Thursday Reads: Coronavirus Raging in Southern and Western States

Good Morning!!

It was inevitable that Trump’s dismissive attitude toward the coronavirus pandemic would lead to skyrocketing cases in Southern and Western states as cases are falling here in the Northeast. And it is happening now.

CBS News: New coronavirus cases in U.S. jump to highest level in 2 months, since peak of outbreak.

New coronavirus cases in the United States have surged to their highest level in two months and are now back to where they were at the peak of the outbreak. New cases have been surging for more than a week after trending down for more than six weeks.

On Tuesday, the U.S. reported 34,700 new COVID-19 cases, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University that was published on Wednesday. There have only been two previous days that the U.S. has reported more cases: April 9 and April 24, when a record 36,400 cases were logged.

Artist: Diitka Laya Kashyap

While early hot spots like New York and New Jersey have seen cases steadily decline, the virus has been hitting the south and west. Several states on Tuesday set single-day records for new cases, including Arizona, California, Mississippi, Nevada and Texas.

Over the last two weeks, coronavirus hospitalizations have trended upward in at least 14 states, including Texas, where there’s concern the spread is accelerating, CBS News’ Mireya Villarreal reported Wednesday.

Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist hospitals, said the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in that city has tripled since Memorial Day.

“If we don’t all work together to bring this curve back down, yes, we’re gonna have a challenging situation,” he said.

NBC News: ‘The explosion has to slow down’: Texas hospitals on edge as coronavirus cases surge.

Anxiety is setting in for Texas hospital officials as the number of coronavirus patients has surged in the last few days.

“Currently we have room, but things have to change. This is not good,” said Dr. Faisal Masud, medical director of critical care medicine at the Houston Methodist hospital system. “The explosion of patients all across, that explosion has to slow down.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that “there is a massive outbreak of COVID-19 across the state of Texas,” with over 5,551 coronavirus cases on Wednesday and more than 4,000 hospital patients with COVID-19. The latest numbers put the state’s new case total at more than 11,000 over two days. The state is in its second week of record-breaking coronavirus hospitalizations….

In San Antonio, Dr. Bryan Alsip, chief medical officer of University Health System, one of the larger health systems in the city, said rapid increases in the number of COVID-19 inpatients are being seen across all facilities, consistent with cases reported outside the hospital in the city.

The facilities had returned to performing non-COVID procedures over the last six weeks, Alsip said. But as COVID-19 cases have risen, it’s put more pressure on the hospitals for capacity.

This week they’re scaling back on elective surgical cases “just to make sure we have sustainable capacity going forward,” Alsip said.

CNN: The 3 most populous states are breaking coronavirus records, leading to fears of ‘apocalyptic’ surges.

The three most populous states set records for new coronavirus cases daily and there are fears of “apocalyptic” surges in major Texas cities if the trend continues….

Florida and Texas announced Wednesday that they’d recorded more than 5,000 new Covid-19 cases the prior day, a new daily record. California reported more than 7,000 cases, obliterating a record hit a day earlier.

In Texas, if the current case trajectory continues, Houston could be the hardest-hit city in the US with numbers rivaling those in Brazil. Infection numbers are also rising in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio, said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine.

Virgin Mary wearing a mask, Street art in Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS, Getty

“The big metro areas seem to be rising very quickly and some of the models are on the verge of being apocalyptic,” Hotez told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Models show that Houston could have a four-fold increase in the number of daily cases by July 4, he said, adding that states need to act to stop community transmission….

Florida, Texas and California account for 27.4% of the 328 million people living in the US, according to the latest US Census Bureau estimates.

And while some politicians say the higher number of infections is due to increased testing, that is not the case, said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Trump simply doesn’t care. In fact yesterday he actually claimed that the danger from the pandemic is over.

Stephen Collinson at CNN: Trump is not just in denial but also indifferent to an unfolding American tragedy.

The US just hit its third highest ever peak of new coronavirus cases, multiple states are registering their own daily records and three are now taking the extraordinary step of imposing quarantines for citizens from pandemic hotspots. The world’s most powerful nation lacks a coherent national strategy to meet another cresting viral crisis, the capacity or even the willingness to take steps that might stop it.

It is also led by a man who is suggesting by his actions and attitudes that he doesn’t care that much about the unfolding tragedy.

HONG KONG, CHINA – MARCH 04: A man wearing face mask…walks in front of a coronavirus street art poster, March 3, 2020, Hong Kong, China. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Trump, who has previously predicted a “miracle” would occur or the virus would just disappear in the warmer weather, again declared falsely Wednesday that the danger had passed — even with the nation racing towards another deadly summit of infection. In his latest misleading effort to create a picture of normality, Trump welcomed Polish President Andrzej Duda to the Oval Office.

“This is the first after Covid, after the start of the plague as I call it,” Trump told his visitor, who was happy to play along after being given a huge political gift of a visit a few days before a national election and approvingly noted “the end of the coronavirus.”

But the coronavirus pandemic in the United States is like watching a “public health train wreck in slow motion,” said Dr. David Blumenthal, president of The Commonwealth Fund, in an Alliance for Health Policy and Commonwealth Fund webinar on Wednesday.

“It can be frustrating and perplexing,” he added. “But now is the time to stop dwelling on the past and to start looking forward, and to ask ourselves how we can seize the moment, learn from experience and make things better.”

Instead, the President’s attitude appears to have crossed into callous indifference.

And now Trump is planning an insane celebration at Mount Rushmore on July 3 that could further spread the virus and trigger wildfires.

The Washington Post: Trump is headlining fireworks at Mount Rushmore. Experts worry two things could spread: virus and wildfire.

President Trump is planning a massive fireworks display at Mount Rushmore on July 3, despite a decade-long ban on pyrotechnics at the iconic spot because of concerns about public health, environmental and safety risks.

Street art in India. MANJUNATH KIRAN, Getty

Trump has wanted to stage fireworks at the national memorial in South Dakota’s Black Hills since 2018, according to two individuals familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. But the idea was scuttled or delayed by a number of his advisers, these individuals said.

The National Park Service stopped staging pyrotechnics at Mount Rushmore in 2010 out of concern that it could ignite wildfires under drought conditions. The memorial is surrounded by 1,200 acres of forested lands, including ponderosa pines, and lies next to the Black Hills National Forest’s Black Elk Wilderness.

South Dakota officials claim there is no danger from the fireworks. Yeah, right.

Neither federal nor state officials have imposed social distancing requirements as part of the gathering. The state tourism department, which is distributing 7,500 tickets for the event, has estimated that it has had requests for at least 125,000….

South Dakota’s total number of coronavirus cases as of Wednesday, 6,419, far surpasses those of North Dakota — which had 3,362 cases — although their populations are nearly identical. South Dakota’s rate of 720 cases per 100,000 compares to a rate of 436 per 100,000 for its northern neighbor, according to the CDC.

At the New York Times, Charles Blow asks: Can We Call Trump a Killer?

The coronavirus pandemic is still raging in this country. In fact, in more than 20 states, the number of cases is rising. More than 120,000 Americans have died from the virus. This country has a quarter of all the cases in the world even though it makes up only 4 percent of the world population.

Street art in England. ANDY BUCHANAN, Getty

Things are so bad here that the European Union, which has lowered its rates, is considering banning U.S. citizens when it reopens its borders.

This situation is abysmal, and it would not have been so bad if President Trump had not intentionally neglected his duty to protect American citizens.

From the beginning, Trump has used every opportunity to downplay the virus, claiming in February, “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” Well, we’re now in June, summer. It’s not just warm, it’s hot. And the cases in the hottest states — those in the South and Southwest — are surging.

Trump has consistently been resistant to testing, falsely claiming that an increase in testing is somehow linked to an increase in cases. But in fact, the more you test, the more you are able to control the virus by identifying, isolating and treating the infected, thereby reducing the spread of the virus. Testing is how you reduce your cases. It is also how you save lives.

But Trump believes that to reveal the true extent of the virus’s presence in this country would make him look bad. So more people get sick and more people die….

What Trump is truly saying here is, let people get sick without proper surveillance. He is saying, let them suffer out of sight. He is saying, some will die, but so what. He is saying vulnerable Americans are collateral damage in his image-making and re-election bid.

Read the whole thing at the link.

Finally, please check out this fascinating explanatory piece at The New York Times: How The Virus Won.

I’ll add more news links in the comment thread. Please take care if you’re in one of the new hot spots.

Tuesday Reads: The Pandemic Is Still With Us

Street Artist Corie Mattie, “I wanted to find some way to help raise awareness and also give hope.”

Good Morning!!

For the past couple of weeks, the Covid-19 pandemic has been pushed off the front pages by massive protests against police brutality triggered by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But the virus is still raging across the U.S. and we still are not doing enough to deal with the consequences, including economic ones.

The Washington Post: 14 states and Puerto Rico hit highest seven-day average of new coronavirus infections.

Since the start of June, 14 states and Puerto Rico have recorded their highest-ever seven-day average of new coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, according to data tracked by The Washington Post: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

If the pandemic’s first wave burned through dense metro hubs such as New York City, Chicago and Detroit, the highest percentages of new cases are coming from places with much smaller populations: Lincoln County, Ore., an area of less than 50,000, has averaged 20 new daily cases; the Bear River Health District in northern Utah has averaged 78 new cases a day in the past week, most of them tied to an outbreak at a meat processing plant in the small town of Hyrum.

The increase of coronavirus cases in counties with fewer than 60,000 people is part of the trend of new infections surging across the rural United States. Health experts worry those areas, already short of resources before the pandemic, will struggle to track new cases with the infrastructure that remains.

Adding to the disparity in health-care support, residents in states such as Mississippi, Florida and South Carolina are living under only minor-to-moderate restrictions — even as their average daily infection rate is rising.

Jules Muck, artist. Photo by Paul Lara

Here’s a story from one of those states, Arizona. Arizona hospitals bracing for crisis as COVID-19 cases surge.

Last week marked the largest week-to-week increase of coronavirus cases in both Arizona and Pima County since the pandemic began, and Banner Health is reporting its ICUs are at full capacity in Maricopa County and rapidly approaching full capacity in Tucson.

New, confirmed cases in Arizona totaled 4,500 from May 24 to May 30, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services, as of Saturday morning. That’s nearly a 50% increase from the week before.

In Pima County, cases totaled 481 over the same period, marking an 85% increase from the previous week.

The county Health Department is watching closely to see if these cases will turn into hospitalizations, visits to intensive care units and ultimately deaths, said Dr. Francisco Garcia, the county’s chief medical officer….

Dr. Marjorie Bessel, Banner Health’s chief clinical officer, said on Friday that COVID-19 hospitalizations are rapidly increasing and that, if these trends continue, Banner will soon need to start surge planning and increase bed capacity.

Most concerning, she said, is the steep incline of COVID-19 patients on ventilators. As of Thursday, Banner had 116 COVID-19 patients on ventilators statewide.

According to newly released studies, closing down states’ economies and urging people to stay home worked to reduce spread of the virus. The Washington Post: Shutdowns prevented 60 million coronavirus infections in the U.S., study finds.

Shutdown orders prevented about 60 million novel coronavirus infections in the United States and 285 million in China, according to a research study published Monday that examined how stay-at-home orders and other restrictions limited the spread of the contagion.

A separate study from epidemiologists at Imperial College London estimated the shutdowns saved about 3.1 million lives in 11 European countries, including 500,000 in the United Kingdom, and dropped infection rates by an average of 82 percent, sufficient to drive the contagion well below epidemic levels.

Street art, NYC

The two reports, published simultaneously Monday in the journal Nature, used completely different methods to reach similar conclusions. They suggest that the aggressive and unprecedented shutdowns, which caused massive economic disruptions and job losses, were effective at halting the exponential spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Without these policies employed, we would have lived through a very different April and May,” said Solomon Hsiang, director of the Global Policy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley, and the leader of the research team that surveyed how six countries — China, the United States, France, Italy, Iran and South Korea — responded to the pandemic.

His team estimated that, in the initial days after the virus was seeded in each country, and before the shutdowns, the number of infections was doubling every two days.

“The disease was spreading at a really extraordinary rate that is rare even among very infectious diseases,” he said in an interview. The global response to covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, resulted in “saving more lives in a shorter period of time than ever before,” he said in a separate conference call with reporters.

But at The Atlantic, Alexis C. Madrigal and Robinson Meyer write: America Is Giving Up on the Pandemic.

After months of deserted public spaces and empty roads, Americans have returned to the streets. But they have come not for a joyous reopening to celebrate the country’s victory over the coronavirus. Instead, tens of thousands of people have ventured out to protest the killing of George Floyd by police.

Demonstrators have closely gathered all over the country, and in blocks-long crowds in large cities, singing and chanting and demanding justice. Police officers have dealt with them roughly, crowding protesters together, blasting them with lung and eye irritants, and cramming them into paddy wagons and jails.

London, street art

There’s no point in denying the obvious: Standing in a crowd for long periods raises the risk of increased transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This particular form of mass, in-person protest—and the corresponding police response—is a “perfect set-up” for transmission of the virus, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a radio interview on Friday. Some police-brutality activists (such as Black Lives Matter Seattle) have issued statements about the risk involved in the protests. Others have organized less risky forms of protests, such as Oakland’s Anti Police-Terror Project’s massive “caravan for justice.”

Americans may wish the virus to be gone, but it is not. While the outbreak has eased in the Northeast, driving down the overall national numbers, cases have only plateaued in the rest of the country, and they appear to be on the rise in recent days in COVID Tracking Project data. Twenty-two states reported 400 or more new cases Friday, and 14 other states and Puerto Rico reported cases in the triple digits. Several states—including Arizona, North Carolina, and California—are now seeing their highest numbers of known cases.

These numbers all reflect infections that likely began before this week of protest. An even larger spike now seems likely. Put another way: If the country doesn’t see a substantial increase in new COVID-19 cases after this week, it should prompt a rethinking of what epidemiologists believe about how the virus spreads.

This is a long article, and I hope you’ll read the rest at the link above. But I want to quote one more paragraph.

Americans have not fully grasped that we are not doing what countries that have returned to normal have done. Some countries have almost completely suppressed the virus. Others had large outbreaks, took intense measures, and have seen life return to normal. Americans, meanwhile, never stayed at home to the degree that most Europeans have, according to mobility data from Apple and Google. Our version of the spring lockdown looked more like Sweden’s looser approach than like the more substantial measures in Italy, or even the United Kingdom and France. Swedish public-health officials have acknowledged that this approach may not have been the best path forward.

A piece by Hijack Art in Los Angeles.

I’m really worried that we’ll soon see spikes in infections in states like mine (Massachusetts) and others that have managed to reduce the spread and are now reopening.

There is also the matter of the economy. Is Congress going to do anything further to help Americans who lost jobs and are now facing hunger? Eater: Food Banks Need More Government Help to Address Unprecedented Levels of Food Insecurity.

One of the lasting images of the coronavirus pandemic will be that of thousands of cars lined up bumper to bumper in front of food banks, a reminder of how many people in the U.S. have lost their incomes and the ability to feed themselves and their families over the past three months. Food pantries and other nonprofit organizations have struggled to respond to record demand in the face of such food insecurity, while also dealing with difficulties brought on by disrupted supply chains and volunteers who themselves may be vulnerable to virus exposure….

But some lawmakers say that federal agencies’ response to address this crisis has been slow. Out of the $850 million that the CARES Act and the Family First Coronavirus Response Act set aside for food banks nearly two months ago, less than $300 million has been sent out so far, Democratic members on the Senate Appropriations Committee told the Washington Post. The Post reports that those lawmakers aren’t accusing the Trump administration of “deliberate foot-dragging,” but rather, are saying that the status quo federal bureaucracy has not acted with the urgency that such an unprecedented situation requires.

The government appears to be slow-walking money that has already been appropriated. The Washington Post: Food banks and other key programs have received a fraction of allotted coronavirus money, angering some lawmakers.

More than two months after passage of the $2 trillion Cares Act, funding for some key programs to address the economic devastation from the coronavirus is moving out slowly or not at all. Even after the United States added 2.5 million jobs last month, 20 million people remain out of work and federal bureaucracies charged with processing record sums of money to respond to the crisis are struggling to snap into action.

The Cares Act directed $850 million for food banks, but less than $300 million has been sent out so far, according to Democratic staff members on the Senate Appropriations Committee. That’s despite unprecedented demand, with the number of people served at food banks increasing by more than 50 percent from a year ago, according to a recent survey by the nonprofit group Feeding America.

Street artist Ruben Rojas

Similarly, Congress appropriated $9 billion in March for the Community Development Block Grant and Emergency Solutions Grant programs, which fund health facilities, child care centers, and services for seniors and homeless people, among other things. Only about $250 million of that money has been obligated.

In another example, $100 million dedicated specifically to help nursing homes certify compliance standards for issues like infection control remains unspent two months after it became law as part of the Cares Act. Another $100 million to help ensure access to broadband for Americans in rural parts of the country also remains unspent.

A separate $100 million appropriation to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency purchase personal protective equipment for firefighters also hasn’t been spent. Additionally, less than half the $16 billion Congress dedicated over four separate pieces of legislation to bulking up critical medical supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile has been spent, according to the Democrats’ calculations.

Politico: Food Banks Pushed to the Brink.

The coronavirus pandemic and economic slowdown has left at least 20 million Americans out of work, sending demand skyrocketing at food banks and other feeding programs around the U.S. The Agriculture Department is already spending $3 billion on surplus meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables to help nonprofits meet their needs, but anti-hunger advocates say there’s another way Washington should help: Increase food stamp benefits so hungry families can buy more groceries instead of leaning on food banks.

Here’s the problem: Bolstering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is almost a nonstarter in Congress, even as lawmakers pour billions of dollars into unemployment insurance, stimulus checks and other aid, writes Pro Ag’s Helena Bottemiler Evich. Democrats and Republicans have waged a fierce partisan tug-of-war over whether to shrink or expand the food safety net, and before the pandemic, USDA had issued a series of rules aiming to crack down on SNAP benefits when the economy was strong.

Recent data shows that food insecurity rates are going through the roof. For example, a national survey in late April found that more than 17 percent of mothers reported that their children under the age of 12 weren’t getting enough to eat because the family couldn’t afford enough food — a more than 400 percent increase from when the government last measured hunger rates in 2018.

The ask: Anti-hunger groups have been pressing Congress to increase food stamp benefits by 15 percent until unemployment rates come down, a move that would give SNAP recipients about $25 more per month. The request has repeatedly been rejected by Republicans, but Democrats have pledged to make sure the provision is included in a future coronavirus response package.

I know these issues aren’t as exciting as the protests, but it’s important to remember that that virus hasn’t gone away and the protests are very likely to increase the spread. We’re face overwhelming problems as a country, but are we really ready to accept tens of thousands more unnecessary deaths? It appears that many Americans have already made that calculation.

Please take care everyone. Stay safe and stay healthy.