Headlines: May 14, 2020
Listen to story:
Download: mp3 (Duration: 8:26 — 7.7MB)
Dr. Rick Bright, the former Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) testified on Thursday in front of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s health subcommittee laying out his deep concerns over federal government inaction on the Covid-19 pandemic, why he was fired from his position, and how the nation can move forward. Here are excerpts from his opening remarks:
“Today, the world is confronting a public health emergency unlike any we’ve seen in over a century. We are facing a highly transmissible and deadly virus, which not only claims lives, but also disrupts the very foundations of our society. The American healthcare system is being taxed to the limit. Our economy is spiraling downward and our population is being paralyzed by fear stemming from a lack of a coordinated response and a dearth of accurate, clear communication about the path forward….Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to improve our response now based on science, I fear the pandemic will get worse and be prolonged. There will be likely a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall. It will be greatly compounded by the challenges of seasonal influenza. Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history…. We will either be remembered for what we did or for what we failed to do to address this crisis.“
Dr. Bright also explained using strong language how he was sidelined over his push to produce more Personal Protective Equipment for healthcare workers. Dr. Bright says he was fired from his position for questioning the promotion of an unproven drug named Hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus. Republican members of the committee spent much of their time defending President Donald Trump and justifying his promotion of the drug that has already caused several known cases of fatal overdoses.
President Trump on Thursday predictably denounced Dr. Bright and continued promoting hydroxychloroquine as a “disgruntled” employee. Earlier Trump had also denounced the testimony of another leading scientific expert Dr. Anthony Fauci who testified to Senators on Monday. Dr. Fauci warned against reopening schools, leading Trump to respond, “To me, it’s not an acceptable answer.” A new CBS News poll found that 57% of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the crisis.
The latest Labor Department figures are out showing that another 3 million Americans filed for jobless benefits last week, bringing the 2-month total since the pandemic was declared to more than 36 million jobs lost. A Wall Street firm named UBS has predicted that the undermining of brick-and-mortar stores by online retailers like Amazon, began well before the pandemic, but will now lead to the closure of about 100,000 more stores over the next five years. Meanwhile lawmakers from both parties are now starting to come an agreement on the need for the federal government to begin paying salaries of all Americans. Progressive Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and conservative Republican Congressman Josh Hawley have both pushed similar ideas and Jayapal’s paycheck guarantee bill may even pass the House.
The World Health Organization this week offered a grim assessment saying that the Covid-19 virus may never go away and that populations around the world will have to find a way to live with it. Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO’s Emergencies Director said it, “may become just another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away,” But he added, “There is some magical thinking going on that lockdowns work perfectly and that unlocking lockdowns will go great. Both are fraught with dangers.” Here in the US, Republicans are leading the push to reopen in spite of danger. In Wisconsin, the state Supreme Court sided with Republicans to overturn Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ lockdown on Wednesday. Crowds of people descended on bars that opened up, refusing to practice social distancing or wear masks. Gov. Evers lamented the state of affairs saying, “We’re the Wild West… There are no restrictions at all across the state of Wisconsin. … So at this point in time … there is nothing that’s compelling people to do anything other than having chaos here.”
Rightwing protests in Michigan continued against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s lockdown orders with hundreds of people once more descending on the state capitol. Pennsylvania’s Democratic Governor Tom Wolf is worried about Republican pressure to end the lockdown. A GOP state representative warned, “this thing is turning into a pressure cooker…This thing is going to blow up if [Wolf] doesn’t make a move soon.” South Dakota’s Republican Governor Kristi Noem has threatened a lawsuit against the Sioux nation over checkpoints ordered by tribal leaders on their territory in order to control the spread of the virus. Texas is offering a grim example of what awaits those states that simply reopen. There are now about 1,000 more cases of infection per day than before Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas pushed to reopen the state.
A new peer-reviewed study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that even while just speaking, humans emit droplets of saliva that can hang in the air for up to 8 minutes and that a conversation with an infected person can expose one to the virus. The louder the speech, the more droplets are emitted. Another preliminary study has found that the plasma of recovered patients can successfully treat Covid-19 infections. Thousands of Covid-19 patients received the plasma of recovered patients and found a positive result with few side effects and low mortality. Meanwhile another study called into question the efficacy of a popular Covid-detection test promoted widely by President Trump and used regularly by the White House. The Abbott Laboratory test which can provide results in minutes, was found to have missed between 33 to 48% of positive infections. Abbott took issue with the results of the study.
In other news, Senator Richard Burr has stepped down from his position as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee over accusations that he engaged in insider trading to dump stocks ahead of the pandemic being declared. The FBI this week served a warrant to search the Republican Senator’s cell phone data.
And, a federal appeals court has just revived an emoluments case against President Trump over his hotel in Washington DC. The lawsuit brought by the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland allege that Trump illegally benefits from state officials’ and diplomats’ visits to Trump international Hotel in DC. The ruling is at odds with another court’s earlier ruling and may end up at the US Supreme Court.
And finally Senator Lindsey Graham has just announced that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing in June over the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia. The move represents a widespread Republican desire to punish Trump’s opponents for the Special Counsel’s probe and is essentially an investigation of the investigators.