Tuesday Reads: Fauci Warns Congress; Outbreaks In High Places; Heartland Threatened

Good Morning!!

The Senate hearing on the coronavirus pandemic is happening right now. The chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Lamar Alexander, is in self-quarantine. All of the witnesses will be testifying remotely–not a very good advertisement for reopening the economy.

Anthony Fauci plans to drop a bomb on the committee. The New York Times: Fauci to Warn Senate of ‘Needless Suffering and Death.’

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a central figure in the government’s response to the coronavirus, intends to warn the Senate on Tuesday that Americans would experience “needless suffering and death” if the country opens up too quickly.

Dr. Fauci, who has emerged as perhaps the nation’s most respected voice during the coronavirus crisis, is one of four top government doctors scheduled to testify remotely at a high-profile hearing on Tuesday before the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee….

In an email to the New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg late Monday night, Dr. Fauci laid out what he intended to tell senators.

“The major message that I wish to convey to the Senate HLP committee tomorrow is the danger of trying to open the country prematurely,” he wrote. “If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to: ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country. This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.”

Dr. Fauci was referring to a three-phase White House plan, Opening Up America Again, that lays out guidelines for state officials considering reopening their economies. Among its recommendations: States should have a “downward trajectory of positive tests” or a “downward trajectory of documented cases” of coronavirus over two weeks, while conducting robust contact tracing and “sentinel surveillance” testing of asymptomatic people in vulnerable populations, such as nursing homes.

But many states are reopening without meeting those guidelines, seeking to ease the economic pain as millions of working people and small-business owners are facing ruin while sheltering at home.

While Trump is pushing Americans to go back to work, the virus could be circulating in the White House. Trump doesn’t want most of us to have access to testing, but he wants those around him tested frequently and he’s now requiring everyone around him (but not himself) to wear masks. He claimed yesterday that he will be expanding testing around the country as well. I’ll believe it when I see it.

The Los Angeles Times: Trump backs expanded testing as West Wing battles infections.

Under fire for inadequate coronavirus testing across the country, President Trump insisted Monday that enough testing is available to allow more Americans to safely return to work even as the White House, perhaps the world’s most secure workplace, scrambled to stem further infections in the West Wing.

“It’s the hidden enemy. Things happen,” Trump said at a Rose Garden news conference when pressed about how the virus has breached his inner circle despite safeguards unavailable to most Americans, including daily testing for the president and his top aides.

The president announced a plan to distribute $11 billion approved by Congress last month to support testing efforts by states, with an emphasis on residents and staff of nursing homes, which have suffered the brunt of deaths in the pandemic. Nearly half of California’s COVID-19 deaths so far are in elder-care facilities.

“If someone wants to be tested right now, they will be able to be tested,” Trump claimed, a boast that is untrue in many communities. Roughly 9 million tests have been conducted since the crisis began, far short of what public health experts say is necessary to track and contain the coronavirus.

Adm. Brett Giroir, who leads the administration’s testing efforts, offered a more modest promise. “Everybody who needs a test can get a test,” he said, with a focus on those who suffer symptoms or come into contact with infected people….

The message was particularly discordant as the White House became a marquee cautionary tale about the difficulty of containing the virus. One of Trump’s military valets and a spokeswoman for Vice President Mike Pence have both tested positive in the last week, raising questions about how less-protected Americans can stay safe.

NPR reports that Trump and Pence are staying away from each other: Trump And Pence ‘Maintaining Their Distance’ For Now.

President Trump and Vice President Pence will be “maintaining their distance in the immediate future” on the advice of the White House Medical Unit, a senior administration official told NPR. They were last seen together at the White House on Thursday.

At a Monday White House briefing, which the president attended but the vice president did not, Trump suggested that he might be keeping his distance from Pence for the time being.

“We can talk on the phone,” Trump said.

Last week, the press secretary for Pence and a military valet for the president tested positive for the coronavirus.

Pence and others who were in contact with the coronavirus patients have since tested negative, but the virus can take days to incubate. The cases have heightened concerns about the nation’s ability to safely reopen.

Still, despite the close proximity of the White House cases, Trump said on Monday that he felt “no vulnerability whatsoever” and still expected the U.S. to move swiftly toward reopening.

Trump’s good buddy Vladimir Putin is battling his own outbreak. The Independent: Coronavirus: Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov hospitalised with Covid-19.

Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov has tested positive for the coronavirus, with news of his hospitalisation confirmed by state news agencies on Tuesday afternoon.

Covid-19 has failed to spare the political class in its its increasingly confident march through Russia. The prime minister Mikhail Mishustin fell ill approximately two weeks ago, and has barely been seen since. Culture minister Olga Lyubimova and construction minister Vladimir Yakushev have also reported positive tests and are being treated at home.

The illness of one of the president’s closest lieutenants will raise questions about Mr Putin’s own Covid-19 status. The 67-year-old has spent the last month in his suburban residence and mostly hidden from public view. But in brief comments to the press, spokesman Peskov insisted he had not met his boss in over a month.

The news comes less than a day after Mr Putin signed off on an easing of nationwide restrictions and a limited return to work. The relaxation of Russia’s six-week lock-down came despite ugly epidemiological data that suggested its Covid-19 crisis is far from over.On Tuesday, cases increased by another 10,899 diagnoses, taking the overall number to 232 243. On these measures, Russia is now second-worst affected country in the world.

More on the situation in Russia from The Moscow Times:

The Kremlin spokesman is at least the second person in Putin’s administration and the fifth senior government official to test positive for Covid-19.

In addition to Culture Minister Olga Lyubimova, Construction Minister Vladimir Yakushev and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, Putin’s first deputy chief of staff Sergei Kiriyenko was reported to have tested positive in mid-April.

It was not immediately clear when Peskov, 52, last met Putin, 67, in person. Peskov told the state-run TASS news agency that he last had face-to-face contacts with Putin “more than a month ago.”

Similar questions over Putin’s contacts with coronavirus-positive individuals were raised when he visited Moscow’s main coronavirus hospital in late March and shook hands with its chief doctor, who tested positive for Covid-19 days later. Putin began working remotely at the presidential residence in Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow on April 1 following the news of doctor Denis Protsenko’s infection.

Putin and everyone in his administration “are taking all precautionary measures,” Peskov said at the time.

There’s more at the link.

The Daily Beast reports that Americans could be persona non grata in other countries because of our out-of-control Covid-19 outbreak: American Travelers Are About to Be Pariahs in This New World.

ROME—Travel has been one of the most deeply gutted industries of the global coronavirus pandemic, so it should come as no surprise that many countries that rely on it for so much of their GDP are getting anxious about when they can start opening up. But travel is not just about the destination. Getting away is also a way of life for millions of people who take breaks for self-indulgence, prestige, or cultural enrichment. And with the dream of the “immunity passport” for those who have successfully conquered COVID-19 increasingly unreliable this soon in the pandemic, travel may be annoyingly restrictive for some time to come.

One thing is sure: Gone are the days of the American abroad, at least for those hoping to summer in Europe this year. The new models on how to reopen European travel do not have room for the American tourist for the foreseeable future.

The European Union is set to release new guidelines called “Europe Needs a Break” on Wednesday that will recommend replacing travel bans with what they are calling “targeted restrictions” based on contagion levels and reciprocity among European and neighboring nations, many of which have been under draconian lockdowns backed by science. The key to any successful reopening in Europe is based entirely on risk assessment, meaning anyone coming from a nation deemed risky or careless will be the first to be banned. Simply put, anyone who has been under the lax American approach to the pandemic, which has been the laughing stock of Europe, won’t be welcome any time soon.

The rest of the story is behind the paywall.

Trump seems to believe that heartland states are safe from the coronavirus, but that’s just not true. A couple of interesting articles:

NBC News: Unreleased White House report shows coronavirus rates spiking in heartland communities.

Coronavirus infection rates are spiking to new highs in several metropolitan areas and smaller communities across the country, according to undisclosed data the White House’s pandemic task force is using to track rates of infection, which was obtained by NBC News.

The data in a May 7 coronavirus task force report are at odds with President Donald Trump’s declaration Monday that “all throughout the country, the numbers are coming down rapidly.”

The 10 top areas recorded surges of 72.4 percent or greater over a seven-day period compared to the previous week, according to a set of tables produced for the task force by its data and analytics unit. They include Nashville, Tennessee; Des Moines, Iowa; Amarillo, Texas; and — atop the list, with a 650 percent increase — Central City, Kentucky.

On a separate list of “locations to watch,” which didn’t meet the precise criteria for the first set: Charlotte, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Minneapolis; Montgomery, Alabama; Columbus, Ohio; and Phoenix. The rates of new cases in Charlotte and Kansas City represented increases of more than 200 percent over the previous week, and other tables included in the data show clusters in neighboring counties that don’t form geographic areas on their own, such as Wisconsin’s Kenosha and Racine counties, which neighbor each other between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Inside Sources: The Coronavirus May Accelerate the Demise of Rural America.

Over the last two months the coronavirus pandemic has brought nation’s largest, and most powerful cities to their knees.

But as curves show signs of flattening in many urban areas, and governors have begun the process of “reopening” their economies, new hotspots are emerging in places like southwest Georgia, the Navajo nation, and in and around meatpacking plants in Iowa and the Texas panhandle.

Rural communities like these lack the healthcare infrastructure and financial resources of larger cities, while at the same time are home to and older and sicker populations, more likely to suffer serious complications or death due to the virus.

That is why governors who are reopening their economies prematurely are not only misguided but also could end up driving the devastation of rural America.

Long before people started falling ill and businesses started shutting down due to coronavirus, rural America was already suffering. There are many indications that rural communities had not fully recovered from the Great Recession.

As of last year, employment in non-metro counties had not yet to returned to pre-2008 levels. Data also show that since the last recession virtually all new business growth has been concentrated in the 20 largest metropolitan counties. And overall rural counties have been steadily losing population for more than a decade now.

At the same time, rural communities have long been experiencing a health crisis. Roughly 170 hospitals in rural communities have closed in the last 15 years, leaving rural Americans with fewer and fewer health options.

Due to the longstanding economic crisis in these communities, along with many states’ refusal to expand Medicaid, hospitals in rural areas have struggled financially.

Hospital closures put undue burden on residents as it becomes more difficult to access health care having to travel farther for care — an estimated 8.6 million people live more than a 30-minute drive from their nearest hospital. Rural areas are already experiencing issues with transportation, which adds to this burden.

Read the rest at Inside Sources.

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?


The LeRoy High School Outbreak: “Conversion Disorder” or Environmental Contaminants?

Aerial view of LeRoy Junior/Senior High School

I know everyone has already heard about the outbreak of tics and verbal outbursts (described in the media as “Tourette’s-like symptoms”) in the small town of LeRoy, New York. I thought I’d pull together some information on the case anyway. I have been skeptical about the diagnoses that have been publicized (“conversion disorder” and “mass hysteria”) since I first heard about it.

The media descriptions of conversion disorder haven’t been particularly accurate or helpful, and now that school and county officials are trying to limit investigations into environmental causes for the outbreak, I’m even more suspicious that these symptoms may be caused by exposure to toxins in the environment.

The LeRoy students began having symptoms in September of last year, meaning they have continued for about four months. Here’s a description of the symptoms from CBS News:

Last fall, 12 teenage girls from LeRoy Junior-Senior High School – located in a town about an hour outside of Buffalo, N.Y. – began to show symptoms similar to those of Tourette’s syndrome, including painful shaking and jerking their necks….

The condition was so bad for at least one of the girls that she has yet to return to school. School and state officials investigated the outbreak and school building for several months, and concluded no known environmental substances or infectious agents were found that could have caused the symptoms in the teens.

Dr. Laszlo Mechtler of the Dent Neurologic Institute in Amherst, NY, has seen a number of the girls and has diagnosed them with “conversion disorder,” which is really just more politically correct name for what Sigmund Freud called hysteria. The term is drawn from the Greek word for “uterus,” and of course mostly females receive the diagnosis. Mechler is claiming the symptoms are a result of stress and the students who are affected may have are unconsciously acting out their anxieties through physical symptoms. He’s calling it “mass hysteria,” because a number of girls reported similar symptoms.

Mechtler said today that the media hype is just making the symptoms worse and that students who have kept to themselves have improved while those who went to the media got worse; and now that the national media is focused on the situation, those who had improved are now having increased symptoms. 

So I guess we should all STFU and leave poor little LeRoy alone, then?

Lots more after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Reads: Curvy is cool…

Good Morning…

After being away from the computer for 36 hours, I went online and found that my reader had under a 100 items unread. Usually I can judge if the day is a big news day by how many new rss items there are.

Dak had a post last night that I want to bring to your attention, you may have missed it…

Dakinikat’s Joblessness 

Boston Boomer has a post called The Solyndra Story Just Keeps Getting Worse, which is scheduled for noon today, so be sure to check that out.

Okay, as far as today’s morning reads, here are a few links I found for you.

Monday is going to be a busy day for Obama, he is going to beg for a new minimum tax rate for those people who make more than a million dollars a year.  Obama Tax Plan Would Ask More of Millionaires – NYTimes.com

President Obama on Monday will call for a new minimum tax rate for individuals making more than $1 million a year to ensure that they pay at least the same percentage of their earnings as middle-income taxpayers, according to administration officials.

With a special joint Congressional committee starting work to reach a bipartisan budget deal by late November, the proposal adds a new and populist feature to Mr. Obama’s effort to raise the political pressure on Republicans to agree to higher revenues from the wealthy in return for Democrats’ support of future cuts from Medicare and Medicaid.

Mr. Obama, in a bit of political salesmanship, will call his proposal the “Buffett Rule,” in a reference to Warren E. Buffett, the billionaire investor who has complained repeatedly that the richest Americans generally pay a smaller share of their income in federal taxes than do middle-income workers, because investment gains are taxed at a lower rate than wages.

Let’s see if it works out in a positive way, personally I think Obama will be calling for this new Buffet Rule with his fingers crossed behind his back.

In other Obama news, Obama admin reworked Solyndra loan to favor donor  | ajc.com (Be sure to read BB’s post on this, it has more details!)

The Obama administration restructured a half-billion dollar federal loan to a troubled solar energy company in such a way that private investors — including a fundraiser for President Barack Obama — moved ahead of taxpayers for repayment in case of a default, government records show.

[…]

The loan restructuring is one element congressional investigators are focusing on as they look into the federal loan guarantee Solyndra received under the economic stimulus law.

Under terms of the February loan restructuring, two private investors — Argonaut Ventures I LLC and Madrone Partners LP — stand to be repaid before the U.S. government if the solar company is liquidated. The two firms gave the company a total of $69 million in emergency loans. The loans are the only portion of their investments that have repayment priority above the U.S. government.

Argonaut is an investment vehicle of the George Kaiser Family Foundation of Tulsa, Okla. The foundation is headed by billionaire George Kaiser, a major Obama campaign contributor and a frequent visitor to the White House. Kaiser raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign, federal election records show. Kaiser has made at least 16 visits to the president’s aides since 2009, according to White House visitor logs.

Madrone Partners is affiliated with the Walton family, descendants of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. Rob Walton, the eldest son of Sam Walton, contributed $2,500 last year to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Hmmmm, billionaire Kaiser and the Walton family…nah, money doesn’t matter does it?

We’ve been talking about a couple executions lately, one in Georgia and one in Texas. I wanted to give you some updates on those.

Troy Davis’ life in board’s hands  | ajc.com

This Wednesday marks the fourth time the state has set a date for Davis to be put to death by lethal injection.

In July 2007, the state parole board granted Davis a stay after he’d said final goodbyes to visitors. A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in less than two hours before he was to be placed on the gurney. Seven months after that, the federal appeals court halted another planned execution, leading to an almost-unprecedented U.S. Supreme Court order that granted Davis a new hearing that ultimately proved unsuccessful.

Anneliese MacPhail, the mother of the slain officer, said she is cautiously optimistic the execution will be carried out this week. “I want to get it over with,” she said. “I want to have some peace.”

After Davis’ new execution date was set, it appeared there was nowhere for him to turn because his appeals are exhausted. But the parole board quickly agreed to again consider Davis’ request for clemency. It set a hearing for Monday and did not say when it will issue its decision.

The parole board denied clemency to Davis three years ago, but the five-member board has three new members.

The board is expected to hear from witnesses who did not testify in its prior hearings. This includes a woman who has signed an affidavit saying she heard Sylvester “Redd” Coles, who was at the crime scene, say he was the real killer. Davis’ lawyers are also expected to submit sworn statements from at least three jurors who sentenced Davis to death, but who are now asking that Davis be spared execution.

“Because there is evidence that creates doubt about Mr. Davis’ involvement in the shooting, I do not think Mr. Davis should be executed,” juror Isaiah Middleton said in an affidavit signed Sept. 11.

I urge you to read that entire AJC article because it describes all the new evidence and what witnesses have recanted their testimony…when you read the summary of doubt that has come forward, it is unbelievable that this man is still scheduled to die on Wednesday.

There have been 51 executions in Georgia since capital punishment was reinstated 35 years ago. (In Texas, Rick Perry has overseen 234 executions since he became governor 10 years ago…) Speaking of Texas, here is a rundown on what’s next for Duane Buck…Duane Buck: what happens next? | World news | guardian.co.uk

Duane Buck was granted a 30-day reprieve in Texas on Thursday night, but a series of legal obstacles remains before his execution is commuted to a life sentence.

Duane Buck, who has spent the last 16 years on death row in Texas, narrowly avoided lethal injection on Thursday. Now he must await another tense standoff as his lawyers attempt to have his execution commuted to a life sentence.

Buck was granted a 30-day reprieve this week, in a case that put the spotlight on Texas governor and would-be Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry. Perry refused to act on the case, which has been criticised for the involvement of a controversial psychologist who said Buck’s being black could contribute to his “future dangerousness”.

Now Buck’s lawyers have asked the supreme court to look at the case, but legal experts believe it will eventually come back to Perry.

That just does not inspire any confidence, I doubt Perry will do the right thing, do you?

This next story is heartbreaking.  I thought it would resonate with many of you who have experienced cancer first hand.  A woman and her toddler fight dual cancers – CNN.com

Kezia Fitzgerald and her 15-month-old daughter are both blondes with bright blue eyes. They both giggle easily and share a love of peaches.

The mom and daughter have more in common than Fitzgerald would like. Five months after Fitzgerald received a cancer diagnosis, so did her little girl, Saoirse.

Their cancers, albeit different types, had spread throughout their bodies.

“It’s frustrating. It’s unfair,” said Fitzgerald, 28, who lives in Danvers, Massachusetts. “At the same time, there’s nothing you can do to change it. The only thing you can do is heal and treat yourself.”

Give the rest of the article a read, it is interesting to see how mother and daughter are both dealing with fighting the cancer, but at the same time it is amazing what a positive attitude this family has while dealing with such a difficult situation.

From Minx’s Missing Link File:  Two brothers from Memphis got a chance to see each other for the first time…There is a photo in this article that possesses so much emotion, I wanted to share it with you all.  Conjoined twins Joshua and Jacob Spates say hello after separated by life-saving surgery | Mail Online

I know you! The moment the boys see each other for the first time

It’s you! The moment Jacob and Joshua see each other for the first time at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, where they were born

They were tiny newborn twins, delivered by frantic doctors in an emergency caesarean in January, six weeks before they were due.
And born conjoined at the base of their spines, their chances of survival were made even smaller.
In what is being hailed as a medical miracle, little Joshua and Jacob Spates have survived being separated after a gruelling 13 hours in surgery.
And as this heart-warming picture shows, the boys – who had never been able to see each other – have now been introduced face to face.
The eight-month-old twins from Memphis, Tennessee, are continuing to recover under the watchful eyes of doctors but they have already overcome what is likely to be the biggest obstacle they will ever face.
The twins were joined at the rear of the pelvis and gastrointestinal tract and had to be separated because of the severity of Jacob’s heart condition.
[…]
Jacob remains in intensive care and needs a few more operations, while Joshua is already out of the unit and is being prepared to go home.

The doctors expect Joshua to live a normal life, his brother Jacob has a serious heart condition, hopefully the treatment will be successful.

Easy Like Sunday Morning Link of the Week:  This article made me smile.  Misty Copeland On Prince And The Curvy Ballerina Revolution

Wednesday’s episode of the new documentary series “A Day in the Life” from award-winning documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock stars superhot, utterly gorgeous and uber-talented classical ballerina Misty Copeland. The native Californian beauty has not only broken down racial barriers to become American Ballet Theatre’s first African-American soloist, she’s also in tight with Prince. Clearly, she’s doing something right. Copeland’s “Day in the Life” episode features the dancer chilling with kids at the Boys & Girls Club in the Bronx and working with choreographers at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She talked with us about the episode, her new dance-wear line for curvy girls and, yes, her relationship with Prince.

[…]

How do you address the notion that the bodies of black girls and women were not made to be ballerinas?

I speak about it all the time. My body is very different from most of the dancers I dance with. I might not have the stereotypical “black body,” but I definitely am more curvy and have a more athletic build from most ballet dancers. I actually have a dance-wear line coming out especially for curvy women, because most dance wear is made for professional dancers who are very petite with small busts and no real curves. I also have a plus-size line coming out that focuses on support of the bust, while still being very fashionable and elegant.

I often wonder if promoting this whole idea of “plus-size” isn’t actually hurting us in the long run. What do you think?

Most of the women I’ve talked to who are plus-size don’t even want to make that first step of taking a ballet class or going to the gym because they feel so unattractive, or like the athletic or dance wear out there doesn’t flatter them. They don’t want to put on a big T-shirt and a sports bra that doesn’t fit them properly. So I think the plus-size line is more about promoting a healthy body image and getting women to take those first steps to becoming healthier.

ABT is getting ready to perform a new version of a ballet called “The Firebird,”  with Misty in the lead as the firebird.  I can just imagine how wonderful this production will be, with a dancer like Misty…

Misty Copeland, Photo by Mesiyah McGinnis

That is it for me, have a wonderful Sunday, and hopefully I will catch up with you all in the comments later on.