By Robert A. Vella
The U.S. now has the most confirmed cases of coronavirus infections in the world surpassing China and Italy. Since COVID-19 surfaced in the U.S. several weeks after its appearance in China, the number of U.S. deaths – at nearly 1,300 – is a lagging indicator that will surely rise over the next few weeks.
The global pandemic is increasingly infecting politicians and other high-profile public figures, and today the first national leader became a victim – U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Ironically, Johnson’s initial response was similar to the denial and foot-dragging exhibited by U.S. president Donald Trump. Only later, after the severity of the public health crisis became evident, did Johnson take affirmative action.
Meanwhile, President Trump still has not come to his senses. He is rejecting industry offers to produce badly needed ventilators, which are necessary to save lives, under the Defense Production Act because of the $1 billion price tag even though he is eager to sign the much costlier $2 trillion financial aid bill now working its way through Congress (a Republican congressman delayed the bill today by objecting to a unanimous consent vote in the House of Representatives). Also, more revelations have been reported detailing both incompetence and obstruction by the Trump administration during the early phase of the pandemic which significantly impeded efforts by healthcare professionals to contain the spread of the virus.
Additionally, Trump’s self-serving priorities continue to interfere with the nation’s response. To him, nothing is more important than getting reelected; and, nothing is more important to his reelection chances than a strong economy. But, coronavirus is causing the global economy to collapse as people hunker-down and activity is brought to a standstill. That’s why Trump is so desperate to ease “stay at home” orders (enacted by state and local governments) and some travel restrictions his own administration has implemented. Unfortunately for Trump, his desires are getting tremendous pushback from medical experts and responsible officials working to limit the damage resulting from the pandemic. Consequently, he is now offering another absurd idea – to designate individual counties in the U.S. as either “High,” “Medium,” or “Low” risk areas (see: Trump plan calls for classifying coronavirus risk county by county).
What Trump cannot understand, or refuses to understand, is that COVID-19 has already spread across the country. Just because some isolated, low-population counties haven’t seen a lot of infections yet doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. The virus doesn’t respect arbitrary boundaries drawn by humans. It spreads by social interaction. Unless counties are walled-off by strict quarantines enforced by police and or the military, such a plan would be ineffective at best. Had his administration moved quickly to test the entire population from the outset, the data would be available to target specific counties. But, Trump instead did the opposite. Even now, healthcare professionals still don’t know the full extent of infections.
Here’s today’s news:
The U.S. has overtaken China as the country with the most cases in the world of the novel coronavirus, marking a new milestone in the fight against the global pandemic.
China had held the top spot since the deadly virus began spreading there in December.
There were 85,991 confirmed infections across America, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The first case in the U.S.—a man in Washington state who had recently traveled to Wuhan, China—was reported on Jan. 21.
China had 81,782 total infections, according to Johns Hopkins data.
Fatalities in the U.S. from the new coronavirus topped 1,296 Friday.
While Italy continues to be the epicenter of the pandemic fight on the Continent, with 80,589 confirmed cases, infections in Spain have risen 10-fold during its national lockdown, to 57,786. The country’s death toll from the respiratory illness surpassed China’s on Wednesday and now stands at 4,365. Only Italy has a higher toll, with 8,215 fatalities.
LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for coronavirus and is self-isolating at his Downing Street residence but said he would still lead the government’s response to the accelerating outbreak.
Johnson, 55, experienced mild symptoms on Thursday, a day after he answered at the prime minister’s weekly question-and-answer session in parliament’s House of Commons chamber, and received the positive test result at around midnight.
After being criticised by some lawmakers, doctors and scientists for not adopting more stringent measures earlier to curb the spread of the illness, Johnson has increasingly become the face of Britain’s response to the pandemic, which he has likened to fighting a war.
Prince Charles, the 71-year-old heir to the British throne, tested positive for coronavirus earlier this week. He is in good health and is now self-isolating at his residence in Scotland with mild symptoms along with his wife Camilla, who tested negative, his office said.
WASHINGTON — The White House had been preparing to reveal on Wednesday a joint venture between General Motors and Ventec Life Systems that would allow for the production of as many as 80,000 desperately needed ventilators to respond to an escalating pandemic when word suddenly came down that the announcement was off.
The decision to cancel the announcement, government officials say, came after the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it needed more time to assess whether the estimated cost was prohibitive. That price tag was more than $1 billion, with several hundred million dollars to be paid upfront to General Motors to retool a car parts plant in Kokomo, Ind., where the ventilators would be made with Ventec’s technology.
… in an interview Thursday night with Sean Hannity, the president played down the need for ventilators.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted her support of state Governor Charlie Baker Thursday after a press conference in which Baker said attempts to purchase medical equipment for the state’s attempts to quell the coronavirus have been “enormously frustrating.”
Baker told President Donald Trump on a conference call in March that Massachusetts had been outbid on orders for the equipment by the federal government. Trump had advised state governors to use their own established supply chains to purchase the items.
“.@MassGovernor Baker is right to be angry,” former Democratic presidential candidate Warren tweeted Thursday. “The Trump administration is doing WORSE than nothing–it’s actively preventing states like Massachusetts from obtaining necessary equipment. These failures are resulting in a public health catastrophe.”
CHICAGO (Reuters) – The $2 trillion economic stimulus package racing toward passage in the U.S. Congress contains several important relief provisions for retirees, and for younger workers saving for retirement.
Most of these provisions do a good job targeting help for middle- and lower-income households that will need help most during the crisis. Here is a rundown of the most important retirement-related provisions contained in the CARES Act, which sailed through the U.S. Senate on Wednesday and is expected to be approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday. I have also given my “report card” grade to each provision.
In the race to save the economy and pass the largest economic rescue package in American history, Congress still found a way to do some old-fashioned home state favors and reward key special interests.
Senate Republicans inserted an easy-to-overlook provision on page 203 of the 880-page bill that would permit wealthy investors to use losses generated by real estate to minimize their taxes on profits from things like investments in the stock market. The estimated cost of the change over 10 years is $170 billion.
Under the existing tax code, when real estate investors generate losses from gradually writing down the value of their properties, a process known as depreciation, they can use some of those losses to offset other taxes. The result is that people can enjoy big tax breaks stemming from only-on-paper losses, even if they enjoy big cash profits in the real world.
But the use of those losses was limited by the 2017 tax-cut package. The losses could be used only to shelter the first $500,000 of a married couple’s nonbusiness income, such as capital gains from investments. Any leftover losses got rolled over to future years.
The new stimulus bill lifts that restriction for three years — this year, and two retroactive years — a boon for couples with more than $500,000 in annual capital gains or income from sources other than their business. That group comprises the top 1 percent of taxpayers, according to Internal Revenue Service data.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Representative Thomas Massie enraged President Donald Trump on Friday as he has leaders of Congress worried he will delay a planned Friday voice vote on a $2.2 trillion coronavirus economic rescue plan, drawing calls from the White House to throw him out of the Republican Party.
Even before the 49-year-old drew Trump’s ire on Twitter, he had been a thorn in the side of both parties so long that he’s nicknamed “Mr. No.”
From its biggest cities to its smallest towns, America’s chance to contain the coronavirus crisis came and went in the seven weeks since U.S. health officials botched the testing rollout and then misled scientists in state laboratories about this critical early failure. Federal regulators failed to recognize the spiraling disaster and were slow to relax the rules that prevented labs and major hospitals from advancing a backup.
Scientists around the country found themselves shackled as the disease spread.
The nation’s public health pillars — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration — shirked their responsibility to protect Americans in an emergency like this new coronavirus, USA TODAY found in interviews with dozens of scientists, public health experts and community leaders, as well as email communications between laboratories and hospitals across the country.
The result was a cascading series of failures now costing lives.
During the period in which the correspondence was written, from January to early March, health officials were trying to stay ahead of the coronavirus outbreak underway in China. By mid-February, when the CDC job postings email went out, the virus had a toehold in the United States, where there were already 15 confirmed cases. In another two weeks, the first case of community transmission would be reported in California, followed shortly by cases in Washington.
The documents — mostly emails — provide a behind-the-scenes peek into the messy early stages of the U.S. response to the coronavirus, revealing an antiquated public health system trying to adapt on the fly. What comes through clearly is confusion, as the CDC underestimated the threat from the virus and stumbled in communicating to local public health officials what should be done.
For much of February, the CDC kept a tight grip on who should be tested for the coronavirus, a strategy that has been criticized by epidemiologists for limiting the ability to track the spread of the disease.
LONDON, March 26 (Reuters) – The world faces “a severe and acute” emergency due to the pandemic caused by the coronavirus and national responses in the coming weeks will be critical to the trajectory of their epidemics, a leading group of scientists said on Thursday.
If no mitigating measures or policies had been taken, the COVID-19 disease outbreak would have resulted in 7.0 billion infections and 40 million deaths globally this year, the scientists said from Imperial College London said.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned of global food shortages caused by measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“The worst that can happen is that governments restrict the flow of food,” Maximo Torero, chief economist of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, told the Guardian.
Harvests have been good and staple crops remain in demand, but a shortage of field workers brought on by the pandemic and a move towards protectionism – tariffs and export bans – could lead to problems in the coming weeks, Torero said, according to the report.
“All measures against free trade will be counterproductive. Now is not the time for restrictions or putting in place trade barriers. Now is the time to protect the flow of food around the world,” Torero added, the news course reported.
JERUSALEM —Israeli lawmakers took what could be a significant step Thursday toward forming an emergency government and ending the country’s year-long political deadlock by electing opposition leader Benny Gantz as speaker of parliament.
The unexpected development looks to be part of a deal between Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a unity government as Israel battles the coronavirus pandemic. Under the deal, Netanyahu could remain prime minister for now.
The sudden turn of events prompted the immediate breakup of Gantz’s Blue and White party. Two of the three factions comprising that party have consistently said they will not join a governing coalition or participate in a political scenario that allows Netanyahu to remain in office while he faces criminal indictment. Netanyahu was formally charged in November in three criminal cases involving allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Gantz lost the support of those factions, as well as from the wider opposition, including a group of Arab Israeli parliamentarians who had been willing to back him for prime minister. But he won the speaker’s job with the votes of lawmakers from Netanyahu’s Likud party and from members of a right-wing bloc that has repeatedly criticized Gantz over the past year.