Thursday Reads: Pandemic Good News and Bad News

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Good Morning!!

There’s good news and bad news on the pandemic front. We may be “turning the corner” in the U.S., but the situation in India is out of control and getting worse.

First the good news.

After weeks of coronavirus patients flooding emergency rooms in Michigan, the worst Covid-19 hot spot in the nation, hospitalizations are finally falling.

On some recent days, entire states, including Wisconsin and West Virginia, have reported zero new coronavirus deaths — a brief but promising respite from the onslaught of the past year.

And in New York and Chicago, officials encouraged by the recent progress have confidently vowed to fully reopen in the coming weeks, conjuring images of a vibrant summer of concerts, sporting events and packed restaurants revving cities back to life.

Americans have entered a new, hopeful phase of the pandemic. Buoyed by a sense that the coronavirus is waning, in part because of vaccinations, more people are shrugging off masks, venturing into restaurants and returning to their prepandemic routines. Mayors, governors and other local officials — once the bearers of grim news about the virus’s toll and strict rules for businesses — have joined in the newfound optimism, rapidly loosening restrictions.

QCA2POEDYNEP5DIQ3CPLGCEHNMPublic health experts remain cautious, but said that while they still expect significant local and regional surges in the coming weeks, they do not think they will be as widespread or reach past peaks.

“We’re clearly turning the corner,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Across the country, the outlook for the pandemic has indeed improved, putting the United States in its best position against the virus yet. The nation is recording about 49,000 new cases a day, the lowest number since early October, and hospitalizations have plateaued at around 40,000, a similar level as the early fall. Nationwide, deaths are hovering around 700 a day, down from a peak of more than 3,000 in January.

The Washington Post: CDC says coronavirus could be under control this summer in U.S. if people get vaccinated and are careful.

Coronavirus infections could be driven to low levels and the pandemic at least temporarily throttled in the United States by July if the vast majority of people get vaccinated and continue with precautions against viral transmission, according to a strikingly optimistic paper released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report comes as administration officials and leaders in many states are sounding more confident that the country can return to a degree of normalcy relatively soon. President Biden on Tuesday announced a new vaccination goal, saying he wants 70 percent of adults to have had at least one dose by July 4.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday the modeling results give Americans a road map out of the pandemic — so long as they continue to get vaccinated and maintain certain mitigation strategies until a “critical mass of people” get the shots.

“The results remind us that we have the path out of this, and models, once projecting really grim news, now offer reasons to be quite hopeful for what the summer may bring,” she said.

The CDC report is not a prediction or forecast. Rather, it is a set of four scenarios based on modeling of the pandemic, using different assumptions about vaccination rates, vaccine efficacy and precautions against transmission.

Read about the possible scenarios at the WaPo.

Interesting proposal by the Biden administration

Now the bad news. 

The Washington Post: India breaks its own records again with 412,000 new cases and nearly 4,000 deaths in 24 hours

India’s devastating coronavirus crisis deepened on Thursday, as the country reported 412,000 infections and nearly 4,000 deaths in the previous 24 hours.

Epidemiologists believe that India’s surge could hit 500,000 cases a day in the coming weeks before retreating. That would represent a ruinous burden for a health-care system reeling from too many patients and a shortage of crucial supplies such as oxygen.

Last month, the United States advised its citizens to leave India, and the State Department on Thursday authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel.

Associated Press: India hits another grim virus record as oxygen demand jumps.

Infections in India hit another grim daily record on Thursday as demand for medical oxygen jumped sevenfold and the government denied reports that it was slow in distributing life-saving supplies from abroad.

The number of new confirmed cases breached 400,000 for the second time since the devastating surge began last month. The 412,262 new cases pushed India’s official tally to more than 21 million. The Health Ministry also reported 3,980 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 230,168. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.

Eleven COVID-19 patients died when pressure in an oxygen line dropped suddenly in a government medical college hospital in Chengalpet in southern India on Wednesday night, possibly because of a faulty valve, The Times of India newspaper reported.

Hospital authorities said they repaired the pipeline last week, but the consumption of oxygen had doubled since then, the newspaper said.

Read more details at the AP.

Reuters: COVID-19 spreads to rural India, villages ill-equipped to fight it.

Hopes that India’s rampaging second wave of COVID-19 is peaking were set back on Thursday as record daily infections and deaths were reported and as the virus spread from cities to villages that were poorly equipped to cope.

Government modelling had forecast a peak by Wednesday in infections that have overwhelmed the healthcare system, with hospitals running out of beds and medical oxygen….

“This temporarily halts speculations of a peak,” Rijo M John, a professor at the Indian Institute of Management in the southern state of Kerala, said on Twitter.

While the capital New Delhi and several other cities have been hardest hit so far, limited public healthcare, including a dearth of testing facilities, means the threat is grave in rural areas that are home to nearly 70% of the 1.3 billion population.

In the town of Susner in Madhya Pradesh state, patients were being treated outdoors under trees, on blankets on the ground.

CBS News: India’s packed hospitals forced to turn COVID patients away.

Delhi — People are dying in record numbers amid the surge in coronavirus infections in India. CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay found that even the capital city’s hospitals are desperately short on beds, forcing them to turn away people battling symptoms of COVID-19. 

The constellation of forces that led to India’s coronavirus crisis is not unique; it’s the default in most of the world.Photograph by Rebecca Conway Getty

The constellation of forces that led to India’s coronavirus crisis is not unique; it’s the default in most of the world. Photograph by Rebecca Conway, Getty

CBS News watched as one woman showed up breathless at the Moolchand Hospital in Delhi, desperate for oxygen and a bed. The facility has some of the best resources in New Delhi, but there was no space left, so they sent her away. 

Dr. Nabeel Rahman runs the emergency room at Moolchand, which has been converted into extra space for an ICU that, still, is absolutely crushed with patients. He told CBS News that his team had resorted to purchasing its own oxygen supplies privately, at massively inflated prices, amid a desperate national shortage. 

The patients in the expanded ICU are extremely sick, but they’re also extremely lucky: In a country that’s losing the battle against COVID-19, they’re lucky to have oxygen, lucky to have access to doctors and lucky to have beds in a hospital that’s well over capacity. 

Someone tell the Supreme Court about this:

Many of India’s coronavirus victims caught the disease during huge religious gatherings, which were promoted by the Hindu nationalist party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as it campaigned for recent state elections.  

There’s much more at the link.

Ankita Rao at The Guardian: India is hiding its Covid crisis – and the whole world will suffer for it.

A few years ago, as Narendra Modi came into power, I worked on an investigative report about India hiding its malaria deaths. In traveling from tribal Odisha to the Indian national health ministry in New Delhi, my colleague and I watched thousands of cases disappear: some malaria deaths, first noted in handwritten local health ledgers, never appeared in central government reports; other malaria deaths were magically transformed into deaths of heart attack or fever. The discrepancy was massive: India reported 561 malaria deaths that year. Experts predicted the actual number was as high as 200,000.

Now, with Covid ravaging the country, desperate Indians have taken to Twitter to ask for oxygen cylinders or beg hospitals for an open bed. The crisis has been exacerbated by the government’s concealment of critical information. Between India’s long history of hiding and undercounting illness deaths and its much more recent history of restraining and suppressing the press, Modi’s administration has made it impossible to find accurate information about the virus’s hold in the country. Blocking that information will only hurt millions within the country. It will also stymie global efforts to stop the Covid-19 pandemic, and new variants of the virus, at India’s border.

Narenda Modi and Trump hugging

Narenda Modi and Trump hugging

Epidemiologists in India and abroad currently estimate that the country’s official reported Covid-19 death toll – around 222,000 at time of publication – only accounts for a fraction of the real number. The director of the US-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation has estimated that India is only detecting three to four percent of actual cases. Other experts point to total excess deaths in cities such as Mumbai as proof that there could be 60% to 70% more deaths from Covid-19 than the government is admitting to.

There are various reasons India could be cooking the books on Covid deaths. For one, the utter failure of the public health system makes it difficult to account for the millions of bodies passing through hospitals, clinics and those dying in their own home. Despite having become one of the largest economies in the world, India has always spent a dismal portion of its GDP on healthcare, with an investment somewhere around 3%, compared to Brazil (9%) or the US (17%).

But systemic failure is only one part of the puzzle. The reigning party of the Indian government touted its success in curbing the virus very early in the pandemic, and has never let go of that narrative. As bodies burned in funeral pyres across Uttar Pradesh in April, Yogi Adityanath – the state’s chief minister and a key Modi lackey – claimed that everything was under control and repeatedly refused to announce new lockdown measures, even as he himself contracted Covid-19.

That sounds a lot like Trump, doesn’t it?

More stories to check out today:

The Washington Post: Opinion: Liz Cheney: The GOP is at a turning point. History is watching us.

The Washington Post: D.C. police officer who fought Capitol rioters pens letter to officials: ‘The time to fully recognize these Officers actions is NOW!’

The New York Times: Daylight Attack on 2 Asian Women in San Francisco Increases Fears.

AZ Central: Department of Justice asks Arizona Senate to respond to concerns about election audit.

The Washington Post: Observers report ballots and laptop computers have been left unattended in Arizona recount, according to secretary of state.

Jennifer Taub at Washington Monthly: Starting with Trump, It’s Time for a White Collar Crime Crackdown.

Zachary B. Wolf at CNN: The big lie. The Covid misinformation. It all comes back to Russia.

The Daily Beast: Inside the Hunt for the Washington Post’s Next Top Editor.

What else is happening? As always, this is an open thread.


Tuesday Reads: What’s Behind Vaccine Hesitancy?

Good Morning!!

Richard Diebenkorn, Coffee, 1959

Richard Diebenkorn, Coffee, 1959

Trump is gone from the national stage, but the misinformation he promoted is still with us. Thanks to the Trumpists, we may never achieve herd immunity in the U.S. 

Dr. Rob Davidson, emergency room physician and Dr. Bernard Ashby, vascular cardiologist at NBC News: White Covid vaccine rejectors threaten herd immunity. Can we change their minds in time?

Even as we accelerate vaccinations, an immovable force stands in the way of achieving community immunity: Millions of Americans who are simply saying “No way.”

As of mid-April, both Florida and Michigan were hot spots for the more severe B.1.1.7 Covid-19 variant that originated in the U.K. and that is now the dominant strain nationwide. This variant is also sending younger, previously healthy people into our hospitals. With the coronavirus mutating to become more contagious and possibly more lethal, vaccination is more important than ever.

Yet, vaccine refusal — not reluctance, not “maybe later,” but flat-out rejection — could prevent us from reaching the threshold when epidemiologists say we can safely and responsibly fully reopen all aspects of society. Recent surveys like this one from CNN put that number at around one in four people. In rural, overwhelmingly white places like rural western Michigan, these are the folks who stagger into the Emergency Room, sick and struggling to breathe, yet still tell nurses and doctors that neither Covid-19, masks and vaccines are real.

Davidson and Ashby write that Black and Hispanic Americans have responded to efforts to educate people about vaccine safety and efficacy.

But though Black and Hispanic Americans are now increasingly rolling up their sleeves, one group continues to refuse vaccinationsWhite, evangelical and rural Americans.

We heard one rural Michigan patient call vaccines a form of government control. Another repeated the unfounded claim that Covid-19 was a Chinese bioweapons plot. One patient refused to get vaccinated despite getting Covid-19 twice, a rare reinfection. Rural white people scoffed at vaccines, citing microchips and infertility, or Fox News disinformation slandering health experts for lying about vaccine efficacy data and calling vaccines a tool for social control. We heard patients accuse hospital workers of being highly paid actors maintaining the pandemic charade.

Vaccines have struck conservative Republican leaders with a kind of stubborn anosognosia, an inability to line themselves up with reality.

Paul Wonner, Model Drinking Coffee, 1964

Paul Wonner, Model Drinking Coffee, 1964

 

The answer, say the authors must come from community leaders.

In Michigan, GOP legislative leaders are undermining vaccinations in word and in deed, including holding millions of dollars in federal vaccination funds hostage. The conservative base, however, says it would rather listen to doctors than politicians anyway. If the only information — or misinformation — about the pandemic is from Fox News and OANN, then the antidote is information from a source who understands the science, the medicine and most importantly, the community.

In the case of rural conservative communities, that source would be rural conservative family physicians who go to the same churches, fish the same stretch of river and volunteer every Friday night at local high school football games. These are the doctors who care for every stage of a family’s life. Births, broken arms, deliveries, disease management and deaths. They aren’t just trusted, they’re family —minus the birthright of blood. Most importantly, they know how vaccines and medicine work.

I hope this happens, but I’m not hopeful.

Sabrina Tabernise at The New York Times: Vaccine Skepticism Was Viewed as a Knowledge Problem. It’s Actually About Gut Beliefs.

For years, scientists and doctors have treated vaccine skepticism as a knowledge problem. If patients were hesitant to get vaccinated, the thinking went, they simply needed more information.

But as public health officials now work to convince Americans to get Covid-19 vaccines as quickly as possible, new social science research suggests that a set of deeply held beliefs is at the heart of many people’s resistance, complicating efforts to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control….

About a third of American adults are still resisting vaccines. Polling shows that Republicans make up a substantial part of that group. Given how deeply the country is divided by politics, it is perhaps not surprising that they have dug in, particularly with a Democrat in the White House. But political polarization is only part of the story.

In recent years, epidemiologists have teamed up with social psychologists to look more deeply into the “why” behind vaccine hesitancy. They wanted to find out whether there was anything that vaccine skeptics had in common, in order to better understand how to persuade them.

They borrowed a concept from social psychology — the idea that a small set of moral intuitions forms the foundations upon which complex moral worldviews are constructed — and applied it to their study of vaccine skepticism.

Edvard Munch, At The Coffee Table, 1883, Munch Museum, Oslo

Edvard Munch, At The Coffee Table, 1883, Munch Museum, Oslo

What they discovered was a clear set of psychological traits offering a new lens through which to understand skepticism — and potentially new tools for public health officials scrambling to try to persuade people to get vaccinated.

Dr. Omer and a team of scientists found that skeptics were much more likely than nonskeptics to have a highly developed sensitivity for liberty — the rights of individuals — and to have less deference to those in positions of power.

Skeptics were also twice as likely to care a lot about the “purity” of their bodies and their minds. They disapprove of things they consider disgusting, and the mind-set defies neat categorization: It could be religious — halal or kosher — or entirely secular, like people who care deeply about toxins in foods or in the environment….

“At the root are these moral intuitions — these gut feelings — and they are very strong,” said Jeff Huntsinger, a social psychologist at Loyola University Chicago who studies emotion and decision-making and collaborated with Dr. Omer’s team. “It’s very hard to override them with facts and information. You can’t reason with them in that way.”

These qualities tend to predominate among conservatives but they are present among liberals too. They are also present among people with no politics at all.

Dakinikat quoted from this one yesterday, but it fits in with my theme so I’m posting again. Derek Thompson at The Atlantic: Millions Are Saying No to the Vaccines. What Are They Thinking?

What are they thinking, these vaccine-hesitant, vaccine-resistant, and COVID-apathetic? I wanted to know. So I posted an invitation on Twitter for anybody who wasn’t planning to get vaccinated to email me and explain why. In the past few days, I spoke or corresponded with more than a dozen such people. I told them that I was staunchly pro-vaccine, but this wouldn’t be a takedown piece. I wanted to produce an ethnography of a position I didn’t really understand.

The people I spoke with were all under 50. A few of them self-identified as Republican, and none of them claimed the modern Democratic Party as their political home. Most said they weren’t against all vaccines; they were just a “no” on this vaccine. They were COVID-19 no-vaxxers, not overall anti-vaxxers.

Pierre Bonnard, Coffee, 1907

Pierre Bonnard, Coffee, 1907

Many people I spoke with said they trusted their immune system to protect them. “Nobody ever looks at it from the perspective of a guy who’s like me,” Bradley Baca, a 39-year-old truck driver in Colorado, told me. “As an essential worker, my life was never going to change in the pandemic, and I knew I was going to get COVID no matter what. Now I think I’ve got the antibodies, so why would I take a risk on the vaccine?”

Some had already recovered from COVID-19 and considered the vaccine unnecessary. “In December 2020 I tested positive and experienced many symptoms,” said Derek Perrin, a 31-year-old service technician in Connecticut. “Since I have already survived one recorded bout with this virus, I see no reason to take a vaccine that has only been approved for emergency use. I trust my immune system more than this current experiment.”

Others were worried that the vaccines might have long-term side effects. “As a Black American descendant of slavery, I am bottom caste, in terms of finances,” Georgette Russell, a 40-year-old resident of New Jersey, told me. “The fact that there is no way to sue the government or the pharmaceutical company if I have any adverse reactions is highly problematic to me.”

Many people said they had read up on the risk of COVID-19 to people under 50 and felt that the pandemic didn’t pose a particularly grave threat. “The chances of me dying from a car accident are higher than my dying of COVID,” said Michael Searle, a 36-year-old who owns a consulting firm in Austin, Texas. “But it’s not like I don’t get in my car.”

And many others said that perceived liberal overreach had pushed them to the right. “Before March 2020, I was a solid progressive Democrat,” Jenin Younes, a 37-year-old attorney, said. “I am so disturbed by the Democrats’ failure to recognize the importance of civil liberties. I’ll vote for anyone who takes a strong stand for civil liberties and doesn’t permit the erosion of our fundamental rights that we are seeing now.” Baca, the Colorado truck driver, also told me he didn’t vote much before the pandemic, but the perception of liberal overreach had a strong politicizing effect. “When COVID hit, I saw rights being taken away. So in 2020, I voted for the first time in my life, and I voted all the way Republican down the ballot.”

Thompson’s interpretation of his findings:

My view of the vaccines begins with my view of the pandemic. I really don’t want to get COVID-19. Not only do I want to avoid an illness with uncertain long-term implications, but I also don’t want to pass it along to somebody in a high-risk category, such as my grandmother or an immunocompromised stranger. For more than a year, I radically changed my life to avoid infection. So I was thrilled to hear that the vaccines were effective at blocking severe illness and transmission. I eagerly signed up to take both my shots, even after reading all about the side effects.

Henri Matisse, Coffee, 1916, Detroit Institute of Arts

Henri Matisse, Coffee, 1916, Detroit Institute of Arts

The under-50 no-vaxxers’ deep story has a very different starting place. It begins like this:

“The coronavirus is a wildly overrated threat. Yes, it’s appropriate and good to protect old and vulnerable people. But I’m not old or vulnerable. If I get it, I’ll be fine. In fact, maybe I have gotten it, and I am fine. I don’t know why I should consider this disease more dangerous than driving a car, a risky thing I do every day without a moment’s worry. Liberals, Democrats, and public-health elites have been so wrong so often, we’d be better off doing the opposite of almost everything they say.”

Just as my COVID-19 story shapes my vaccine eagerness, this group’s COVID-19 story shapes their vaccine skepticism. Again and again, I heard variations on this theme:

“I don’t need some novel pharmaceutical product to give me permission to do the things I’m already doing. This isn’t even an FDA-approved vaccine; it’s authorized for an emergency. Well, I don’t consider COVID-19 a personal emergency. So why would I sign up to be an early guinea pig for a therapy that I don’t need, whose long-term effects we don’t understand? I’d rather bet on my immune system than on Big Pharma.”

For both yes-vaxxers like me and the no-vaxxers I spoke with, feelings about the vaccine are intertwined with feelings about the pandemic.

There’s much more at The Atlantic link.

So maybe my notion that vaccine refusal/hesitancy comes from Trump propaganda is wrong? I still think that’s a significant element of the problem. But clearly there are other psychological and sociological explanations. Is there a solution?

A few more vaccine reads:

The New York Times: The F.D.A. is set to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for those 12-15 years old by early next week.

Science News: The surge in U.S. coronavirus cases shows a shift in who’s getting sick. Younger, unvaccinated people aren’t just getting mild infections; they’re landing in the ER too.

CNN: Vaccines are helping bring down US Covid-19 numbers. But the virus is now hitting one group of Americans harder.

USA Today: US nearing vaccine tipping point, dramatic decrease in COVID cases could come without herd immunity, some experts say.

Have a great Tuesday, Sky Dancers! As always, this is an open thread.


Lazy Caturday Reads: The Latest Covid-19 News

Suzanne Valadon

By Suzanne Valadon

Good Afternoon!!

Things have been looking up for the U.S. now than we have a responsible, knowledgeable president with competent advisers. But we we’re still in danger as long as the worldwide pandemic rages in other countries. Right now India isin the spotlight. We also need to deal with the anti-vaxxers and the Trumpists who refuse to accept vaccines. We’re also still learning about the long-term effects of Covid-19 as well as how the disease is transmitted. 

How bad is this pandemic? Maybe worse than the 2018 flu, reports The New York Times: How Covid Upended a Century of Patterns in U.S. Deaths.

A surge in deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic created the largest gap between the actual and expected death rate in 2020 — what epidemiologists call “excess deaths,” or deaths above normal.

Aside from fatalities directly attributed to Covid-19, some excess deaths last year were most likely undercounts of the virus or misdiagnoses, or indirectly related to the pandemic otherwise. Preliminary federal data show that overdose deaths have also surged during the pandemic.

A New York Times analysis of U.S. death patterns for the past century shows how much 2020 deviated from the norm….

Since the 1918 pandemic, the country’s death rate has fallen steadily. But last year, the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted that trend, in spite of a century of improvements in medicine and public health.

Marcel Dyf Jeune Fille Avec Chaton The Kitten

Marcel Dyf Jeune Fille Avec Chaton The Kitten

In the first half of the 20th century, deaths were mainly dominated by infectious diseases. As medical advancements increased life expectancy, death rates also started to smooth out in the 1950s, and the mortality rate in recent decades — driven largely by chronic diseases — had continued to decline.

In 2020, however, the United States saw the largest single-year surge in the death rate since federal statistics became available. The rate increased 16 percent from 2019, even more than the 12 percent jump during the 1918 flu pandemic….

Combined with deaths in the first few months of this year, Covid-19 has now claimed more than half a million lives in the United States. The total number of Covid-19 deaths so far is on track to surpass the toll of the 1918 pandemic, which killed an estimated 675,000 nationwide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 percent of the deaths last year can be directly attributed to Covid-19, which overtook other leading causes of death — like chronic lower respiratory diseases and unintentional injuries, such as car accidents and overdose deaths — to become the third biggest killer, after heart disease and cancer.

Read the rest at the NYT.

What about the today’s flu viruses? The New York Times: The Flu Vanished During Covid. What Will Its Return Look Like?

There have been fewer influenza cases in the United States this flu season than in any on record. About 2,000 cases have been recorded since late September, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In recent years, the average number of cases over the same period was about 206,000.

As measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus were implemented around the country in March 2020, influenza quickly disappeared, and it still has not returned. The latest flu season, which normally would have run until next month, essentially never happened.

After fears that a “twindemic” could batter the country, the absence of the flu was a much needed reprieve that eased the burden on an overwhelmed health care system. But the lack of exposure to the flu could also make the population more susceptible to the virus when it returns — and experts say its return is certain….

Experts are less certain about what will happen when the flu does return. In the coming months — as millions of people return to public transit, restaurants, schools and offices — influenza outbreaks could be more widespread than normal, they say, or could occur at unusual times of the year. But it’s also possible that the virus that returns is less dangerous, having not had the opportunity to evolve while it was on hiatus.

“We don’t really have a clue,” said Richard Webby, a virologist at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. “We’re in uncharted territory. We haven’t had an influenza season this low, I think as long as we’ve been measuring it. So what the potential implications are is a bit unclear.”

motoko kamada; Japan - Warm Lifting

Motoko Kamada; Japan – Warm Lifting

One more from The New York Times: Patients With Long Covid Face Lingering Worrisome Health Risks, Study Finds.

The health effects of Covid-19 not only can stretch for months but appear to increase the risk of death and chronic medical conditions, even in people who were never sick enough to be hospitalized, a large new study finds.

In the study, published Thursday in the journal Nature, researchers looked at medical records of more than 73,000 people across the United States whose coronavirus infections did not require hospitalization. Between one and six months after becoming infected, those patients had a significantly greater risk of death — 60 percent higher — than people who had not been infected with the virus.

The research, based on records of patients in the Department of Veterans Affairs health system, also found that nonhospitalized Covid survivors had a 20 percent greater chance of needing outpatient medical care over those six months than people who had not contracted the coronavirus.

The Covid survivors experienced a vast array of long-term medical problems that they had never had before — not just lung issues from the respiratory effects of the virus, but symptoms that could affect virtually any organ system or part of the body, from neurological to cardiovascular to gastrointestinal. They were also at greater risk of mental health problems, including anxiety and sleep disorders.

Click the link to read more about the study results.

We’re still learning about how the coronavirus is transmitted from person to person. CNBC: MIT researchers say you’re no safer from Covid indoors at 6 feet or 60 feet in new study challenging social distancing policies.

The risk of being exposed to Covid-19 indoors is as great at 60 feet as it is at 6 feet — even when wearing a mask, according to a new study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers who challenge social distancing guidelines adopted across the world.

MIT professors Martin Z. Bazant, who teaches chemical engineering and applied mathematics, and John W.M. Bush, who teaches applied mathematics, developed a method of calculating exposure risk to Covid-19 in an indoor setting that factors in a variety of issues that could affect transmission, including the amount of time spent inside, air filtration and circulation, immunization, variant strains, mask use, and even respiratory activity such as breathing, eating, speaking or singing.

Bazant and Bush question long-held Covid-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization in a peer-reviewed study published earlier this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America.

“We argue there really isn’t much of a benefit to the 6-foot rule, especially when people are wearing masks,” Bazant said in an interview. “It really has no physical basis because the air a person is breathing while wearing a mask tends to rise and comes down elsewhere in the room so you’re more exposed to the average background than you are to a person at a distance.”

Early Portrait of the Artist's Daughter, 1893-4, by Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938)

Early Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter, 1893-4, by Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938)

The important variable the CDC and the WHO have overlooked is the amount of time spent indoors, Bazant said. The longer someone is inside with an infected person, the greater the chance of transmission, he said.

Opening windows or installing new fans to keep the air moving could also be just as effective or more effective than spending large amounts of money on a new filtration system, he said.

Bazant also says that guidelines enforcing indoor occupancy caps are flawed. He said 20 people gathered inside for 1 minute is probably fine, but not over the course of several hours, he said.

“What our analysis continues to show is that many spaces that have been shut down in fact don’t need to be. Often times the space is large enough, the ventilation is good enough, the amount of time people spend together is such that those spaces can be safely operated even at full capacity and the scientific support for reduced capacity in those spaces is really not very good,” Bazant said. “I think if you run the numbers, even right now for many types of spaces you’d find that there is not a need for occupancy restrictions.”

Clearly, we have a lot to learn about how the virus is spread.

I mentioned the disastrous situation in India. The Guardian: India’s daily Covid death toll hits new record amid oxygen shortages.

India’s daily coronavirus death toll passed a new record Saturday as the government battled to get oxygen supplies to hospitals overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of new daily cases.

Queues of Covid-19 patients and their fearful relatives are building up outside hospitals in major cities across India, the new world pandemic hotspot, which has reported nearly a million new cases in three days.

Another 2,624 deaths, a new daily record, were reported in 24 hours, taking the official toll to nearly 190,000 since the pandemic started.

More than 340,000 new cases were also reported, taking India’s total to 16.5 million, second only to the United States.

But many experts are predicting the current wave will not peak for at least three weeks and that the real death and case numbers are much higher.

More from CNN: No respite in India as country sets Covid-19 infection record for third straight day.

India reported 346,786 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday — the third day in a row the country has set a world record for infections during the coronavirus pandemic, according to government and scientific tallies.

The related death toll for the previous 24 hours hit 2,624 — also a daily record for India — for 189,544 total fatalities.

The sky-rocketing Covid-19 infections are devastating India’s communities and hospitals. Everything is in short supply — intensive care unit beds, medicine, oxygen and ventilators. Bodies are piling up in morgues and crematoriums.

INDIRA BALDANO artist painter naive art Индира Балдано живопись

Indira Baldano, naive art Индира Балдано живопись

Twenty critically ill patients died at a Delhi hospital Friday night after its supply of oxygen was delayed by seven hours, according to Dr. DK Baluja, medical director at the Jaipur Golden Hospital.

“That happened last night. Everything we had was exhausted. The oxygen was not supplied on time. It was supposed to come in at 5 p.m. but it came around midnight. People who were critically ill needed oxygen,” said Baluja.

The hospital is currently scrambling to arrange more oxygen but has not received a fresh supply all Saturday morning. “We have only 15-20 minutes of oxygen left now. It may take hours to get another tanker,” Baluja told CNN.

Delhi hospitals have been facing a severe oxygen shortage as the number of Covid-19 cases have soared in the national capital in the past two weeks….

Delhi recorded 24,331 new cases Friday, including 348 deaths, according to the Covid-19 health bulletin issued by the Delhi government.

Countrywide, India has now recorded more than 16.6 million cases since the start of the pandemic, a CNN tally of figures from the Indian Ministry of Health reveals.

In contrast, Vietnam successfully limited the spread of the virus. The Verge: Vietnam defied the experts and sealed its border to keep Covid-19 out. It worked.

As the pandemic took hold last year, travel restrictions quickly proliferated — they were the second-most-common policy governments adopted to combat Covid-19. According to one review, never in recorded history has global travel been curbed in “such an extreme manner”: a reduction of approximately 65 percent in the first half of 2020. More than a year later, as countries experiment with vaccine passportstravel bubbles, and a new round of measures to keep virus variants at bay, a maze of confusing, ever-changing restrictions remains firmly in place.

But few countries have gone as far as Vietnam, a one-party communist state with a GDP per capita of $2,700. The Haiphong checkpoints timed for Tet were the equivalent of closing off Los Angeles to Americans ahead of Thanksgiving — within a country that was already nearly hermetically sealed. Last March, the government canceled all inbound commercial flights for months on end, making it almost impossible to fly in, even for Vietnamese residents.

Today, flights are limited to select groups, like businesspeople or experts, from a few low-risk countries. Everybody who enters needs special government permission and must complete up to 21 days of state-monitored quarantine with PCR tests. (Positive cases are immediately isolated in hospitals, regardless of disease severity.)

This strict approach to travel, global health experts say, is directly connected to Vietnam’s seeming defeat of Covid-19. Thirty-five people have reportedly died in total, and a little more than 2,700 have been infected with the virus during three small waves that have all been quickly quashed. Even on the worst days of the pandemic, the country of 97 million has never recorded more than 110 new cases — a tiny fraction of the 68,000 daily case high in the United Kingdom, which has a population one-third smaller than Vietnam, or the record 300,000-plus cases per day only the US and India managed to tally.

Paula Modersohn-Becker (German, 1876 – 1907) Cat held by a child

Paula Modersohn-Becker (German, 1876 – 1907) Cat held by a child

Finally, The Daily Beast addresses the crazy anti-vaxxer situation: The Anti-Vaxxer Hunt for Dead People Is Getting Even Weirder.

Starting in mid-January, several social media channels and websites emerged as hubs for stories, generated by admins and users pulling together snippets from across the internet and crafting them into cohesive narratives and brief posts, linking reported deaths to COVID vaccinations. Several of these platforms have grown notably, and become more formalized, in recent weeks. Unsurprisingly, given the robust safety profile of the vaccines in use in the United States, they rarely detail how a vaccination supposedly caused a given death.

Read much more about these wackos at The Daily Beast.

So . . . What do you think? What else is on your mind? As always, this is an open thread.


Thursday Reads: Are We Headed for a Fourth Wave?

Ole Ring, Danish painter, 1902-1972, natural landscape,

Ole Ring, Danish painter, 1902-1972, natural landscape,

Good Morning!!

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:

CNN: Fauci says new Covid-19 cases are at a disturbing level as the US is primed for a surge.

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.

Suzanne Valadon, Sous-Bois, 1914

Suzanne Valadon, Sous Bois, 1914

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. 

CNN: Youth sports and other extracurriculars are spreading Covid-19, health officials say.

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.

Peder Mørk Mønsted, Danish, View of Fredensborg, 1893

Peder Mørk Mønsted, Danish, View of Fredensborg, 1893

“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.

Henri Lebasque, Summer Woman

Henri Lebasque, Summer Woman

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.

More than 100 million Americans have gotten at least one shot of vaccine and more than 200 million doses have been sent to states, a dramatic acceleration of the bumpy vaccine operation it inherited. Virus-related cases and deaths, which peaked in January, have fallen by about two-thirds since President Biden’s inauguration.

Gustave Léonard de Jonghe

Gustave Léonard de Jonghe

But the Biden White House is seeing new infections climb on its own watch — a potential crisis that could erase many of the hard-won gains of the president’s first 75 days, should the numbers keep rising. After railing for a year about the last administration’s response and vowing a more muscular strategy, Biden is encountering the limits of his own authority. The president can help secure and distribute supplies and medicines, issue guidance and urge caution — but like President Donald Trump before him, he has few tools when governors decide to lift coronavirus protections at the wrong moment, manufacturers botch vaccine production, or Americans refuse to wear masks or get vaccinated.

“We need you to spread the word,” Biden told faith leaders last week, saying he was worried about Americans becoming “cavalier” about the virus. “They’re going to listen to your words more than they are me as president of the United States.”

Biden also has no more sway than Trump over a mutating virus that scientists have only begun to understand. The Washington Post’s rolling seven-day national average of coronavirus cases is more than 65,000 new cases per day, an 19 percent uptick since the middle of last month, even as many states drop public health restrictions and new variants spread. More than 146,000 new cases were reported on Thursday and Friday, the highest two-day count in several weeks, according to state data tracked by The Post.

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.

Nicolaas van der Waay

Nicolaas van der Waay

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:

USA Today: Colorado vaccination site shuts down after 11 ‘adverse reactions’ to Johnson & Johnson jabs: Latest COVID-19 updates.

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.


New Year’s Eve Reads: So Long 2020

Revelers recovering from New Years Eve celebrations on the steps of Grand Central Station, New York, circa 1940.

Revelers recovering from New Years Eve celebrations on the steps of Grand Central Station, New York, circa 1940.

Good Afternoon!!

It has been a long, torturous year; thank goodness it’s almost over. In 20 days, Trump will be gone and we’ll have a normal president again. Unfortunately, tens of thousands of Americans will die as long as an irresponsible, uncaring narcissistic madman remains in control of the U.S. government.

Zachary B. Wolf at CNN: Trump absent as vaccine distribution lags and thousands continue to die.

A closing indignity on the final day of this horrendous year is that nobody actually seems to expect Donald Trump, who is still the President, to be paying much or any attention to the actual nightmare underway in the country he still leads.

At 341,000 and growing, more people have died from Covid-19 in the US this year than died in battle in World War II and Vietnam combined, according to data on casualties in those wars from the Department of Veterans Affairs. There were many more noncombat deaths in those conflicts. But the point here is the country is at war with a global pandemic and the President spent the week on the golf course and tweeting about his election loss instead of trying to save Americans.

It’s worth mentioning, in case nobody has told him, that more than 3,700 US Covid deaths were reported Tuesday, a frightening new record that will soon be eclipsed since the country notched a record number of new hospitalizations on the same day, which was soon broken on Wednesday.

American actress Clara Bow holds up a large card while actor Larry Gray inscribes a New Year's greeting with a giant pen, 1935.

American actress Clara Bow holds up a large card while actor Larry Gray inscribes a New Year’s greeting with a giant pen, 1935.

The 3,700 deaths in one day, for context, is more than half the US casualties on D-Day and more than the entire Tet Offensive in Vietnam.

Many people have pointed out the US is suffering a 9/11 every day. But the sad truth of that comparison has worn off as the Covid-19 numbers have grown more unfathomable. And while 9/11 was a single attack that changed the way Americans live, this war with coronavirus is still surging….

The vaccine program — Operation Warp Speed — which Trump put in place, has deployed millions of doses of vaccines for the disease, but that’s falling further and further behind schedule, which means it could take years at the current rate to vaccinate enough Americans to halt the pandemic.

Christina Maxouris at CNN: US sets daily Covid-19 death record for the second straight day. Another 80,000 could die in next 3 weeks, new forecast says.

More than 80,000 Americans could die of Covid-19 over the next three weeks, a new US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ensemble forecast projects — offering a stark reminder the nation is still facing challenging times.

The new prediction comes amid ongoing vaccine distributions — a rolloutexperts say has been slower than they’d hoped. Vaccines will only make any meaningful impact once they’re widely available to the public, possibly not until summertime, experts have said.

In the meantime, Covid-19 hospitalizations are soaring. The US set a record Wednesday for number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals on a given day, at 125,200, according to the COVID Tracking Project….

Seasonal greetings from the original Hollywood sex symbol, Mae West, 1936.

Seasonal greetings from the original Hollywood sex symbol, Mae West, 1936.

California’s Los Angeles County hit a grim milestone Wednesday, surpassing 10,000totalCovid-19 deaths, and one health official there said any progress made over the summer had “completely evaporated.” Texas reported a record number of hospitalizations for the third day in a row. Mississippi and Louisiana saw their highest single-day casecountsNew Orleans officials urged “extreme caution” during New Year’s Eve, announcing bars, breweries, and live adult entertainment venues must close indoor facilities starting at 11 p.m. Wednesday….

In Nevada, a similar message: Gov. Steve Sisolak urged residents to avoid high-risk activities to slow the spread of the virus in the state….

Celebratory gatherings and travel could help drive another surge of infections — followed by hospitalizations and deaths — health officials have warned. But millions have opted to spend the holidays away from home. More than a million people passed through airport security checks Tuesday, for the fourth straight day after the Christmas holiday.

Here in Massachusetts, I just got a text and a recorded phone call from the state asking me to stay home. That’s no problem for me, of course. Even if there weren’t a pandemic, I wouldn’t be out celebrating on “amateur night.” I’ve been happily sober for 38 years.

Trump is still hoping someone will help him stage a coup, and Sen. John Hawley has volunteered. The Charlotte Observer:

Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley became the first senator to say he’ll object to the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory when Congress meets on Jan. 6 to accept the results of the presidential election.

Several House Republicans have previously signaled their intention to do the same. With members of both the House and Senate bringing objections, it’ll set off a dramatic scenario requiring a roll call vote in both chambers.

The January votes are unlikely to change the outcome of the election, but they will cap off a prolonged effort by President Donald Trump’s allies seeking to overturn the president’s defeat and hinder Biden’s transition.

Great! This will force Republican lawmakers to go on the record supporting or opposing sedition. Ruth Marcus at The Washington Post: Let Josh Hawley put Republicans to the uncomfortable test.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) — Yale Law School, Supreme Court clerk, Missouri attorney general and, according to the first line of his Twitter bio, “constitutional lawyer” — surely knows better.

American jazz musician and bandleader Benny Goodman and his orchestra play for an enthusiastic audience during a New Year's Eve dance at the Waldorf Astoria, New York City, 1938.

American jazz musician and bandleader Benny Goodman and his orchestra play for an enthusiastic audience during a New Year’s Eve dance at the Waldorf Astoria, New York City, 1938.

His plan to challenge the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college victory when Congress convenes for that purpose on Jan. 6 has no basis in the facts or the law. That is putting it too charitably, actually. It is, if anything, anti-constitutional — inconsistent with the Constitution’s vision of the ceremonial role of Congress in ratifying the election results.

It is doomed to fail — except, perhaps, at its scarcely disguised purpose of winning Hawley favor in the eyes of the Trumpian base. Think of it as the first act of Hawley’s all-but-inevitable 2024 presidential campaign. Think of it as what it is: a stunt.

Yet while irresponsible, Hawley’s move is not necessarily a terrible development. It forces a vote that will have the salutary effect of requiring his Republican colleagues to decide — and to put on the record —whether their loyalty is to President Trump or to the Constitution. Better to know than to guess. Better to inflict some accountability rather than to enable dodging.

Put another way: Any vote that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fervently wishes to avoid is one I’m for. Put every member of the House and Senate on the record, and let them reap the consequences, for good and for ill, in the short term of political fallout and in the long view of history. Those who vote against certifying Biden’s victory can explain it to their grandchildren.

Trump apparently still thinks he has a shot, so he’s cutting short his two-week golf vacation and coming back to DC to watch the show. 

Kailin Collins and Kevin Liptak at CNN: Trump to return to Washington early ahead of Republican plan to disrupt certification of Biden’s win.

Trump is now slated to leave Palm Beach before his annual New Year’s Eve party, even though guests had already gathered at his south Florida club and were told Trump would be in attendance, according to three people familiar with the matter. The President typically relishes appearing on the red carpet in front of the press and his friends, but is skipping the event altogether this year in what will be an unusual move.

In the President’s daily public schedule for Thursday, the White House stated the President and first lady Melania Trump will leave Florida at 11 a.m. ET to return to the White House.

British actress Ida Lupino smiling at a friendly sailor as she cuts a cake which reads Happy Victory Year, 1944.

British actress Ida Lupino smiling at a friendly sailor as she cuts a cake which reads Happy Victory Year, 1944.

Over the course of his stay in Florida, Trump has been single-mindedly focused on the election results and the upcoming certification process in Congress, set for January 6. After losing dozens of court cases and having his appeal rejected by the Supreme Court, Trump has viewed the January 6 event as his best opportunity to overturn the election he lost.

He has been in an irritated mood during most of the trip and fumed about everything from the election outcome to first lady Melania Trump’s renovations to his private quarters, according to multiple people who spoke with him.

At one point, Trump also said he was concerned Iran could retaliate in the coming days for the US drone strike that killed Iran’s top general, Qasem Soleimani, one year ago. A person speculated that could be a contributing factor in his early departure. Trump was at Mar-a-Lago when he ordered the Soleimani strike on January 3, 2020.

Before leaving for Palm Beach, he learned of Vice President Mike Pence’s role in the certification proceedings on Capitol Hill, which is mostly ceremonial. As he was flying to Florida for his vacation, Trump retweeted a call from one of his supporters for Pence to refuse to ratify the Electoral College count on January 6.

While in Florida, Trump has repeatedly raised the January 6 date with members of Congress and other associates, according to people familiar with the conversations. He lobbied senators on whether they would go along with House conservatives in objecting to the results.

GOP Senators may be failing another test after Mitch McConnell block Democrats’ effort to increase Covid relief payments from $600 to $2,000. Eric Levitz at New York Magazine: The GOP Just Let Democrats Have Their Stimulus and Campaign On It Too.

Next week, voters in Georgia will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate in 2021 — and thus, quite plausibly, the future of macroeconomic, climate, and health-care policy in the United States….

If Perdue and Loeffler prevail, Biden will likely struggle to so much as get his own Cabinet nominees confirmed, let alone judicial appointees. Meanwhile, his capacity to legislate will be contingent upon the good-faith cooperation of Mitch McConnell, which is about as dependable a resource as the empathic self-restraint of Donald Trump, or the commitment to ethical consumption of Jeffrey Dahmer.

Debbie Reynolds, wearing a 1953 tiara and a costume with tinsel, blows a horn while sitting atop a star-shaped clock in a promotional portrait for New Year's Eve.The stakes are high, is what I’m saying. And earlier this month, it looked like the GOP was intent on gifting Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock a potent message for the Georgia runoffs: Our races are referenda on a second large stimulus package. As of a few weeks ago, Republicans were insisting on a $500 billion stimulus bill that was bereft of cash assistance or long-term federal unemployment benefits. Democrats, for their part, were backing a $2.2 trillion stimulus that included a $600 a week federal unemployment benefit, another round of $1,200 relief checks, funding for states and cities, housing assistance, small business aid, and a variety of other social supports. All available polling indicated that the voting public favored the Democratic position.

But Trump upset the applecart by calling for $2,000 cash payments. Seeing that the $2,000 payments could help them in the run-off elections, Purdue and Loeffler announced support for them. But McConnell chose to block Trump’s proposal. In the end, the Senate would only support $600 direct payments and a $300 unemployment supplement. 

So the Senate Majority Leader blocked an up-or-down vote on $2,000 checks, opting instead to wed the proposal to two of Donald Trump’s other demands — the repeal of the law that insulates social-media platforms from being sued for libel on the basis of statements their users post, and the formation of a commission to investigate voter fraud in the 2020 election. It is far from clear that most Republicans actually wish to repeal the former law, which would have a wide variety of chaotic consequences, many of which seem contrary to the interests of a political movement whose media has thrived on unmoderated social-media platforms. The point of rolling these demands together isn’t to ensure that they all pass, but rather, that they all fail — because Democrats blocked them.

This gambit is clever but flawed. For one thing, Trump is still refusing to play his part. Instead of insisting that his three demands are inseparable, the president called for the immediate passage of $2,000 checks alone on Wednesday morning.

It’s very possible that McConnell’s game-playing could help Democrats win in Georgia.

…polling suggests these races are going to be very close. Which means flipping even a tiny fraction of voters could be decisive. And there is some evidence that Democrats can win over skeptical voters by communicating the fact that they are the party more supportive of $2,000 relief payments: A new national Data For Progress poll, shared exclusively with Intelligencer, found that Independent voters initially said they preferred the Republicans to prevail in Georgia by a margin of 41 to 38 percent — but when told that the Democratic candidates would pass another round of stimulus checks if elected, while the Republicans would not, these voters shifted their allegiance, favoring Ossoff and Warnock over Perdue and Loeffler by 52 to 37 percent.

There’s much more analysis at the New York Magazi ne link.

That’s all I have for you on this last day of a nightmarish year. Here’s hoping 2021 will be better. At least we’ll be rid of Trump. Have a Happy New Year, however you choose to celebrate tonight.