Headlines: April 27, 2020
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Global cases of Covid-19 infection hit nearly 3 million this week as infections in the United States alone accounted for almost one third that number. Yet, several states in the US have begun easing restrictions that were put in place to curb the spread of the virus, many of them Republican-led states. But the move contradicts the caution that public health officials are continuing to urge. On Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, which has been the hardest hit by far, announced an outline of how the state could begin reopening after May 15th. He said, “The numbers are on the decline: Everything we have done is working…There’s no doubt that we’ve gone at this point through the worst. And as long as we act prudently going forward, the worst should be over.” Cuomo’s plan is cautious compared to states like Georgia’s and involves reopening some “low-risk” businesses by mid-May. Meanwhile the Washington Post reported on Monday that researchers with the Yale School of Public Health analyzed federal data on mortality rates in the US and concluded that there were tens of thousands of “excess deaths” in the US in the early weeks of the pandemic than attributed to either Covid-19 or other causes. The conclusion supports other research suggesting that the virus already had a stronger foothold in the US far earlier than thought.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force contradicted expectations saying that there would have to be some form of social distancing that will remain in place for months. But Vice President Mike Pence announced, “we will largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us” by Memorial Day weekend. The Washington Post explained that, “It was the latest instance of conflicting signals coming not just from state and federal leaders but also from within the Trump administration in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic.” Beachgoers in liberal California are also taking matters into their own hands. Tens of thousands of people flocked to beaches in Orange County and elsewhere to escape a heat wave that started on Friday. Gov. Gavin Newsom urged people to respect state-wide orders that remain in place.
President Trump continued to face a backlash from his bizarre comments last week in which he suggested in front of reporters that doctors research the use of sunlight and disinfectants administered internally as a means of virus treatments. He later claimed his comments were directed at reporters as a form of sarcasm but according to The Hill, “Poison control centers in a number of states have reported a rise in calls about exposure to household cleaners.” New York City’s poison control center saw double the number of cases of disinfectant ingestion compared to a year ago. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, warned Trump saying, “I think when misinformation comes out, or you just say something that pops in your head, it does send a wrong message.”
Trump, reacting angrily to the widespread backlash took the week off from press briefings and spent Sunday sullenly rehashing old conspiracy theories on Twitter that involved perceived “coup attempts” against him. He also inexplicably ranted about what he called “Noble prizes” for reporters – as opposed to Nobel prizes – which he clearly confused with Pulitzer prizes. And, he waxed defensively about how hard he works for the American people saying he has “probably gotten more done in the first 3 1/2 years than any President in history.” He also lied about not leaving White House in months even though he visited his own Florida resort just last month. Meanwhile the New York Times analyzed the 260,000 words that Trump has spoken during his coronavirus press briefings and came to the predictable conclusion that the President spent more time congratulating himself and spewing lies than giving out useful information or even expressing sympathy for the tens of thousands of Americans dying of the virus.
Reports continue to trickle in over how the Paycheck Protection Program intended for small businesses helped anybody but small businesses. A number of large firms that had been under scrutiny received millions in taxpayer backed loans. Specifically, a Georgia firm paid the government $6.5 million to settle a lawsuit and then got a $10 million PPP loan, another company paid its executives $1.4 million and then got a $1.6 million PPP loan, and a third firm received a loan just before buying up another company. There are also reports of Silicon Valley startups that just a year ago raised hundreds of millions of dollars from wealthy investors and then this year applied for the PPP loans because they viewed it as “free money.” And, three publicly traded hotel companies owned by a wealthy Texas businessman received $70 million in PPP loans.
Analysts are worried that Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to allow legislation on federal aid to states will lead to economic depression. The Washington Post explained that, “Governors, mayors and county leaders of both parties are clamoring for help in the next federal rescue package after McConnell and President Trump blocked such assistance in the $484 billion bill approved last week.” McConnell had not bothered to hide his partisan contempt when he referred to aid for states as a “blue state bailout” last week. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo slammed him saying his state generates $116 billion more revenues than it uses while McConnell’s home state of Kentucky uses $148 billion more than it generates. He said to McConnell, “It’s your state that is living on the money that we generate.” Meanwhile House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the next bill Congress takes up must include aid for states. But Pelosi herself faces accusations of acquiescing to Republican demands in the last bill. CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Pelosi in an interview if she had made a “tactical mistake” in backing off on state aid, to which the House Speaker replied, “Just calm down. We will have state and local and we will have it in a significant way. It’s no use going on to what might have been.”
Pelosi has also formally endorsed Democratic presumptive nominee Joe Biden for President on Monday saying that Biden represented, “hope and courage, values, authenticity and integrity,” and that he would be a “voice of reason and resilience.” Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington also endorsed Biden. Jayapal represents progressive voices within the party and had backed Senator Bernie Sanders. Her endorsement of Biden was less laudatory as she said, “Any progress toward a better future requires defeating [Trump] this November.” Meanwhile a new AP/NORC poll found rising support for vote-by-mail elections to be held this November. Unsurprisingly there is more support among Democrats than Republicans. Florida, the nation’s largest “swing state,” and also Trump’s new home state, is pushing to ensure vote-by-mail provisions in light of the pandemic. Also in Florida a major federal trial over the right of former felons to vote has just begun. Even though Florida voters approved of the right, the Republican legislature has blocked the disproportionately non-white demographic from casting ballots.
And finally in international news, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is back at work after having recovered from a serious coronavirus infection. The conservative leader, who had initially not taken the pandemic seriously, has now changed his tune saying that the national lockdown must continue. He said in remarks on Monday, “I know it’s tough, and I want to get this economy moving as fast as I can, but I refuse to throw away the efforts and sacrifice of the British people.” And in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has earned praise for her early and organized effort to stop the virus, declared victory on Monday. Ardern said, “There is no widespread undetected community transmission in New Zealand,” and that she has, “confidence that we’ve achieved our goal of elimination.”