I live in a 10th floor apartment that looks out at a busy street. Over the last year, I’ve looked out to see very little traffic, even in the rush hour. Now that Massachusetts has opened up again, the view of the street is nearly back to normal, with cars slowly moving slowly bumper to bumper in the hours when people are commuting to and from work. But is the pandemic really over? How much of a threat is the Delta variant of Covid-19? And what about the new variant, Delta Plus?
Dhruv Khullar at The New Yorker: The Delta Variant Is a Grave Danger to the Unvaccinated.
Lineage B.1.617.2, now known as the Delta variant, was first detected in India, in December, 2020. An evolved version of sars-CoV-2, Delta has at least a dozen mutations, including several on its spike protein that make it vastly more contagious and possibly more lethal and vaccine-resistant than other strains. In India, the Delta variant contributed to the most devastating coronavirus wave the world has seen so far; now, it has been detected in dozens of countries, including the United States. In the U.S., it accounts for a minority of cases—but it is rapidly outcompeting other variants, and will likely soon become our dominant lineage.
Much of what we know about Delta is preliminary, and based on reports from India and, more recently, the U.K., where it now accounts for more than ninety per cent of new cases. Four-fifths of British adults have received at least one shot of a covid-19 vaccine, and more than half are fully vaccinated—but the variant has spread widely enough among those who remain vulnerable to fuel a quadrupling of cases and a doubling of hospitalizations in the past month. The vast majority of Delta-variant cases seem to have occurred in adults under fifty, whose rates of vaccination remain lower than those of older people. Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the U.K.’s full reopening, originally scheduled for June 21st, would be postponed.
Earlier this year, scientists estimated that lineage B.1.1.7—the Alpha variant, first isolated in England—could be some sixty per cent more transmissible than the original version of sars-CoV-2. Now, experts believe that the Delta variant is sixty per cent more transmissible than Alpha—making it far more contagious than the virus that tore through the world in 2020. It hasn’t yet been conclusively shown that Delta is more lethal, but early evidence from the U.K. suggests that, compared to Alpha, it doubles the risk of a person’s being hospitalized. Even if the variant turns out to be no deadlier within any one person, its greater transmissibility means that it can inflict far more damage across a population, depending on how many people remain unvaccinated when it strikes.
It’s a long article, so check it out if you’re interested. Here’s the conclusion:
In a sense, Delta is the first post-vaccination variant. Pockets of the human race—perhaps five hundred million people out of 7.6 billion—are protected against it, despite its transmissibility; for them, the pandemic’s newest chapter is something of an epilogue, since the main story has, in effect, already concluded. But, for those who remain unvaccinated, by choice or by chance, Delta represents the latest installment in an ongoing series of horrors. It’s a threat more sinister than any other—one that imperils whatever precarious equilibrium has taken root. In a partially vaccinated world, Delta exposes the duality in which we now live and die.
From the BBC article:
India’s health ministry says studies showed that the so-called Delta plus variant – also known as AY.1 – spreads more easily, binds more easily to lung cells and is potentially resistant to monoclonal antibody therapy, a potent intravenous infusion of antibodies to neutralise the virus.
The variant is related to the Delta, an existing variant of concern, which was first identified in India last year and is thought to have driven the deadly second wave of infections this summer in India.\The health ministry says the Delta plus variant, first found in India in April, has been detected in around 40 samples from six districts in three states – Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. At least 16 of these samples were found in Maharashtra, one of the states hardest hit by the pandemic.
Delta plus has also been found in nine other countries – USA, UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Nepal, Russia and China – compared to the original highly contagious Delta strain, which has now spread to 80 countries.
It’s still not clear how serious the thread of Delta Plus is.
“You need biological and clinical information in order to consider whether it is truly a variant of concern.”
This means India needs more data to determine whether the variant is neutralised by antibodies generated by available vaccines or infection by another variant of the coronavirus.
Also, extensive data is needed about the increase in transmissibility, diagnostic failures – routine tests not picking up the variant – and whether the variant is causing more severe disease.
“You need to study a few hundred patients who are sick with this condition and variant and find out whether they are at greater risk of greater disease than the ancestral variant,” Dr Kang said.
Still, in places in the U.S. where many people are unvaccinated, it seems that these variants are nothing to fool around with. There’s much more information at the BBC link.
This is from Science Magazine: Delta variant triggers dangerous new phase in the pandemic.
When the coronavirus variant now called Delta first appeared in December 2020, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, it did not seem all that remarkable. But when it descended on New Delhi a few months later, its impact was devastating, with almost 30,000 cases reported daily in late April. “Suddenly … it is dominant and completely sweeps away Alpha,” which until then was most prevalent in the city, says Anurag Agrawal, who leads the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi.
New Delhi seemed unlikely to suffer a big new outbreak because so many of its residents had already been infected or vaccinated, Agrawal says. But those protections seemed to barely slow Delta, which is more transmissible and may evade immunity, he says: “It went from a 10-foot wall around the city to a 2-foot wall you could just walk over.”
From New Delhi, the variant has quickly spread, and it now looks set to sweep the globe in what could be a devastating new wave. In the United Kingdom, Delta already makes up more than 90% of all infections; it has driven COVID-19 case numbers up again after a dramatic decline and led the government last week to postpone the final stage of its reopening plan. A Delta-driven resurgence in Lisbon prompted the Portuguese government to enact a 3-day travel ban between the city and the rest of the country. The variant may account for 90% of all COVID-19 cases in the European Union by the end of August, Andrea Ammon, the head of the European Centre for Disease
Prevention and Control, warned today. “It is very likely that the Delta variant will circulate extensively during the summer, particularly among younger individuals that are not targeted for vaccination,” she said. “This could cause a risk for the more vulnerable individuals to be infected and experience severe illness and death if they are not fully vaccinated.“
Delta also appears also to be causing surges in Russia, Indonesia, and many other countries. In the United States, where its prevalence is now estimated to be at least 14%, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared Delta a “variant of concern” on 15 June.
Read the rest at the link.
One more lengthy story to check out at CNBC: Covid is already deadlier this year than all of 2020. So why do many in U.S. think the problem’s over?
As the U.S. pushes ahead with its reopening, easing mask mandates and lifting public health restrictions, much of the rest of the world is seeing an alarming surge in the number of Covid-19 infections and deaths.
The stark contrast underscores how unevenly the coronavirus pandemic has spread, now hitting low-income nations harder as they struggle with access to vaccines, the rapid spread of new variants and heavily burdened health-care systems.
It also shows why, even with nations such as the U.S., China and the U.K. recording relatively low Covid infections and fatalities thanks to a mass vaccination drive, the global health crisis is still far from over.
To be sure, more people have died from Covid this year than in all of 2020, according to data compiled by the World Health Organization. The official global death toll stood at 1,813,188 at the end of 2020. More than 2 million people have died as a result of Covid so far this year.
There’s much more at the link. I’m very glad I’m fully vaccinated, but I’m still not going to keep taking precautions.
In other news, we’re learning more about the Trump gang’s efforts to use the justice department to attack their political enemies.
Top Democrats in the House are investigating whether Trump justice department officials ran an unlawful shadow operation to target political enemies of the former president to hunt down leaks of classified information, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The House judiciary committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, is centering his investigation on the apparent violation of internal policies by the justice department, when it issued subpoenas against Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell in 2018.
The use of subpoenas to secretly seize data from the two Democrats on the House intelligence committee – and fierce critics of Donald Trump – would ordinarily require authorization from the highest levels of the justice department and notably, the attorney general.
But with the former Trump attorneys general Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions denying any knowledge of the subpoenas, Democrats are focused on whether rogue officials abused the vast power of the federal government to target Trump’s perceived political opponents, the source said.
That kind of shadow operation – reminiscent of the shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that led to Trump’s first impeachment – would be significant because it could render the subpoenas unlawful, the source said.
And if the subpoenas were issued without proper authorization from the attorney general level, it could also leave the officials involved in the effort open to prosecution for false operating with the imprimatur of law enforcement.
The sharpening contours of the House judiciary committee’s investigation into the Trump justice department reflects Democrats’ determination to uncover potential politicization at the department.
The ongoing release of materials on former President Donald Trump’s attempts to subvert the 2020 election has shown the extent to which the White House pushed for the Department of Justice to investigate far-out conspiracy theories linked to the QAnon movement. And the latest example might also show that false stories circulated in far-right media made their way to Trump himself.
The Detroit News reported last week on emails recently released by the House oversight committee showing some of the Trump administration’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. On December 14 — the same day when the members of the Electoral College met across the country to formalize Joe Biden’s victory — White House aide Molly Michael sent an email to acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen with the subject “From POTUS.”
The email contained a PDF file of a report from a right-wing investigator on an election counting error in the small locale of Antrim County, Michigan, and a set of talking points apparently written by the report’s author declaring that “Michigan cannot certify for Biden” due to a “seditious conspiracy to undermine the election process and the will of the American people.”
Two minutes after that email was sent to Rosen, another unnamed person in the attorney general’s office forwarded the documents to the U.S. attorneys in Michigan, asking them to “see attachments per Rich Donoghue,” Trump’s newly appointed deputy attorney general….
According to The New York Times, the private group that conducted this report, Allied Security Operations Group, is a sponsor and financial backer of the website Everylegalvote.com, which had also “posted content from a source with links to” the QAnon conspiracy theory. The author of the report was also a former Republican candidate for Congress from Texas, having lost in a primary in 2016.
Meanwhile, a new poll by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group shows how deluded Republicans are about the 2020 election: Theft Perception. Examining the Views of Americans Who Believe the 2020 Election was Stolen.
- Republicans widely support Donald Trump and believe his claims about a stolen election. While Republicans support all elements of the ‘Stop the Steal’ narrative in high numbers, the overall electorate largely rejects these claims and propositions.
- Among Republicans, 85 percent believe it was appropriate for Trump to file lawsuits challenging election results in several states, and the same proportion believe that vote-by-mail increases vote fraud; 46 percent of Republicans believe it was appropriate for legislators in states won by Joe Biden to try to assign their state’s electoral votes to Trump.
- Republicans most committed to both Trump and the narrative of election fraud share a few other views in common: extreme antipathy toward Democrats and immigrants, belief that racism is not a problem, support for nationalism, belief in traditional family values and gender roles, and preference for a very limited role for government in the economy.
- While a voter’s willingness to reject an election without evidence of fraud might suggest an embrace of authoritarianism, a key measure of authoritarian leanings — support for a “strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress or elections” — is only weakly correlated to support for Trump and for the stolen election narrative.
More stories to check out today:
The Washington Post: In sentencing regretful Capitol protester, federal judge rebukes Republicans.
The Washington Post: Inside the extraordinary effort to save Trump from covid-19.
The Washington Post: Tension grips Michigan as Trump’s election attacks continue to reverberate.
That’s all I have for you today. Have a terrific Thursday everyone!
It’s great to finally have a normal president who actually cares about the American people and isn’t completely focused on his own needs. But it’s going to take a long time for the country to recover from four years of Trump. For one thing, Trumpism still controls the Republican Party. There is also the aftermath of Trump’s immigration and tax policies as well as his destructive influence on nearly every aspect of the Federal government, including the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security and the intelligence community, as well as his efforts to corrupt U.S. elections. And of course Trump had a dramatic impact on the Supreme Court that will likely last for decades. In this post, I’m going to highlight some of the continuing influences of Trumpism in our politics and our justice system.
Trump loves the death penalty, and his first SCOTUS appointee Neil Gorsuch cast the deciding vote that led the execution of an innocent man in Arkansas in 2017.
For 22 years, Ledell Lee maintained that he had been wrongly convicted of murder.
“My dying words will always be, as it has been, ‘I am an innocent man,’” he told the BBC in an interview published on April 19, 2017 — the day before officials in Arkansas administered the lethal injection.
Four years later, lawyers affiliated with the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union say DNA testing has revealed that genetic material on the murder weapon — which was never previously tested — in fact belongs to another man. In a highly unusual development for a case in which a person has already been convicted and executed, the new genetic profile has been uploaded to a national criminal database in an attempt to identify the mystery man….
Mr. Lee’s execution, on April 20, 2017, was the first in Arkansas in more than a decade. Some accused the state of rushing Mr. Lee and several other prisoners to their deaths that month before the expiration of its supply of a lethal injection drug….
Mr. Lee’s execution, on April 20, 2017, was the first in Arkansas in more than a decade. Some accused the state of rushing Mr. Lee and several other prisoners to their deaths that month before the expiration of its supply of a lethal injection drug.
Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern on the Gorsuch vote, April 21, 2017:
On Thursday night, Arkansas executed Ledell Lee—the state’s first execution in 12 years. Lee is one of eight men whom Arkansas originally planned to kill over 11 days before one drug in the three-drug lethal injection cocktail expires. Four of these men have received stays of execution, but Lee’s final plea to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected by a 5–4 vote. Justice Neil Gorsuch cast the deciding vote allowing Lee to die. It was his first recorded vote cast as a justice of the court….
with Gorsuch’s vote, the court’s conservatives were able to ignore their four liberal colleagues and permit the execution. Lee was given midazolam, then a drug to paralyze and suffocate him—which may have been purchased under false pretenses. Finally, the state administered a chemical to stop his heart. Lee was declared dead shortly before midnight, Central Time. Had one more justice voted in his favor, Lee would still be alive today.
Lisa Lerer at The New York Times on Trump continued control of his party: Marooned at Mar-a-Lago, Trump Still Has Iron Grip on Republicans.
Locked out of Facebook, marooned in Mar-a-Lago and mocked for an amateurish new website, Donald J. Trump remained largely out of public sight this week. Yet the Republican Party’s capitulation to the former president became clearer than ever, as did the damage to American politics he has caused with his lie that the election was stolen from him.
In Washington, Republicans moved to strip Representative Liz Cheney of her House leadership position, a punishment for denouncing Mr. Trump’s false claims of voter fraud as a threat to democracy. Lawmakers in Florida and Texas advanced sweeping new measures that would curtail voting, echoing the fictional narrative from Mr. Trump and his allies that the electoral system was rigged against him. And in Arizona, the state Republican Party started a bizarre re-examination of the November election results that involved searching for traces of bamboo in last year’s ballots.
The churning dramas cast into sharp relief the extent to which the nation, six months after the election, is still struggling with the consequences of an unprecedented assault by a losing presidential candidate on a bedrock principle of American democracy: that the nation’s elections are legitimate.
They also provided stark evidence that the former president has not only managed to squelch any dissent within his party but has also persuaded most of the G.O.P. to make a gigantic bet: that the surest way to regain power is to embrace his pugilistic style, racial divisiveness and beyond-the-pale conspiracy theories rather than to court the suburban swing voters who cost the party the White House and who might be looking for substantive policies on the pandemic, the economy, health care and other issues.
“We’ve just gotten so far afield from any sane construction,” said Barbara Comstock, a longtime party official who was swept out of her suburban Virginia congressional seat in the 2018 midterm backlash to Mr. Trump. “It’s a real sickness that is infecting the party at every level. We’re just going to say that black is white now.”
Read more at the NYT link.
From the Editorial Board of the Financial Times: Republicans drift ever further into Trumpism. The right must find ways to head off disaster for party and country.
Six months after Trump was defeated in the US presidential election, no Republican can dispute his claim that Joe Biden stole it and expect to prosper among their peers. Facebook’s initial decision to suspend Trump’s account came after he had egged on the mob that assaulted Capitol Hill on January 6 in what was the most serious threat to American democracy since the civil war. Since then, Trump’s language has only grown more ominous. Republicans who think they can keep their head down and wait out the Trump era are probably deluding themselves. Trump is only consolidating his hold over their party — and shows every sign of planning a 2024 presidential run.
What should principled conservatives do? One option is to follow the example of Liz Cheney, the number three Republican in the House of Representatives, who correctly reminds her colleagues that last year’s election was legitimate and the assault on Congress was sedition. She will almost certainly be removed from her position next week.
This is nothing to do with ideology. Cheney is among the most conservative figures in the House. Elise Stefanik, who is set to replace her, is more moderate. Stefanik, however, has an unblemished record of echoing whatever Trump says, including that America’s voting is rigged. Like any revolution, the demands on its children grow more outlandish. The more preposterous the conspiracy theory, the greater the demonstration of loyalty from those who embrace it. The downsides to Cheney’s act of courage are obvious. She will lose her influence and ultimately even her Wyoming district to a Trump loyalist. Others among the principled holdouts, including Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger, are also at risk.
A parallel line of attack would be to point out that Trump is already jeopardising his party’s hopes of regaining control of Congress in next year’s midterm elections, and the White House two years later. Trump lost the presidency, but his party did far better in non-presidential races. Millions of voters who endorsed Biden switched to Republicans down ballot. Not once in four years did Trump’s approval rating exceed 50 per cent. Biden’s has not yet fallen below that.
Trump can keep the party united through fear of defenestration but his grip will make the party less appealing to the larger electorate. Sadly, there is little hope right now of severing Trump’s bonds to a party that is now largely his — 70 per cent of its voters say the election was stolen.
Liz Cheney is getting a great deal of attention right now, and although I probably disagree with her on every political issue, I have to admire her principled stand against Trumpism. And now the GOP Trump cult is trying to excommunicate her.
A few more stories to check out:
Joyce Vance at NBC News: Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s Barr rebuke opens the door to DOJ accountability.
Brad Bannon at The Hill: GOP is consumed by Trump conspiracy theories.
Have a great weekend everyone!! As always, this is an open thread.