Headlines: June 25, 2020
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The United States recorded its highest single-day total of new Covid-19 infections on Wednesday, a result that health experts had predicted just weeks ago when the federal government under President Donald Trump’s leadership encouraged states to reopen businesses prematurely. State health department reports totaled 38,115 new cases of infections, higher than the last single-day record of 34,203 set on April 25. The states most impacted are Texas, Florida, and California. Ignoring this alarming milestone, President Trump is moving to end federal financial support for Covid-19 testing sites in states as demand for tests grows. While infection rates have spiked, death rates are so far lower than before but health experts worry that it will not be long before death rates spike as well. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who was among the most enthusiastic Trump-supporting leaders to embrace a return to normal is shaken by the infections and has paused his state’s reopening plan. Abbott said in a statement, “The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses.” He also advised Texans, “to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a mask, washing their hands regularly and socially distancing from others.” But this advice is in direct contradiction to Trump’s messaging that masks are not necessary.
Hospitals around the country are dangerously at capacity with Houston, Texas, reporting that pediatricians may have to start taking adult patients. The state of California has seen a whopping rise of 69% in infections over just two days and Los Angeles County leads the nation in the number of cases at 88,500, however the county is the most populous in the nation. Hospitalizations in LA are up and the Intensive Care Units are at 30% capacity. In New York City, which had been the first epicenter of the disease in early spring, hospitalizations fell below 1,000 for the first time since mid-March. The states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have now imposed a 2-week quarantine on visitors from states where Covid-19 rates are high. As per CNN, the quarantine so far applies to visitors from, “Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Texas.” New analysis shows that parties, not protests are the main events where infections spread. Scientists surmise that is because protests generally take place outdoors and most participants wear masks, compared to parties that are indoors without much mask-wearing. Indeed one surprise birthday party in North Texas for a large family resulted in 18 members of the family becoming infected, with two elderly people and one person battling cancer ending up in the hospital. The New York Times conducted a detailed analysis on Thursday about how the virus spread, showing that months before US authorities took action or realized there was a problem, the virus was silently spreading all through the nation.
Realizing the importance of wearing face masks, the state of Nevada is now requiring people cover up, including visitors to Las Vegas. But in conservative states like Florida where Trump’s influence is high, many are refusing to mask-up. At a public hearing held by County Commissioners in Palm Beach, conspiracy theorists hurled wild and baseless claims about masks as dangerous to one’s health and denounced mandates to wear masks as akin to living in a “communist dictatorship.” One resident accused commissioners of “obeying the devil’s laws.” New research shows that in addition to Trump, conservative media outlets – that often amplify Trump—have played an outsize role in spreading misinformation about the virus. Three different studies had consistent results showing that figures like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News’ Sean Hannity have promoted conspiracy theories and encouraged their followers to not protect themselves or others. Meanwhile Covid-19 continues to swirl around Trump’s orbit as two Secret Service members tested positive for the disease after Trump’s poorly attended rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Dozens of agents are now having to quarantine themselves for two weeks as a result. Trump now heads to a fireworks show at Mount Rushmore where the National Park Service is warning about the dangerous potential for fire and where Covid-19 infections could also spread from the crowd that is expected to gather.
The US economy continues to flounder with another 1.48 million people filing for unemployment benefits last week. This marks the 14th week in a row where the number was higher than a million. Based on the grim Covid-19 figures, stock market indicators were also down. Meanwhile a shocking new report from the Government Accountability Office has found that the US Treasury sent stimulus payment checks totaling nearly $1.4 billion to people who are deceased. While the IRS has asked people to return checks sent to dead relatives, there is no plan to actively recoup the losses. Many Americans are still waiting to receive their stimulus checks—including me.
The city of Boston, Massachusetts became the latest to ban the police use of facial recognition technology, following from several other cities in the same state as well as San Francisco and Oakland in California. A Black man named Robert Williams on Thursday wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about his recent wrongful arrest based on being falsely identified by police as a suspect through such a tool. Mr. Roberts explained that, “Federal studies have shown that facial-recognition systems misidentify Asian and black people up to 100 times more often than white people.” Meanwhile Black Americans are citing the issues of police violence and racism as their top election issues in a new Washington Post/Ipsos poll. Black Americans back Democrat Joe Biden over Trump by 92 to 5% four months before the November general election.
Three police officers in Wilmington, North Carolina were just caught on tape casually discussing in vile, racist terms how they would retaliate against Blacks and those protesting police violence. Anticipating a “civil war,” one officer said, “I’m ready,” and that he was planning to buy a rifle. Using the N-word and other expletives he explained, “We are just going to go out and start slaughtering them.” He said about Black Americans, “Wipe ’em off the f—— map…That’ll put ’em back about four or five generations.” The recording was made accidentally. All have been fired and city officials are considering pressing charges.
In other news, a federal prosecutor named Aaron Zelinsky testified to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday about corruption at the Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr. Referring to the DOJ’s demand for leniency in the sentencing hearing of Trump’s friend and associate Roger Stone, Zelinsky said that there was, “heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice” to give Stone “a break” by requesting a lighter sentence. Former deputy attorney general Donald Ayer also testified on Wednesday. Later he added this in response to questioning by Representative Veronica Escobar. House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler has said he, “may very well” pursue impeachment of the Attorney General. Barr will appear before the House panel next month.