Headlines: April 23, 2020
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Another 4.4 million Americans have joined the ranks of the unemployed according to new Labor Department figures based on those applying for jobless benefits. It was the fifth straight week of documented job losses in the millions. As of now, 26.5 million Americans have officially lost their jobs between March 15th and April 18th. The real figure is likely even higher. The coronavirus pandemic’s stunning impact on ordinary Americans appears to have little relation to the stock market however as the Dow Jones Industrial average shot up as did the ‘S and P’ index and the Nasdaq. Oil prices also shot up in spite of the fact that demand remains low. Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal on Thursday reported that the economic fallout of the pandemic has resulted in the nation’s biggest banks becoming even bigger as major corporations flooded banks like JP Morgan Chase and others with $1 trillion in deposits. On Thursday the House of Representatives will vote on a $484 billion economic stimulus package to supplement the earlier CARES Act and renew the Paycheck Protection Program’s small business loan funding. The House is expected to pass the bill which was delayed by two weeks as Democrats sought but failed to include much needed funding for states and municipalities.
A new Gallup poll has found that public trust in the federal government including the White House and lawmakers from both parties remains low – between 46-47%. However, nearly 70% trust their state governors to make the right decisions on quarantines and the economy. The Kaiser Family Foundation also released a new poll finding that a slim majority of Americans fear that the worst is yet to come on the coronavirus, and, a huge majority – 80% – “say strict shelter-in-place measures are worth it in order to protect people and limit the spread of coronavirus.” These sentiments are in line with most scientific experts who warn that those states pushing to reopen their economies over the next two weeks are making a grave mistake. One leading epidemiologist told the Washington Post, “The math is unfortunately pretty simple. It’s not a matter of whether infections will increase but by how much.” The Post also surmised that, “with a continued lack of testing, contact tracing and detailed guidance from federal health agencies… every state will conduct its own improvised experiment with thousands of lives in the balance.” Georgia, under Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, is apparently of most concern to scientists who worry about the state’s 830 Covid-19 deaths and less than 1% of the population being tested. President Trump, who has been pushing to reopen the economy (and claiming without basis that he has “total” authority over states to do so), decided in his usual manner to contradict himself. At a White House briefing Trump said of Gov. Kemp’s decision to reopen businesses, “I want him to do what he thinks is right, but I disagree with him on what he is doing…I think it’s too soon.”
As rightwing dissent against the publicly backed lockdown measures continue, there are now reports that state level lawmakers are among those egging on protesters. In states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, some Republican lawmakers are aggressively pushing to reopen economies and even joining pro-Trump rallies outside state capitols. In Nevada, the mayor of Las Vegas, Carolyn Goodman, is eager to return to business-as-usual and in an interview on CNN dismissed concerns about the virus’ spread as “alarmist.” She admitted that she did not know how hotels and casinos on the Las Vegas strip would actually be able to observe social distancing of its patrons if they were to reopen, saying, “that’s up to them to figure out.” Meanwhile the nation’s top infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci urged states to remain on lockdown saying, “I plead with the American public …This is a successful formula. The problem is if we don’t do that there is a likelihood that we will have a rebound. The one way to not reopen the economy is to have a rebound that we cannot take care of.” Dr. Fauci believed the virus could remain a problem until at least the fall of this year.
The federal government continued to stumble through an adequate response to the Covid-19 pandemic with the news this week that the Department of Health and Human Services had tapped and aide named Brian Harrison, with “minimal public health experience,” to lead the department’s Covid-19 response. Reuters reports that Harrison “joined the department after running a dog-breeding business for six years. Five sources say some officials in the White House derisively called him ‘the dog breeder.’” Meanwhile a vaccine expert named Dr. Rick Bright says he was fired this week from his position as director of an HHS Agency because he insisted on rigorous vetting of President Trump’s favorite anti-viral medication, hydroxychloroquine. Trump has repeatedly touted the medication as an effective treatment for Covid-19. Dr. Bright told the New York Times, “I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way.” A study this week of hundreds of patients in the Veterans Administration health system found that using hydroxychloroquine in Covid-19 patients showed no benefits and resulted in higher death rates. Now, both Trump and Fox News – which had been similarly beating the drum for the drug for weeks – have stopped promoting the medication with no explanation or admission.
Fox News also made waves this week for being the subject of a scientific paper that used a sophisticated methodology to show that host Sean Hannity has likely contributed to the spread of Covid-19. According to researchers, “Greater exposure to Hannity relative to Tucker Carlson Tonight leads to a greater number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.” They added, “A one-standard deviation increase in relative viewership of Hannity relative to Carlson is associated with approximately 30 percent more COVID-19 cases on March 14, and 21 percent more COVID-19 deaths on March 28.”
The New York Times reports that the virus was likely spreading like wildfire in the US far earlier than thought. “In five major U.S. cities, as of March 1 there were only 23 confirmed cases of coronavirus,” said the paper. But according to scientific models, “there could have actually been about 28,000 infections in those cities by then.” Scientists are continuing to discover new information about the virus and new data of hospitalized Covid-19 patients in New York has offered some troubling news. Data from the state’s largest health system shows that 88% of those patients that had to be put on ventilators did not survive. Overall, death rates in the US have exploded as this month alone Covid-19 deaths increased tenfold from the month before with a total of 46,000 as of Wednesday night. That’s the highest national pandemic-related death toll of any country on earth.
Finally, doctors around the nation are worried as vaccination rates for children are falling precipitously. Parents are forgoing routine doctor visits including annual physical exams that include vaccinations for diseases such as measles, mumps, whooping cough, etc. One member of the American Academy of Pediatrics said, “The last thing we want as the collateral damage of Covid-19 are outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, which we will almost certainly see if there continues to be a drop in vaccine uptake.” A health records company found that rates of MMR vaccinations have dropped 50%, Diphtheria and whooping cough vaccinations dropped 42%, and HPV vaccinations dropped by 73%.