Headlines: July 31, 2020
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House members questioned federal health officials on Friday about the US’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as the death toll continues to rise precipitously. The nation’s top infectious diseases specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has focused on scientific research over political concerns, thereby earning President Trump’s ire, was among those being questioned. Congressman Jamie Raskin asked Dr. Fauci why the US had failed so badly to bring the virus under control where most other nations were doing far better. The Republican approach to addressing the grim death toll was to suggest that hospitals are inflating the death toll so that they can get more funding. GOP Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer asked CDC Director Robert Redfield about this issue. Redfield, who has shown greater willingness to show fealty to Trump, agreed, claiming that hospitals are faking the high coronavirus death toll of 153,000 people for higher levels of reimbursements. Meanwhile, the new system that the Trump administration mandated to track Covid-19 infections by requiring hospitals to report deaths via an online system instead of directly to the CDC, is riddled with problems. Experts say it is rife with inconsistencies and errors.
In spite of the mounting Covid-19 death toll Trump continues to push for children to return in-person to schools in the fall, saying bizarrely and without explanation, “Keeping them out of school and keeping work closed is causing death also.” During his Friday House hearing CDC Director Robert Redfield echoed Trump saying there would be, “significant public health consequences” if schools stayed shut. When asked if he could offer any assurances that reopening schools would be safe Trump said, “Can you assure anybody of anything?”
The Trump administration has focused most of its effort on marshalling biotech companies to develop a vaccine rather than on mitigation to stop the spread of the virus. Dr. Fauci said about a vaccine being developed by Moderna, that “One can never guarantee the safety or effectiveness unless you do the trial, but we are cautiously optimistic this will be successful.” The federal government just signed a contract with European drug manufacturers Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to the tune of $2.1 billion for a vaccine—the most expensive such contract so far.
As Americans continue to get infected and die, the CDC has now projected that the death toll from the virus is likely to hit 180,000 by August 22nd. At a CNN townhall meeting on Thursday night Dr. Fauci explained mitigation efforts were critical to prevent more deaths and that, “we need to pull out all the stops to get it down to baseline and to keep it there by doing the things that we’ve been talking about — that I’ve been talking about – consistently.” He added, “If we do that, then I think we will be well toward seeing this under control. If we don’t, then we can’t make a prediction about how long this will last.” Those state governors that took early and strict action to prevent the spread of the virus are seeing greater levels of political support among their constituents as per a new poll. Ohio’s GOP Governor Mike DeWine, who earned the ire of his fellow Republicans for strict measures, enjoys the highest approval rating at 75% with Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer—a favorite target of Trump’s—at the second highest rating of 64%. In Florida, the new epicenter of the disease, a local newspaper has pleaded with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to take stronger action saying in an editorial, “We’re dying here.” The states of Florida, Arizona, and Mississippi, all saw record 1-day increases in deaths on Thursday. Where prison populations are concerned, New Jersey’s prison death rate is currently the worst in the nation as the state now considers releasing up to 20% of the prison population.
Meanwhile as the $600 a week in unemployment benefits from the CARES Act expired on July 31st, rather than work overtime to ensure no break in income for millions of jobless Americans, the Senate, under Majority leader Mitch McConnell, went home on Friday for a 3-day weekend. Indicating just how much the benefits were helping the economy, new data shows that consumer spending rose again in June in spite of high unemployment simply because jobless workers were largely getting some relief. And, just before their holiday GOP Senators found themselves on the opposite side of even the White House after Trump announced he was willing to sign a bill without corporate liability waivers. McConnell has long insisted that businesses be protected from virus-related worker lawsuits. Indeed, the first wave of worker lawsuits against companies over Covid-19 deaths is already here as per the Wall Street Journal. Among the employers being sued by the family members of workers that died from the virus are Walmart and Tyson Foods.
In other news, Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who shot 18-year old Mike Brown in 2014 sparking the first mass wave of Black Lives Matter protests, will escape accountability. St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell announced on Thursday that Wilson would face no charges in a case that has dragged on for years. Bell claimed it did not mean Wilson was exonerated. In Austin, Texas, the armed driver of a car that barreled into BLM protests last weekend killing an activist named Garrett Foster has just been identified. The shooter is Sgt. Daniel Perry, an active-duty Army sergeant who was driving his ride-share vehicle when he killed Foster. Perry, who claimed he shot Foster, in self-defense has not been arrested even though he appeared to ram his car into protesters.
Federal officers have now apparently withdrawn from Portland, Oregon after weeks of violent confrontation outside the city’s courthouse. On Thursday night a peaceful evening of protest without any confrontation with police ensued. But Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf says that federal agents will remain in Portland until he could be sure that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown was able to keep protests peaceful. Most reports documented federal agents as the largest source of violence, not protesters.
In election news, there are reports of deliberate mail backlogs in the US Postal Service in order to undermine voting by mail. According to the Washington Post, “The U.S. Postal Service is experiencing days-long backlogs of mail across the country after a top Trump donor running the agency put in place new procedures described as cost-cutting efforts, alarming postal workers who warn that the policies could undermine their ability to deliver ballots on time for the November election.” Trump has attempted to cause confusion in the November 3rd election and defended his Thursday morning tweet calling for the election to be postponed even though he has no power to do so. Meanwhile Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s Press secretary said on Friday morning without a hint of irony that the China-backed Hong Kong’s government’s decision to postpone elections was an affront to democracy.