attendees have traveled to more than half of all the counties in the US since the festival wrapped up on August 16, according to anonymous cellphone data from Camber Systems, which was tracking their departures. CNN first reported the location data.
Ahead of the rally, as city officials said there was no way to stop people from coming even if the rally had been canceled in an official capacity, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem welcomed the event with open arms. She’s also voiced doubt about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines detailing the effectiveness of masks.
Once the revelers arrived, photos showed few masks and crowded bars, despite warning signs throughout the area. On stage at a packed concert, Smash Mouth’s lead singer mocked the pandemic: “We’re being human once again. F— that COVID s—,” he says in a video.
The crisis continues in Kenosha, Wisconsin after the police shooting of another innocent black man, Jacob Blake. Police in Illinois apprehended Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old boy who shot three protesters in Kenosha. Kenosha police failed to arrest Rittenhouse after the shooting even though he was approaching them with his hands up. He was white, so he was allowed to leave the state.
Rittenhouse was a Trump fan.
If he was there at all, something prompted 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse to grab his rifle and make the short trip from his home in Antioch, Ill., to Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday. If photos shared on social media are accurate, something spurred him to walk around the town with that rifle in his hands as protests over a police shooting continued into the night. If police are correct that Rittenhouse fired that rifle, if he did shoot three protesters, killing two of them, there was something that caused him to be there to pull the trigger.
This alleged chain of events came from somewhere. Most 17-year-olds don’t see it as their duty to protect the streets of their hometowns, much less of nearby towns where they don’t even live. If Rittenhouse shot those two people dead, there was some spur for him to do so that simply doesn’t exist for most other people.
It’s facile to assume that we can identify that spur as the rhetoric offered by President Trump and his reelection campaign. But it’s impossible not to notice how that rhetoric echoes in what appears to have happened in Kenosha.
The night before those protesters were shot, five different speakers at the Republican National Convention, including the president’s son, decried uncontrolled violent mobs that they claim have taken over the nation’s streets.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
The New York Times traced Rittenhouse’s movements on the day of the shootings:
Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old Illinois resident, appeared on multiple videos taken throughout the night by protesters and bystanders who chronicled the events as peaceful protests gave way to chaos, with demonstrators, armed civilians and others facing off against one another and the police in the darkened streets.
The New York Times’s Visual Investigations unit analyzed hours of footage to track Mr. Rittenhouse’s movements in the moments leading up to, and during, the shootings….
About two hours before the first shooting, the producer of a video livestream interviews Mr. Rittenhouse at a Kenosha vehicle dealership.
Mr. Rittenhouse is there at the same time as several other armed men. Some of them are positioned on the building’s roof overlooking the parking lot where vehicles were burned the day before.
In a brief exchange on the livestream, he identifies himself as “Kyle.”
Read the rest at the NYT link.
There is so much more news. I haven’t even touched on the DNC hate-fest, which concludes today. Last night’s episode focused on Mike Pence pretending that Trump has defeated the coronavirus and saved America.
Only voters can decide the political fate of Donald Trump. But the evidence of a dark, dispiriting election year suggests unequivocally that the President has failed to find answers equal to the magnitude and complexity of America’s two great crises — over health and race.
So at the shape-shifting Republican National Convention on Wednesday, Trump’s most loyal subordinate Vice President Mike Pence had little option but to do what he does best. He twisted the facts, spun a more pleasing alternative national reality and showered his boss with praise.
Even by the standards of 2020, it was a disorienting night. Adding to the awfulness of another police shooting of a Black man and the shooting of two protesters (by an apparent Trump supporter) and the pandemic about to claim its 180,000th American victim, a monstrous hurricane tore towards the Gulf Coast.
Already, there are doubts whether the President’s big acceptance speech and a fireworks display Thursday at the White House in front of a pandemic-defying crowd of more than 1,000 people will be appropriate given what forecasters say are “unsurvivable” conditions facing those in the path of Hurricane Laura.
My guess is Trump won’t want his final night of glory postponed. Whether his advisers can convict him to do it is questionable.
I’ll post a few more stories in the comment thread. I hope anyone in the path of Laura will stay safe. Take care everyone!