Headlines: March 27, 2020
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The United States now leads the world in confirmed cases of coronavirus infections with the total being at least 81,321 people. So far just over 1,000 people have died of the Covid-19 virus. The US is the world’s third most populous country, behind India and China. The news of the grim milestone comes as hospitals are overwhelmed with patients, particularly in New York City where the need for ventilators is so great that hospitals have now begun sharing a single machine between two patients. A Detroit physician named Dr. Charlene Babcock created a video tutorial of how to split a single ventilator four ways — her method of sharing ventilators for Covid-19 patients whose airways are shutting down amid a massive national shortage. On Thursday President Donald Trump in an interview with Sean Hannity responded to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desperate plea for 30,000 ventilators. On Thursday the New York Times reported that the federal government was on the verge of cutting a deal with General Motors and Ventec Life Systems to manufacture as many as 80,000 ventilators at a cost of about $1 billion but at the last minute the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) backed out of the plan. The Times explained that, “The only thing missing was clarity from the government about how many ventilators they needed — and who would be paid to build them.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House coronavirus task force has warned that other states ought to take heed from what is unfolding in New York – the current epicenter of the coronavirus in the US. He explained in an interview with NPR that, “the testing situation is infinitely better than what it was a few weeks ago. We now have hundreds of thousands of tests out there. And in the next week or so, we’ll be having like a million a week.” While the US has indeed tested more people than any other nation so far, it’s per capita testing still falls far short of other countries. According to the New York Times, “About 65,000 coronavirus tests are being performed on Americans each day — a meteoric rise from just 10 days ago.” But, “about 150,000 tests are needed every day.”
President Trump could invoke the full power of the Defense Production Act to compel private industries to ramp up production of necessary equipment but has so far refused to do so. On Thursday Brett Giroir of the White House Coronavirus Task Force defended the President’s inaction saying, “industry is pouring in with offers. Everything we have asked, they have done. And they come every single day to provide more and more goods.” Earlier in the week Trump had compared the use of the DPA to what the government of Venezuela is doing. He said, ““We’re a country not based on nationalizing our business. Call a person over in Venezuela. Ask them, how did nationalization of their businesses work out? Not too well.” But Trump has ignored or not been challenged by Fox News with the stories of equipment shortages that are already costing lives. In New York, a nurse manager named Kious Kelly at Mount Sinai West became the first healthcare worker in New York City to die of the coronavirus. The 48-year old nurse has become a symbol for healthcare workers struggling with a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) amid a massive shortage of masks, gloves, and gowns. His co-workers directly blame his death on the lack of PPE.
On Friday the House of Representatives passed the massive $2.2 trillion stimulus package that the Senate had passed earlier this week. The measure was approved by members of both parties by a voice vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said upon the bill’s passage, “Today we’ve all acknowledged our nation faces an economic and health emergency of historic proportions.” Trump is expected to sign it into law right away. The New York Times on Thursday published an editorial saying that the stimulus was not enough. In unusually strong language the editorial board wrote that US lawmakers, “appear to regard mass unemployment as an unfortunate but unavoidable symptom of the coronavirus.” In contrast, “A number of European countries, after similarly failing to control the spread of the virus, and thus being forced to lock down large parts of their economies, have chosen to protect jobs.” For example, “Denmark has agreed to compensate Danish employers for up to 90 percent of their workers’ salaries.”
In other news, the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday issued a broad set of rules relaxing standards for polluting industries and citing the coronavirus as justification. The sweeping deregulation has no end-date and relies on companies policing themselves to meet safety standards and violations of regulations like the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. The EPA order says that the agency, “does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the E.P.A. agrees that Covid-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the E.P.A. upon request.” A former Obama era EPA official said to the New York Times, “This is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules. It is so far beyond any reasonable response I am just stunned.”
The Wall Street Journal has reported that immigrants in federal detention facilities have revolted at least three times this week over fears of the spread of Covid-19. In at least three cases this week alone, authorities have used pepper spray to subdue immigrants. So far there are two documented cases of detainees becoming infected. Immigrant rights advocates are demanding that detainees be immediately released for their own safety and for the safety of the staff and officers working in the centers. A similar concern has arisen among advocates of imprisoned people and US Attorney General William Barr is now reportedly requesting that the Federal Bureau of Prisons expand the use of “home confinement” in some cases.
In election news Presidential candidate Joe Biden will participate on Friday in an hour-long CNN townhall to discuss the coronavirus. Biden who has struggled with visibility during the crisis, and faces a new controversy over accusations of rape and sexual assault by a woman named Tara Reade, has refused to debate his rival Bernie Sanders. The former Vice President enjoys widespread support from the corporate media.
Finally British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock have both tested positive for the coronavirus. In a short video Johnson asked the British people to “stay at home.” His administration had refused to implement stay-at-home policies for several crucial weeks claiming that so-called “herd immunity” would protect people.