Headlines: March 19, 2020
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President Donald Trump once more held his now-daily coronavirus task force press briefing at the White House and continued to refer to Covid-19 as “the Chinese virus,” despite calls by the World Health Organization for him to refrain from using racist language. In a meandering set of comments that showed an unprepared leader, Trump continued to deflect blame for the slow response of the federal government on the need for testing and medical equipment. A reporter asking why the US was not prepared. Another reporter challenged Trump about claims he has made about widespread availability of testing. The President finally lashed out at the gathered reporters saying he wanted just a handful of those journalists that he liked to attend the briefings.
California Congressman Ted Lieu wrote a scathing op-ed in the Washington Post on Thursday criticizing Trump’s repeated label of “the Chinese virus” to describe Covid-19. Lieu explained that the term, “is more than just xenophobic; it causes harm both to Asian Americans and to the White House’s response to this life-threatening pandemic.” Some Republicans have been echoing Trump’s racism including Senator John Cornyn who told a reporter that the term “Chinese virus” was justified, “because the culture where people eat bats and snakes and dogs and things like that, these viruses are transmitted from the animal to the people and that’s why China has been the source of a lot of these viruses like SARS, like MERS, the swine flu and now the coronavirus.” Incidentally MERS was first reported in Saudi Arabia and the swine flu originated in the US.
Two members of Congress have now tested positive for the coronavirus: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican and Ben McAdams, a Democrat from Utah. Amid reports that testing across the US is in chaos and those who need tests are not able to get them, there is anecdotal evidence that wealthy Americans and celebrities have no problem of access to virus testing. A New York Times article concluded that, “some prominent personalities have obtained tests without exhibiting symptoms or having known contact with someone who has the virus, as required by some testing guidelines. Others have refused to specify how they were tested.” Additionally, “In the eyes of some doctors, prominent figures appeared to be moving to the front of the line.” Meanwhile the federal government has given approval to Abbott Laboratories to sell a new coronavirus test. According to Reuters, “Abbott said it plans to immediately distribute around 150,000 tests to customers in the United States and will continue to ramp up production to hit a goal of providing up to 1 million tests per week.”
Across the country there are still patchwork responses to the spread of the virus as a new poll shows 2/3rds of Americans are fearful of infection. In Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has refused to close his state’s beaches as young people flock there for Spring Break. In California Gov. Gavin Newsom says he estimates that his state’s homeless population could see massive infection rates and that upto 60,000 homeless people could become infected. According to AP, “There is one confirmed death of a homeless person in California so far.” The LA Times reported that in Southern California, “A group of homeless and housing-insecure Angelenos seized more vacant, publicly owned homes in El Sereno on Wednesday, arguing that government officials have failed to provide the shelter that’s necessary for them to remain healthy during the coronavirus pandemic.” There were reports of a similar situation on Saturday. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the city would convert 42 recreation centers into housing for the homeless.
The economic ramifications of the virus continue as layoffs across the US skyrocket. The number of jobless claims has jumped by 70,000 reaching a new high of 281,000 as per the Labor Department. The Guardian newspaper cited that, “According to Moody’s Analytics, nearly 80m jobs in the US are currently at risk due to the coronavirus, more than half of the jobs in the US economy. Impacts are being felt throughout the retail, food, hospitality, service and entertainment industries with many businesses and productions completely shutting down.” Some industries are harder hit than others, particularly in the hospitality industry where the union Unite HERE expects that 80-90% of its membership will lose jobs due to the impact of the virus on the US economy. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has announced that as part of the government’s stimulus plan, President Trump has proposed to Congress that adults will receive $1,000 per person and $500 per child in the household. Meanwhile the Internal Revenue Service has delayed the nation’s tax filing deadline to July 15th.
In international news, Italy continues to see its death toll increase from the coronavirus. A total 3,405 people have now died in Italy – more than those that died the world’s most populous nation, China. Medical staff in Italy are particularly hard hit with thousands having been infected. Funeral workers have also become infected as the nation runs out of coffins to bury the dead. In Iran, virus-related deaths have passed the 1,000 mark. But Iran’s health ministry says that more than 5,000 people have recovered from the disease including a 103 year-old woman. Offering a glimmer of hope, China reported on Thursday that it had reached the new milestone of no new locally transmitted infections a day earlier. There were new infections in China but they were apparently in people who had traveled to the country from elsewhere.
Several nations are facing crises of leadership around the spread of the virus. In Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been accused of taking advantage of the pandemic to impost dictatorial edicts including shutting down the court system that was about to try him on corruption charges, and begin invasive surveillance operations. In Brazil, which just reported its first coronavirus-related death, the rightwing President Jair Bolsonaro is facing popular protests over his inaction on the virus. In cities like Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paolo, protesters are banging pots and pans from the windows of their homes in an expression of protests while quarantined. And in Mexico, liberal-leaning President Andres Manual Lopez Obrador has dismissed the dangers of the virus saying, “Pandemics … won’t do anything to us.” Like Bolsonaro, Lopez Obrador has continued gathering in large groups, shaking hands, and touching and kissing. He has also showcased his good luck charms that he says are his “bodyguards.”