Headlines: March 30, 2020
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President Donald Trump has backed off from his earlier insistence that the US economy would be restarted by mid-April, saying in a press briefing on Sunday that federal guidelines on social distancing to combat the spread of Covid-19 would stay in place through the month of April. There are now more than 136,000 confirmed cases of infection nationwide and more than 2,400 deaths. Trump’s about face came hours after his top coronavirus expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said that the scenario that the US faces right now could mean 100 to 200,000 deaths from the disease. The President attempted to spin such a dire projection into good news saying during his press briefing that if deaths from the virus were fewer than 200,000, “we all together have done a very good job.” Trump still remains optimistic that the US economy could be back on its feet by June 1st. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House task force response coordinator echoed Dr. Fauci’s projections saying in an interview that she feared, “No state, no metro area will be spared,” from the virus.
During Trump’s press briefing on Sunday he once more lost his temper at reporters for daring to ask him challenging questions. In contrast with the praise he lavished on one reporter for giving him soft-ball questions, this was Trump’s caustic exchange with PBS NewsHour reporter Yamiche Alcindor. During his press briefing Trump also implied that healthcare workers who have been demanding Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves might be stealing them. He said, “How do you go from using 10,000 to 20,000 [masks] to 300,000? Even though this is different. Something’s going on. Where are the masks going, are they going out the back door?” The President has made no secret about his glee over high TV ratings now that the virus spread has prevented him from holding political rallies for his reelection. He has even bragged on Twitter about the ratings for his news conferences rivaling those for popular TV shows.
On Friday Trump said he told his Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the White House virus effort, not to call those state Governors who are not “appreciative” of his efforts. He said, “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call.” He pointed to the Governors of Michigan and Washington as not appreciative enough. When asked by a reporter what governors can do, this is what the President said. Meanwhile House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday had harsh words for Trump saying on CNN that “as the President fiddles, people are dying.” Senator Lindsey Graham, who had himself in early March urged Trump to listen to scientists on the virus, denounced Pelosi’s statements on Fox News as, “ the most shameful, disgusting statement by any politician in modern history.”
Trump on Friday invoked the full force of the Defense Production Act after weeks of delays. The act gives the President the power to direct private industry to make life-saving equipment in times of emergency. General Motors, which had been negotiating a deal with the government to mass-produce ventilators says it has already been pushing to start production for tens of thousands of life-saving ventilators by April. Pro-business organizations like the Chamber of Commerce had been lobbying Trump against invoking the act and up until Friday their efforts had worked. Meanwhile on Sunday the first federally sponsored airlift of needed supplies was sent to the state of New York which has been the hardest hit by the virus. According to Axios, a flight from Shanghai delivered, “12 million gloves, 130,000 N95 masks, 1.7 million surgical masks, 50,000 gowns, 130,000 hand sanitizer units, and 36,000 thermometers.” California Gov. Gavin Newsom reported that his state received a shipment of 170 ventilators from the federal stockpile to Los Angeles County but that the machines were broken. They have now been sent to the Silicon Valley city of San Jose to be fixed.
While much of the US is practicing social distancing and self-quarantine, going out only if they perform essential functions or if they need to replenish food supplies, some communities continue to defy the virus risks. In Lynchburg, Virginia, Jerry Fallwell Jr. ordered the reopening of the evangelical Liberty University after Spring Break last week. Now, dozens of students have become sick. In Louisiana, hundreds of people attended mass at church in the town of Central. Similarly in Florida, hundreds crowded into The Tampa Bay Church in direct violation of that state’s “Safer-at-Home” order. And, a cautionary tale of what happened with one choir in Mount Vernon, Washington in early March has made headlines. Dozens of members of the Skagit Valley Chorale gathered for choir practice, using hand sanitizer and not shaking hands. According to the LA Times, “Nearly three weeks later, 45 have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or ill with the symptoms, at least three have been hospitalized, and two are dead.” New York City is not taking chances, with an announcement that people could be fined up to $500 for violating orders against assembling in groups.
In other news, more than a hundred Amazon workers in the New York City Staten Island warehouse have planned a walkout over dangerous working conditions. One Amazon employee at a warehouse in the Seattle, Washington area has already been infected with the virus. And, workers with the grocery delivery service Instacart announced a one-day strike on Monday to protest the lack of protective equipment and lack of hazard pay. There are reports of similar actions taking place across the country including among truck drivers, bus drivers, auto workers, and grocery workers.
A federal judge has ordered the release of migrant children from detention centers after 4 children have tested positive for Covid-19. Lawyers representing the children have said, “The threat of irreparable injury to their health and safety is palpable.” And, calls to release imprisoned people from Rikers Island jail in New York continue to grow amid reports of unsanitary conditions and inadequate materials to tackle the spread of the virus.
And finally in international news, Refugees International has released a new report on the disastrous consequences from Covid-19 facing the world’s 70 million displaced people. The report’s authors denounced the decision to close borders as, “many nations are turning inward as they seek to protect their own citizens.” Those living in crowded refugee camps are facing “catastrophic” impacts said the report.