Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

08bruni-jumboI’m not going to spend much time on the vice presidential debate in today’s post. CNN’s post-debate poll showed Kamala Harris was the winner.

I don’t think Mike Pence did a very good job of defending Trump, and that’s what he needed to do. He lied again and again with a straight face–that has always been his modus operandi. He refused to answer a question about what states should do about abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and–worst of all–he dodged a question about whether there will be a peaceful transition of power if Trump loses. From The Daily Beast:

At the tail end of Wednesday night’s vice-presidential debate—one that was noticeably less fiery and chaotic than last week’s presidential clash—Vice President Mike Pence completely avoided answering what he would do if President Donald Trump refuses to step down if he loses the election….

The veep first said that he thinks his ticket will win re-election before accusing Democrats of not accepting the outcome of the 2016 election, bringing up the Russia investigation and the impeachment of the president. After invoking former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s advice that Joe Biden shouldn’t concede on election night if the results are close, Pence reiterated his belief that Trump would be re-elected.

“President Trump and I are fighting every day to prevent Joe Biden and Kamala Harris from changing the rules and creating a massive opportunity for voter fraud,” he concluded. “If we have a free and fair election, we’ll have confidence in it.”

Matt Flegenheimer and Annie Karni at The New York Times: Pence, Peerless Trump Defender, Confronts His Limits.

Vice President Mike Pence approached his task on Wednesday as he has approached his four years as the executive straight man to an unruly leader: not merely defending President Trump but effectively insisting, with poker-faced conviction, that those who doubt his boss should not believe their eyes and ears.

R6ZUW44OCRGKHMJQMHJKXZTXDIThe trouble this time was not Mr. Pence’s skill set on this front, which remains peerless. It was the fact set underpinning this debate, which remains inconvenient to an administration so overwhelmed by the virus that its own West Wing has become a hot spot.

And so Mr. Pence — stripped of most politically palatable explanations for the White House pandemic response — set off on a curious charge when Senator Kamala Harris said that the Trump team’s leadership “clearly” has not worked: He chose to hear it as a direct affront to the American people.

“When you say what the American people have done over these last eight months hasn’t worked,” Mr. Pence said gravely, as controlled as his president is rambunctious onstage, “that’s a great disservice to the sacrifices the American people have made.”

At last, the strain seemed to be showing, at least a little. Perhaps that is what a full term of wear-and-tear can do to even the most accomplished rhetorical gymnast.

Or perhaps the reality is simply too bleak for any administration to explain away entirely: The president has contracted the virus that has killed more than 210,000 Americans on his watch. His behavior, since leaving the hospital on Monday, appears to be a continuation of the kind of scientifically dubious happy talk that has left the Trump-Pence ticket at a significant polling disadvantage four weeks before Election Day.

Yes, the story today and every day until the election will be about Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to the deaths of 211,917 Americans as of this morning. In addition, Trump either doesn’t understand or simply refuses to admit that the pandemic is killing the economy.

244003_rgb_768IMHO, the biggest story this morning is the coronavirus outbreak at the White House and the obvious fact that Trump and his Trumpists have likely spread the virus very widely. Here’s the latest.

ABC News: 34 people connected to White House, more than previously known, infected by coronavirus: Internal FEMA memo.

The coronavirus outbreak has infected “34 White House staffers and other contacts” in recent days, according to an internal government memo, an indication that the disease has spread among more people than previously known in the seat of American government.

The memo also notes that a senior adviser to the president is among those infected. Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller, both senior aides to the president, have tested positive in recent days.

The new figures underscore both the growing crisis in the White House and the lengths to which government officials have gone to block information about the outbreak’s spread. ABC News had previously reported that a total of 24 White House aides and their contacts had contracted the virus. It was not clear in the FEMA memo with the larger number what “other contacts” referred to.

Jennifer Jacobs at Bloomberg: White House Security Official Contracted Covid-19 in September.

A top White House security official, Crede Bailey, is gravely ill with Covid-19 and has been hospitalized since September, according to four people familiar with his condition.

I'm in control hereThe White House has not publicly disclosed Bailey’s illness. He became sick before the Sept. 26 Rose Garden event President Donald Trump held to announce his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett that has been connected to more than a dozen cases of the disease.

A White House spokesman declined to comment on Bailey. He is in charge of the White House security office, which handles credentialing for access to the White House and works closely with the U.S. Secret Service on security measures throughout the compound.

Chris Christie is still in the hospital and there has been no news about how he is doing. NJ.com:

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie remains hospitalized at Morristown Medical Center, where he was admitted Saturday after testing positive COVID-19

Christie’s current condition is not known. Hospital officials declined comment Tuesday….

Christie, who has struggled with his weight and has a lifelong history of asthma, tweeted that he checked himself into the hospital Saturday. Because of his conditions, he’s at higher risk of developing complications from the virus.

The Daily Beast: White House Quietly Told Vets Group It Might Have Exposed Them to COVID.

On the same day President Donald Trump acknowledged contracting the coronavirus, the White House quietly informed a veterans group that there was a COVID-19 risk stemming from a Sept. 27 event honoring the families of fallen U.S. service members, the head of that charitable organization told The Daily Beast.

5_wexler_0The White House warning, which came on Oct. 2, is the earliest known outreach to visitors of the complex that there was a risk of coronavirus emerging from the grounds where the president, the first lady, and at least 17 of his aides, according to Politico, have now tested positive for the virus.

The Sept. 27 event to honor Gold Star families came the day after the White House hosted a celebration for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett that appears to have been an early source of the White House outbreak, though West Wing officials have quietly disputed that linkage. It is unclear to the head of the veterans charity—the Greatest Generations Foundation—which participant’s potential positive coronavirus test sparked the warning.

USA Today: White House coronavirus outbreak may have exposed thousands from Atlanta to Minnesota.

President Donald Trump and other White House insiders infected with COVID-19 carried the virus across the country in a matter of days, potentially exposing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people as they went about their business, a USA TODAY investigation found. 

From a religious summit outside Atlanta to a campaign rally at a Pennsylvania airport and a private fundraiser in Minnesota, Trump, his aides and political allies attended events with thousands of people, often without masks and little regard for social distancing….

USA TODAY reporters examined hundreds of photos and videos from news coverage and social media posts and scoured attendance logs to identify people who came in contact with those individuals.

don't be afraid of covidAt least 6,000 people attended meetings, rallies and other gatherings with them within a week of the Supreme Court nomination ceremony Sept. 26 in the White House Rose Garden, pegged as a potential “superspreader” event….

Epidemiologists and public health experts said USA TODAY’s analysis shows that the White House outbreak has put more people, in more places, at risk than has been previously known. It illustrates just how quickly and how far a superspreader event can carry COVID-19. 

“I don’t think we know the extent of this outbreak yet … people could die,” said Danielle Ompad, an associate professor of epidemiology at New York University’s School of Global Public Health. “It’s the height of irresponsibility for people who are supposed to be leaders.”

Meanwhile, Trump hasn’t been seen in public since he returned to the White House on Monday evening. Instead he has been posting videos of himself wearing heavier make-up than usual and babbling nonsense, including claiming he has been “cured” of the virus and may be immune to it. We haven’t been told what medications Trump is still taking, and the White House and Trump’s doctors have refused to say when Trump last tested negative for the virus. ABC News reports:

The White House has also declined to confirm when and how Trump was tested before last Tuesday’s presidential debate with Joe Biden, even though both campaigns certified to debate organizers that the candidates and everyone who traveled with them to Cleveland tested negative within 72 hours of the debate.

The White House, which has made contradictory statements about when and how often Trump is tested, said the president first tested positive Thursday evening, and first discussed symptoms with his doctor at that time. Studies have shown that coronavirus patients are infectious up to two days before the onset of symptoms.

primitive tribes“People ought to have the right to know whether or not they should be quarantining themselves, if they’re at risk,” Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, told ABC News. “Potentially the president and his team have put others in harm’s way.”

While it’s not clear when Trump was infected with the virus, the White House’s silence raises questions about its compliance with debate rules, the frequency of Trump’s tests, and whether the president or his aides had concerns about him having the virus before he tested positive — as he kept up his busy schedule of campaign events.

And what about the next presidential debate? The debate commission announce that it will be done virtually, and Trump says he won’t participate and instead will hold a superspreader rally! The New York Times: Trump Objects to Commission’s Virtual Debate Plan.

President Trump, in an extraordinary break from the norms of modern campaigning, said on Thursday that he would refuse to participate in the next presidential debate after organizers changed the event to a virtual format because of health concerns about the coronavirus.

His withdrawal from the Oct. 15 event came shortly after the Commission on Presidential Debates, citing the “health and safety of all involved,” abandoned plans to stage the next in-person debate in Miami, saying that Mr. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. would instead participate remotely from separate locations.

But Mr. Trump, whose recent contraction of the coronavirus was a significant impetus for the commission to modify its plans, immediately dismissed the idea of a remote debate as “ridiculous” and accused the debate commission without evidence of seeking to protect his Democratic opponent.

“No, I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” Mr. Trump told the Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo in a television interview. “That’s not what debating is all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate — it’s ridiculous.”

And this is extraordinary: the editors of The New England Journal of Medicine have publicly stated that Trump should not get a second term: Dying in a Leadership Vacuum.

Here’s the gist:

Covid-19 has created a crisis throughout the world. This crisis has produced a test of leadership. With no good options to combat a novel pathogen, countries were forced to make hard choices about how to respond. Here in the United States, our leaders have failed that test. They have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy….

The United States came into this crisis with enormous advantages. Along with tremendous manufacturing capacity, we have a biomedical research system that is the envy of the world. We have enormous expertise in public health, health policy, and basic biology and have consistently been able to turn that expertise into new therapies and preventive measures. And much of that national expertise resides in government institutions. Yet our leaders have largely chosen to ignore and even denigrate experts.

The response of our nation’s leaders has been consistently inadequate. The federal government has largely abandoned disease control to the states. Governors have varied in their responses, not so much by party as by competence. But whatever their competence, governors do not have the tools that Washington controls. Instead of using those tools, the federal government has undermined them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was the world’s leading disease response organization, has been eviscerated and has suffered dramatic testing and policy failures. The National Institutes of Health have played a key role in vaccine development but have been excluded from much crucial government decision making. And the Food and Drug Administration has been shamefully politicized,3 appearing to respond to pressure from the administration rather than scientific evidence. Our current leaders have undercut trust in science and in government,4 causing damage that will certainly outlast them. Instead of relying on expertise, the administration has turned to uninformed “opinion leaders” and charlatans who obscure the truth and facilitate the promulgation of outright lies….

Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.

I think this post is getting too long; but I can’t be sure, because the new WordPress editor doesn’t provide a word count. I’ll post a few more stories in the comment thread below. I hope you all have a peaceful day. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, and please check in with us if you have the time and inclination.


Live Blog: VEEP Debatestakes 2020

 

Where would be without a live debate thread especially when it’s Kamala vs the guy who calls his wife mother?

Image

So,  we will be following the debate antics.  Here’s the details:

 

9-10:30 PM EDT on ABC · CBS · FOX · NBC · PBS

Stream: C-SPAN · CBSN · ABC · NBC · PBS

Apps: ABC News · CBS News · CNN · Fox News · NBC News

Moderator: Susan Page

Location: University of Utah, Salt Lake City

Format: Nine segments of approximately 10 minutes each

And here’s the downlow:  “How to watch the vice presidential debate” by Caroline Linton of CBS.

Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic nominee Kamala Harris will meet for their first and only debate on Wednesday, October 7, at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Susan Page of USA Today will moderate, and Pence and Harris will be separated by a plexiglass barrier.

Campaign manager Bill Stepien and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, both of whom helped with Mr. Trump’s debate preparation, have tested positive for COVID-19, as well as Hope Hicks, counselor to President Trump. Christie also checked into the hospital for treatment. Chris Wallace, the moderator of the first debate, said Mr. Trump arrived too late to the debate site to be tested for COVID-19 there.

Pence has been tested multiple times since then, and he said the latest test, on Wednesday, was negative.

Harris announced on Friday that she and her husband, Doug Emhoff, had both tested negative for COVID-19. To limit travel, she arrived in Salt Lake City on Friday night. 

The candidates will be seated 12 feet away from each other. 

 

So, let’s see if she can make him cry!

 


Thursday Reads

Hurricane Laura damage in Lake Charles, LA

Good Morning!!

Hurricane Laura made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane in Louisiana overnight. I haven’t been able to find a lot of information on the damage so far. Right now Russel Honore is on MSNBC attacking the lack of action by FEMA. He explained that the areas that have been hit hardest are the poorest in the state; many live in mobile homes.

CBS News is posting live updates. The latest:

“Extremely dangerous” Hurricane Laura made landfall overnight near Cameron, Louisiana, bringing “catastrophic storm surge, extreme winds and flash flooding” to portions of the state, the National Hurricane Center said early Thursday. The storm had intensified rapidly into a Category 4 hurricane before slamming into the Gulf Coast near the Louisiana-Texas border.

Several hours after it came ashore, the storm was downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane, although the storm was still extremely dangerous. The hurricane center said life-threatening storm surge was continuing early Thursday along much of Louisiana’s coastline.

As of 7 a.m. local time, the storm was located about 20 miles north of Fort Polk, Louisiana, moving north at 15 mph. It was forecast to move across western and northern Louisiana through this afternoon and over Arkansas tonight, and become a tropical storm later on Thursday.

Trump recently took funds from FEMA to pay for his stupid executive orders.

Rolling Stone: Trump Looted $44 Billion From FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund in the Middle of a Record-Setting Hurricane Season.

…less than three weeks ago, instead of working with Congress to craft comprehensive legislation to address the ongoing crisis and deliver desperately-needed aid, President Trump looted FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to the tune of $44 billion — authorizing the agency to pay for a $300 per week supplement to regular unemployment benefits.

The $300 a week benefit supplement is similar to the $600 one that was included in the CARES Act passed at the start of the pandemic. An extension of that $600 benefit was included in second relief package that the House has already approved, but that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t hold a vote on. And because the Senate won’t sign off on the House bill and Trump didn’t work with lawmakers to reach a compromise, the unemployment supplement isn’t coming from money appropriated by Congress. It’s coming from the government account meant to cover natural disasters like the one presently bearing down on Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

“I am extremely concerned about the health and safety of Americans when Hurricane Laura comes ashore,” Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), head of the subcommittee on emergency preparedness, response, and recovery, said in a statement. “The fact that President Trump would take up to $44 billion from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund right before a possibly record-setting hurricane season shows his inability to protect our country during a crisis. If he had convinced his Senate allies to pass our Heroes Act, we would have extended unemployment benefits and still had plenty of money for FEMA and states to use to help Americans recover from a natural disaster, like Hurricane Laura.”

Meanwhile, Trump has been busy trying to reduce Covid-19 testing so that fewer cases will be discovered.

CNN: CDC was pressured ‘from the top down’ to change coronavirus testing guidance, official says.

A sudden change in federal guidelines on coronavirus testing came this week as a result of pressure from the upper ranks of the Trump administration, a federal health official close to the process tells CNN, and a key White House coronavirus task force member was not part of the meeting when the new guidelines were discussed.

“It’s coming from the top down,” the official said of the new directive from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci said he was in surgery and not part of the discussion during the August 20 task force meeting when updated guidelines were discussed….

“I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact it is,” he said.

The new guidelines raise the bar on who should get tested, advising that some people without symptoms probably don’t need it — even if they’ve been in close contact with an infected person.

Previously, the CDC said viral testing was appropriate for people with recent or suspected exposure, even if they were asymptomatic.
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said Wednesday that changes to the testing guidelines were made after “updated recommendations” from the White House coronavirus task force.

This will lead to more cases and deaths, because people can transmit the virus when they are not yet having symptoms. Trump couldn’t care less how many Americans sicken and die as long as he has a chance of being reelected.

If this guidance is followed there will be more super-spreader events like this:

PharmaLive.com: Biogen Conference Led to 20,000 Covid-19 Cases, Study Suggests.

A Biogen corporate meeting held in Boston in March that was initially connected to about 100 cases of COVID-19 could have led to a significantly higher number of infections. A new study suggests the meeting could have contributed to about 20,000 cases across four Massachusetts counties.

A new, 64-page study that has not been peer-reviewed, extrapolates the number of infections that stemmed from the company’s corporate meeting held at the Marriott Long Wharf hotel in February, the early days of the pandemic in the United States. According to The Boston Globe, researchers studied the genetic makeup of confirmed COVID-19 cases from 772 patients in Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, and Suffolk counties in the Bay State and concluded the meeting was a super-spreader event that infected “tens of thousands.” Jacob Lemieux, an infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and one of the researchers involved in the study told the Globe he is confident in the method used to reason out the high number of infections associated with the meeting.

The research team analyzed the genetic sequence of the 772 patients and identified more than 80 distinct SARS-CoV-2 genomes that plagued the Boston area through the month of May. The origin of most of the genomes in those patients could be identified as having come from Europe or other parts of the United States. But, as the Globe reports, one virus had a unique genetic signature found in 289 of those patients. That particular signature was traceable to the Biogen meeting in February, the researchers said.

“By multiplying the proportion of conference-related viral genomes in each of the four counties by the total number of coronavirus infections in Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk and Suffolk, the scientists estimate that 20,000 infections could be linked to the Marriott event,” the Globe reported.

According to WBUR, this event “Seeded 40% Of Boston Coronavirus Cases.”

Business Insider: The Sturgis motorcycle rally that experts warned would be a coronavirus superspreader event has been linked to 100 new cases in 8 states.

Cases stemming from the 460,000-person event, which kicked off on August 7, have now been spotted in eight states: Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Washington. That’s in addition to the cases spotted in South Dakota, where new cases spiked to 251 on August 22 and the seven-day average of new cases continues to climb. Altogether, the cases total more than 100, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Attendees have traveled to more than half of all the counties in the US since the festival wrapped up on August 16, according to anonymous cellphone data from Camber Systems, which was tracking their departures. CNN first reported the location data.

Ahead of the rally, as city officials said there was no way to stop people from coming even if the rally had been canceled in an official capacity, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem welcomed the event with open arms. She’s also voiced doubt about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines detailing the effectiveness of masks.

Once the revelers arrived, photos showed few masks and crowded bars, despite warning signs throughout the area. On stage at a packed concert, Smash Mouth’s lead singer mocked the pandemic: “We’re being human once again. F— that COVID s—,” he says in a video.

The crisis continues in Kenosha, Wisconsin after the police shooting of another innocent black man, Jacob Blake. Police in Illinois apprehended Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old boy who shot three protesters in Kenosha. Kenosha police failed to arrest Rittenhouse after the shooting even though he was approaching them with his hands up. He was white, so he was allowed to leave the state.

Rittenhouse was a Trump fan.

The Washington Post: An inescapable echo between Trump’s campaign rhetoric and the deaths of protesters in Kenosha.

If he was there at all, something prompted 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse to grab his rifle and make the short trip from his home in Antioch, Ill., to Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday. If photos shared on social media are accurate, something spurred him to walk around the town with that rifle in his hands as protests over a police shooting continued into the night. If police are correct that Rittenhouse fired that rifle, if he did shoot three protesters, killing two of them, there was something that caused him to be there to pull the trigger.

This alleged chain of events came from somewhere. Most 17-year-olds don’t see it as their duty to protect the streets of their hometowns, much less of nearby towns where they don’t even live. If Rittenhouse shot those two people dead, there was some spur for him to do so that simply doesn’t exist for most other people.

It’s facile to assume that we can identify that spur as the rhetoric offered by President Trump and his reelection campaign. But it’s impossible not to notice how that rhetoric echoes in what appears to have happened in Kenosha.

The night before those protesters were shot, five different speakers at the Republican National Convention, including the president’s son, decried uncontrolled violent mobs that they claim have taken over the nation’s streets.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha

The New York Times traced Rittenhouse’s movements on the day of the shootings:

Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old Illinois resident, appeared on multiple videos taken throughout the night by protesters and bystanders who chronicled the events as peaceful protests gave way to chaos, with demonstrators, armed civilians and others facing off against one another and the police in the darkened streets.

The New York Times’s Visual Investigations unit analyzed hours of footage to track Mr. Rittenhouse’s movements in the moments leading up to, and during, the shootings….

About two hours before the first shooting, the producer of a video livestream interviews Mr. Rittenhouse at a Kenosha vehicle dealership.

Mr. Rittenhouse is there at the same time as several other armed men. Some of them are positioned on the building’s roof overlooking the parking lot where vehicles were burned the day before.

In a brief exchange on the livestream, he identifies himself as “Kyle.”

Read the rest at the NYT link.

There is so much more news. I haven’t even touched on the DNC hate-fest, which concludes today. Last night’s episode focused on Mike Pence pretending that Trump has defeated the coronavirus and saved America.

CNN: Pence reinvents Trump’s presidency on a disorienting night of crises.

Only voters can decide the political fate of Donald Trump. But the evidence of a dark, dispiriting election year suggests unequivocally that the President has failed to find answers equal to the magnitude and complexity of America’s two great crises — over health and race.

So at the shape-shifting Republican National Convention on Wednesday, Trump’s most loyal subordinate Vice President Mike Pence had little option but to do what he does best. He twisted the facts, spun a more pleasing alternative national reality and showered his boss with praise.

Even by the standards of 2020, it was a disorienting night. Adding to the awfulness of another police shooting of a Black man and the shooting of two protesters (by an apparent Trump supporter) and the pandemic about to claim its 180,000th American victim, a monstrous hurricane tore towards the Gulf Coast.

Already, there are doubts whether the President’s big acceptance speech and a fireworks display Thursday at the White House in front of a pandemic-defying crowd of more than 1,000 people will be appropriate given what forecasters say are “unsurvivable” conditions facing those in the path of Hurricane Laura.

My guess is Trump won’t want his final night of glory postponed. Whether his advisers can convict him to do it is questionable.

I’ll post a few more stories in the comment thread. I hope anyone in the path of Laura will stay safe. Take care everyone!


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?


Thursday Reads: Trump Tries and Fails to Quell Coronavirus Fears

Co Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu, 1919.

Good Morning!!

Yesterday the fake “president” tried to calm fears about the growing threat of a coronavirus pandemic by contradicting experts, hyping the stock market, and repeatedly lying about the administration’s preparedness. As health professionals tried to educate Americans about the possible dangers, Trump contradicted them and claimed he has everything under control, even though he has cut funds for the CDC and fired National Security Council staff who were in charge of global pandemic preparedness.

Trump was reportedly angry about the CDC briefing yesterday.

Here’s what Messonnier said:

“We expect we will see community spread in this country,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

The Plague of Rome, Jules Elie Delauney, 1869

The agency tweeted Tuesday evening that Americans should think about getting ready.

“Now is the time for US businesses, hospitals, and communities to begin preparing for the possible spread of #COVID19,” it wrote, referring to the name the World Health Organization has given the novel coronavirus. “CDC continues to work with business, education & healthcare sectors, encouraging employers to be prepared.”

“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad,” she said.

She said CDC officials have been saying for weeks that while they hope the spread won’t be severe in the United States, they are planning as if it could be.

“The data over the last week, and the spread in other countries, has certainly raised our level of concern and raised our level of expectation” of community spread, she said.

The CDC still doesn’t know what that will look like, she added. Community spread could be reasonably mild or very severe.

Off with her head! How long before Trump starts purging the CDC of people who know anything about viruses and pandemics and replacing them with Trump loyalists who will pretend nothing is happening?

Stephen Collins analyzes Trump’s press conference at CNN: Trump takes a victory lap early on in the coronavirus fight.

The President spoke at a news conference on Wednesday about the worldwide health emergency that has seen the virus sweep into South Korea, Italy and every continent but Antarctica, sounding as if the danger had already passed rather than was yet to arrive.

“The risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump said, as he unveiled his big announcement: Vice President Mike Pence will head the government effort.

Manuscript illustration depicting the Justinian Plague, from the Omne Bonum by James le Palmer, 14th century

The President’s optimistic performance came hours before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a patient in California who has the novel coronavirus might be the first person to be infected who did not travel to an afflicted region and was not exposed to another known carrier. The case raises the ominous possibility that the virus is already moving through the community….

His upbeat, election-year tone contrasted sharply with predictions from his government experts, who are warning of possible severe disruption to American life if the outbreak swells into a pandemic.

Here’s what two experts had to say when they were allowed to speak for a couple of minutes each:

“Our aggressive containment strategy here in the United States has been working and is responsible for the low levels of cases that we have so far. However, we do expect more cases, and this is a good time to prepare,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, delivered the sobering news that even with an unusually accelerated process of development and testing, it could be a year to a year-and-a-half before a vaccine becomes available. His assessment contrasts with Trump’s hints that inoculations are just around the corner.

Without warning HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Trump put Mike Pence in charge of dealing with a coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.–the same Mike Pence who enabled an HIV outbreak in Indiana when he was Governor by refusing to allow clean needle exchanges for opiate users. The Washington Post reports:

“We’ve had tremendous success, tremendous success beyond what many people would’ve thought,” the president said during a White House news conference that followed days of mixed messages, tumbling stocks and rising death tolls abroad driven by the coronavirus. “We’re very, very ready for this.”

The Triumph of Death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c.1562

The president declared that the risk to America was “very low” and predicted a swift end to the outbreak….

“We could be just one or two people over the next short period of time,” Trump said of the virus’s impact in the United States.

Minutes later, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat warned Americans to prepare for the number of cases to grow.

“We can expect to see more cases in the United States,” Azar said.

“We do expect more cases,” Schuchat said.

The case confirmed Wednesday in California brought the total in the United States to 60.

During the press conference, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta tried to ask Trump a question and Trump repeatedly interrupted and corrected him.

Trump’s main concern is calming the markets, because if the economy tanks he probably won’t be reelected. But what he’s doing is likely to make things worse. NPR this morning: Stocks Tumble Into Correction Territory On Coronavirus Fears.

Stocks continued their downward slide on Thursday, with major indexes falling into correction territory. Investors are worried about the economic toll of a widening coronavirus epidemic.

Pavel Fedotov, 1846-1860 Cholera pandemic

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled more than 500 points in the opening minutes of trading. The blue chip index is down more than 10% from its recent peak on Feb. 12. The broader S&P 500 index has also lost more than 10% of its value in just over a week.

President Trump tried to project a note of calm in a news conference Wednesday evening, stressing that the United States is well prepared for any health crisis and predicting the stock market will recover, thanks in part to robust consumer spending. But investors were not immediately reassured….

A poll by Morning Consult this week found that 69% of U.S. adults are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the domestic economic impact of the epidemic, a 14 point increase from a few weeks ago.

Trump won’t be happy to see this headline at Bloomberg: Yellen Says Coronavirus Could Throw U.S. Economy Into Recession.

“We could see a significant impact on Europe, which has been weak to start with, and it’s just conceivable that it could throw the United States into a recession,” Yellen said Wednesday at an event in Michigan. “If it doesn’t hit in a substantial way in the United States, that’s less likely. We had a pretty solid outlook before this happened — and there is some risk, but basically I think the U.S. outlook looks pretty good.”

The global economy was weak but starting to recover before the virus hit, Yellen said. The shutdown of factories due to the outbreak in China will impact supply chains and cause a drop in consumer spending as people have been quarantined or cease traveling.

A representation by Robert Seymour of the cholera epidemic of the 19th century depicts the spread of the disease in the form of poisonous air.

Yellen, who spoke about the economy at an event held by the Brookings Institution in Clinton Township, Michigan, also commented on the decline in the 10-year Treasury yield this week to historic lows. Yields have plunged as fears about the spreading coronavirus have rocked global financial markets.

The newly diagnosed Coronaviris patient in California was in the hospital for several days before the CDC agreed to allow a test for the virus. The New York Times:

A California coronavirus patient had to wait days to be tested because of restrictive federal criteria, despite doctors’ requests. The patient, who has tested positive, may be the first person to be infected through community spread in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

C.D.C. officials said it was possible the patient was exposed to a returning traveler who was infected. At the moment, however, the new case appears to be one in which the source of infection is unknown, suggesting that the virus may be transmitted within the community.

Doctors at the University of California, Davis Medical Center considered the novel pathogen a possible diagnosis when the patient was first admitted last week.

But the federal agency that conducts the testing did not administer the test until days later because the case did not fit the agency’s narrow testing criteria, university officials said in a letter to the campus community late Wednesday.

The C.D.C. has restricted testing to patients who either traveled to China recently or who know they had contact with someone infected with the coronavirus….

The C.D.C. could not be immediately reached for comment.
The patient was transferred to the medical center from another hospital in Northern California with a suspected viral infection, and was already on a ventilator upon arrival, according to the university’s letter.

“Upon admission, our team asked public health officials if this case could be Covid-19,” the letter said. The medical center requested testing from the C.D.C. “Since the patient did not fit the existing C.D.C. criteria for Covid-19, a test was not immediately administered. U.C. Davis Health does not control the testing process.”

So it looks like we have the first coronavirus case that may have been passed from person to person in the U.S., and we have a president and an administration in denial and woefully unprepared to deal with a health crisis.

I’ll add more stories in the comment thread. As always, this is an open thread.