Headlines: April 29, 2020
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New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the US’s death toll from the coronavirus is far higher than previously thought. Already the US leads the world by a large margin on the number of infections and deaths. Now, according to the CDC, there are at least 9,000 more Covid-19 related deaths than documented – as of April 11th. The New York Times explained that, “the virus has brought a pattern of deaths unlike anything seen in recent years.” Tuesday marked a grim milestone of the US’s official coronavirus death toll surpassing that of the Vietnam war at 58,220 fatalities. Nursing homes have been epicenters of the disease and now a facility catering to war veterans in Massachusetts is under investigation after nearly 70 people died from the virus. The virus’ death toll also reflects class differences. Los Angeles county authorities released neighborhood data showing that low-income areas like East Hollywood, Pico-Union and Westlake have four times the rate of the county as a whole.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases warned Americans in a CNN interview that if states began reopening businesses too soon, it would, “get us right back in the same boat that we were a few weeks ago.” He said a second wave of infections was “inevitable.” He also hoped that the US’s testing capability would finally match federal rhetoric and public expectations by the end of May or the beginning of June – much later than President Donald Trump has been claiming. After weeks of repeating the same lie over and over that anyone in the US who needed a test had access to one, Trump is now putting the burden of testing goals onto states. Ashish K Jha, faculty director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told the Guardian, “They know that the federal response has been a disaster, and so now their strategy is [to] blame 50 states.”
News headlines on Wednesday were briefly dominated by the Commerce Department’s announcement that the nation’s Gross Domestic Product or GDP had fallen by 4.8%. According to the New York Times the numbers represented, “the first decline since 2014, and the worst quarterly contraction since the country was in a deep recession more than a decade ago.” What is remarkable is that, “most of the quarter came before the coronavirus pandemic forced widespread shutdowns and layoffs.” In spite of the news, the stock market rallied and the pro-business indicators of economic success rose. The Federal Reserve is expected to take strong action but has nearly run out of tools given that interest rates have already been slashed to nearly zero.
Just before the Commerce Department released its assessment, President Trump told reporters in anticipation, “I think [the] fourth quarter’s going to be incredibly strong. I think next year is going to be an unbelievably strong year.” Trump has pushed states to reopen within days and weeks and some Republican-led states such as Georgia and Florida have begun to do so but workers and consumers are wary of returning to normal. This despite the fact that a whopping 50% of Americans said they or someone they know has been impacted financially according to a new poll. A new poll by Politico/Morning Consult found that nearly three quarters of Americans think social distancing measures should continue. Some states such as Iowa are warning people that if their state and employer reopens their workplace but they refuse to return to work for fear of infection, they could lose unemployment benefits. Millions of Americans are still struggling to access their unemployment benefits after losing jobs and in Florida a technical error denied benefits to 260,000 people. That’s nearly 40% of all claims made in the state since March 15th. The state has demanded those that were denied reapply in order to access their funds.
The state of California is considering reopening schools by late July or early August – the time that schools would typically be on summer break. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the tentative dates as part of a multi-phase plan to cautiously reopen the state. He explained, “We recognize there’s been a learning loss because of this disruption. We’re concerned about that learning loss even into the summer.” Meanwhile the nation’s two biggest teachers’ unions are threatening protests and strikes if schools reopen without proper safety measures in place. The heads of the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association told Politico that they would use their “public megaphones” and consider renegotiating contracts over re-openings. Meanwhile the nation’s biggest mall operator, Simon Property Group, has announced it will reopen nearly 50 malls in 10 states starting this Friday – the same day that many labor groups have announced May Day actions, walkouts, and strikes.
As state funds dry up from the economic demands of quarantines, authorities are warning they will be forced into mass layoffs of public workers including teachers, librarians, firefighters and others, unless the federal government steps in. According to the Washington Post, “Even as President Trump and top Republicans contend that only big-spending, liberal-leaning states are to blame for their mounting budget woes, a Washington Post review found the economic havoc wrought by the coronavirus is far more widespread — saddling Democratic and Republican mayors and governors alike with souring finances and major revenue gaps.” In fact, “Some local governments have already started laying off or furloughing thousands of their workers, and the numbers are likely to grow markedly in the absence of federal aid.” The number of workers impacted could be between 300,000 and 1 million. Meanwhile as the federal government’s stimulus funds start arriving, people are finding that along with their check is a gushing letter from President Trump that some taxpayers are calling “a vanity letter.” It is particularly troubling given that there are numerous reports of checks being sent to the wrong address, or wrong amounts being calculated. A new Emerson College poll found that Trump’s approval rating has dropped 10 points from a month ago.
Trump this week declared meat processing plants as part of the nation’s “critical infrastructure” and invoked the Defense Production Act to ensure that they remain open. Two senators from both parties have asked the Federal Trade Commission to launch an anti-trust probe into the industry given that a handful of multinational corporations control a large majority of the food supply chain. And Congresswoman Katie Porter of California in an oped in the Washington Post warned against federal corruption and negligence in invoking the Defense Production Act. Porter wrote, “unlike most government contracts, DPA orders are not public documents,” and that, “Congress must make the administration’s DPA orders public.” Porter cited several examples of problematic contracts including, “In one case, a $96 million no-bid contract for respirators went to a company with no background in medical supplies. According to federal procurement documents, the contract was ordered by the White House.”
And finally Vice President Mike Pence was slammed for visiting Mayo Clinic on Tuesday without wearing a protective mask. In photos of the visit everyone but the Vice President had their mouths and noses covered in observance of the federal government’s own guidelines and the Mayo Clinic said he was informed of their policy of requiring masks. Mr. Pence claimed that he refused a mask because he wanted to look at health workers “in the eye,” – this despite the fact that masks don’t cover eyes.