Headlines: May 20, 2020
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Two dams have failed in central Michigan following massive flooding and causing thousands of people to evacuate. The Edenville and Sanford Dams, which are about 140 miles from Detroit, were breached after record breaking rainfall. The towns of Edenville, Sanford, and Midland were under evacuation orders as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared an emergency and warned that the land could be under as much as 9 feet of water. Whitmer also implored evacuating residents to continue practicing social distancing and wear masks to protect from the on-going threat of the coronavirus. The midweek rainfall came just days after several inches of rain on Sunday and Monday.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump, who has routinely targeted and attacked Gov. Whitmer has now threatened to withhold federal funding from Michigan as well as the state of Nevada over the decision to hold elections by mail. In separate tweets (here and here), he slammed what he called “illegal vote by mail ballots,” that would lead to “a great Voter Fraud scenario.” It is not clear which federal funds Trump has the authority to withhold. The President also failed to mention that he votes by mail. And in Texas, a federal judge ruled that residents fearful of becoming infected by Covid-19 are eligible to vote in elections by mail. The judge slammed Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton who had threatened to criminally prosecute local election supervisors who were encouraging vote by mail. The judge called Paxton’s actions akin to voter intimidation.
As the coronavirus death toll in the US moves past 92,000 and the number of infections past 1.5 million – the highest total of any nation by far – Trump on Tuesday expressed pride in the grim statistics saying he considers the US’s high numbers of Covid-19 infections a “badge of honor.” Although there has been a high number of tests conducted in the US, per capita it is 16th in the world on testing. As most states around the nation reopen businesses, the number of infections and deaths is expected to rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the weekend quietly posted its detailed guidelines for states and institutions to reopen – guidelines which the White House had initially censored but been leaked to the press. The 60-page document fills out many missing details from the barebones set of charts the once-prestigious government agency posted last week. Tom Frieden, former CDC Director under President Obama, gave an interview on CBS saying that, “If people don’t feel safe, they don’t go out and the economy doesn’t recover,” He added, “This isn’t about health versus economics. This is about being in it together to control the virus as well as possible so that we can reopen.” Mr. Frieden was responding to White House trade advisor Peter Navarro’s bizarre and unfounded claim that continuing lockdowns would, “indirectly … kill a lot more people.”
Robert Redfield, the current head of the CDC announced that the US was indeed ready to return to pre-pandemic life saying that transmission of the disease within communities was falling. He said that the federal government was hoping to expand its contact tracing capabilities by adding 30,000 to 100,000 more people to help document who has been infected and who they have come into contact with. Meanwhile Associated Press reported on a leaked telephone call obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy that showed Republican operatives are planning to recruit strongly pro-Trump doctors to advise the public that it is safe to resume normal activity. According to AP, “The plan was discussed in a May 11 conference call with a senior staffer for the Trump reelection campaign.” While scientific experts balked at the use of doctors as a political tool, a GOP activist married to a Republican lawmaker said on the recorded call, “There is a coalition of doctors who are extremely pro-Trump that have been preparing and coming together for the war ahead in the campaign on health care… And we have doctors that are … in the trenches, that are saying ‘It’s time to reopen.’”
In spite of the strongest desires of Trump supporters, cases of infections and deaths in the US continue to rise. For example, the state of Maryland reported its largest increase in infections four days after reopening businesses. Corrections officers in New York City have been hard hit with more than 1,200 jail guards out of less than 10,000 being diagnosed with Covid-19 so far. Meanwhile a new study suggests that a ban on so-called “super-spreader” events could help curb infections. According to the Wall Street Journal which reported it, “Researchers believe that the explosive growth of coronavirus infections that overwhelmed hospitals in some countries was primarily driven by such events earlier this year—horse races in Britain, carnival festivities in the U.S. and Germany or a soccer match in Italy.” And, “[a] more surprising finding is that mass infections tend to be more serious than those contracted in other circumstances, perhaps because of sustained exposure to a larger amount of virus.”
Asian American doctors and nurses are continuing to report a spike in racist incidents facing them even as they risk their lives to treat Covid infections. The Washington Post spoke to one doctor who said, “I’m risking my own personal health, and then to be vilified just because of what I look like.” Asian Americans “represent 6 percent of the U.S. population but 18 percent of the country’s physicians and 10 percent of its nurse practitioners.” The steady rise in reported assaults and attacks are twice as commonly aimed at women of Asian origin than men. President Trump is intimately linked to such racism through his insistence on referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.”
In immigration news, an elderly South Korean immigrant being held in a US detention center has apparently died of suicide. Advocates worked to release the 76-year old man over fears that he was vulnerable to infection but were unsuccessful. Mr. Choung Woong Ahn, who was being held at a detention center in Bakersfield, California died earlier this week. Meanwhile federal government data shows that since the pandemic was declared the Trump administration has been deporting hundreds of immigrant minors back to their home countries, often without even informing their parents. Nearly 1,000 immigrant youth were deported in March and April. The Customs and Border Patrol agency has refused to release the criteria under which they carried out the deportations. The government is claiming its actions are justified by the need to reduce virus infections. Meanwhile the US birth rate has reportedly fallen to a 35-year low. The decline in births is part of a longer trend but experts expect that the pandemic will reduce births even more.
Finally a report of new outbreaks of the virus in two northern Chinese provinces suggest that the Covid-19 virus might be mutating with infected persons carrying it their bodies for longer before showing symptoms and testing negative after a longer period of time. This could potentially make the virus more potent as the window for infected people to pass the virus to others would be larger. So far the cluster of cases is far smaller than in Wuhan and scientists are issuing a caveat that their data could be the result of far more detailed observation of patients.