Headlines: March 24, 2020
Listen to story:
Download: mp3 (Duration: 8:06 — 7.4MB)
A spokesperson for the World Health Organization has said that the United States could become the next epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. There are currently 46,500 confirmed cases with nearly 600 deaths – the third highest total globally after Italy and China. The WHO’s Margaret Harris told reporters, “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So, it does have that potential.” She explained that over the past day alone the vast majority of new cases of infection – 85% – we either in the US or Europe. And more than 100 people died in the US on Monday alone. The New York Times, in recording the pace of deaths per country concluded that with 534 deaths in total in the US, the rate of deaths was doubling every 3 days. The states of Washington and New York have the highest death tolls so far. The state of California now has more than 2,000 confirmed cases of infection with a death toll of 43. In Los Angeles County where testing has accelerated, infections are being found in large numbers among young people – 42% of infections are in those aged 18 to 40. California Gov. Gavin Newsom says the state anticipates needing 30,000 more hospital beds than it has.
Experts are now pointing out that major testing missteps in the early days of the virus’ spread has deeply set back the US’s approach to the pandemic. According to Associated Press, “In the critical month of February, as the virus began taking root in the U.S. population, CDC data shows government labs processed 352 COVID-19 tests — an average of only a dozen per day.” More specifically the setback was because of, “the early decision not to use the test adopted by the World Health Organization, flaws with the more complex test developed by the CDC, government guidelines restricting who could be tested and delays in engaging the private sector to ramp up testing capacity. Combined with messaging from the White House minimizing the disease, that fueled a lackluster response that missed chances to slow the spread of the virus.”
Meanwhile President Donald Trump appears to be moving in exactly the wrong direction at the wrong time, pushing for businesses to reopen sooner rather than later in a desperate bid to salvage the economy – which he sees as his ticket to reelection. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the trustworthy scientist that has become the face of the Trump administration’s response to the virus – did not appear at the White House Press briefings this week, further fueling fears that Trump is ignoring the advice of experts. In remarks to Fox News on Tuesday morning Trump appeared to justify any deaths that might result from the virus’ spread if businesses reopened. He angled toward pushing for a restart of the US economy as early as next week in direct opposition to the advice of experts. Some other Republicans are echoing Trump’s approach with Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick – also on Fox News. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo responded to this bizarre calculation during a press conference.
Meanwhile the US Senate continues to battle it out over a $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill as leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer promise a deal is close at hand. At stake was a $500 billion fund – one quarter of the cost of the bill – that is being set aside for corporate loans and loan guarantees. That does not even include an, “additional $50 billion [that] would go to passenger airlines, $8 billion more for cargo airlines, and an additional $17 billion … for firms that are deemed important to national security.” The White House has reportedly agreed to oversight of that fund through an inspector general. President Trump indicated that he wants some of it to go to the cruise ship industry in Miami, Florida – not far from where his own resort is based. In electoral news, there is growing pressure from both major parties to include in the bill, funding for a vote-by-mail general election this November. Democrats have requested $2 billion in emergency funding for expanded demands for vote-by-mail. Although federal Republican officials are opposed to the funding, at the local level, election officials from both parties are united in the need for the additional dollars.
Meanwhile sectors of the US economy are indeed on the verge of falling apart as millions of American workers fear layoffs and their employers going bankrupt. Airline workers are deeply worried about their jobs, as well as about the hazards of working while the virus is spreading. Local free weekly newspapers are in danger of completely closing down as they rely on physical distribution and ad revenues for events. Meanwhile charities are facing a huge crisis of massively increased needs in their communities, but few volunteers available to help as they navigate lock-down orders.
In immigration news, the Trump administration has halted court proceedings for asylum seekers after a coalition of immigration judges and lawyers demanded a pause in order to enforce quarantines. The decision delays application processes for those people who are being forced to remain in Mexico as per Trump’s policy. And at the US-Mexico border, even though immigrant arrivals have dropped off, thousands of active duty troops and National Guard troops remain at a cost of about $500 million to taxpayers so far.
The International Olympic Committee and Japan have decided to postpone this summer’s Olympics that were to be held in Tokyo. Athletes and others had expressed growing concern over the pandemic. They hope to move the globally popular games to next summer.
In non-Covid-19 news, the Trump administration is continuing its deregulatory agenda including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requiring that all scientific data including classified medical data be published – in a bid to disqualify most scientific health studies. The US Supreme Court issued two major rulings: a 6-3 one that allows states to disqualify an “insanity defense” for those criminal defendants with mental illnesses. And, a 9-0 ruling raising the bar for racial discrimination claims in lawsuits. And the state of Colorado has joined 21 other states in just abolishing the death penalty.