Headlines: March 20, 2020
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As the spread of the highly infectious novel coronavirus strain spreads globally, the World Health Organization announced on Friday that there were 100,000 new infections worldwide in the last two weeks. The total number of cases now adds up to about a quarter of a million – of that number 10,000 have died. Italy reported a massive jump on Friday of 627 deaths in a 24-hour period. It is so far the hardest hit nation in terms of fatalities. Here in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday documented a total of 10,491 cases of infection. The number of deaths jumped in one day from 53 to 150. In California, the most populous state in the nation, Gov. Gavin Newsom estimated that more than half of the state’s residents – that’s 25.5 million people – could get infected unless drastic measures are not taken.
On Thursday evening Newsom issued the strictest orders of any state in the nation. The order places, according to the LA Times, “the first mandatory restrictions placed on the lives of all 40 million residents in the state’s fight against the novel coronavirus.” Further, “The mandatory order allows Californians to continue to visit gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores, farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, takeout and delivery restaurants, banks and laundromats. People can leave their homes to care for a relative or a friend or seek healthcare services.” Newsom on Thursday announced the order for Californians to “stay at home.” Near the end of his announcement he denounced anti-Asian racism that has risen as this disease has spread. Hours earlier, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti and other LA County leaders announced similar restrictions they dubbed “safer at home.” And in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tightened the already-severe restrictions in place with an executive order requiring all non-essential workers to stay at home. The New York Times explained that the state, “with only 6 percent of the country’s population, accounts for around half of the nationwide total of confirmed cases.”
On the federal level, President Donald Trump told Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that he will be using his authority under the Defense Production act to accelerate the medical supplies that are in short order as hospitals nationwide brace for an influx of coronavirus patients. Associated Press explained it like this: “In a Friday phone call with Trump, Schumer implored the president to invoke the Defense Production Act …Trump told the Democratic leader he would do it — and then could be heard yelling to someone in his office to do it now, said Schumer’s spokesman Justin Goodman.” Meanwhile the White House is negotiating details of a $1 trillion aid package with Senators. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled his 247-page bill which, per AP, “proposes $1,200 direct checks to taxpayers, $300 billion for small businesses to keep idled workers on payroll and $208 billion in loans to airlines and other industries.” Mr. Schumer together with his fellow Democrat and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement saying the bill, “is not at all pro-worker and instead puts corporations way ahead of workers.” Labor leader and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka slammed the GOP bill as well saying, “It gives free money to corporations, ignores the health crisis, and does nothing to keep people working or help the unemployed. The labor movement will oppose this Main St. bailout of Wall St. with everything we have.”
Economists are warning that unemployment claims due to the virus could hit a record 1.5 million by next week. The Trump administration, worried about “spooking the market,” is asking states to downplay their unemployment records and report only in “generalities.” Meanwhile Trump has used his authority to help shore up the oil and gas sector with an effective bailout using Americans’ tax dollars. He has ordered the Energy Department to buy 77 million barrels of crude oil to fill the “strategic petroleum reserve.” Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette made no pretense of the tactic saying his department was, “moving quickly to support U.S. oil producers facing potentially catastrophic losses from the impacts of COVID-19 and the intentional disruption to world oil markets by foreign actors.” It is not clear which “foreign actors” he was referring to.
As states brace for a surge in infections, governors all over the nation are pleading with the Trump administration for more coronavirus tests and also medical supplies. Trump has been claiming that “millions” of test kits were being sent around the country, but his assertions are so far proving to be dishonest – no surprise for a president with a documented history of unprecedented and prolific levels of lying. Hospitals and healthcare workers are struggling with a lack of personal protective equipment such as masks, gowns, and gloves and some doctors and nurses have taken to social media to ask for help with more supplies.
In other news, a number of mostly Republican lawmakers have been caught engaging in what appears to be insider-trading linked to the coronavirus. The most high-profile case is that of Senator Richard Burr Chair of the Senate Intelligence committee who has now requested the Ethics committee to review his recent massive sales of stocks that he authorized after being privately briefed on the seriousness of the virus. Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have also been found to have sold off massive amounts of stock right before the market tanked after sitting through a classified briefing in late January about the virus spread. There are now widespread calls for their resignations. New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “It is stomach-churning that the first thoughts these Senators had to a dire & classified #COVID briefing was how to profit off this crisis. They didn’t mobilize to help families, or prep response. They dumped stock.”
Rightwing Americans continue to buck the national trend of taking the situation seriously. According to the Washington Post, “Virus deniers vow to continue on with their daily activities with little adjustment, convinced that the unprecedented reaction to the virus is nothing more than a plot by the media or liberals out to get Trump.” Meanwhile Trump himself continues to personify the virus as having Chinese ethnicity in an obvious bid to deflect blame. CNN reported that, “President Trump’s notes from Thursday’s coronavirus briefing show someone crossed out the word ‘Corona’ in coronavirus and replaced it with the word ‘Chinese.’” The photo of Trump’s notes was taken by Washington Post Photographer Jabin Botsford.