By Robert A. Vella
Today, there are currently over 257,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. which have resulted in over 6,500 fatalities. Tomorrow, those numbers will be significantly higher. This week in his daily press conferences, President Trump announced forecasts for the number of deaths expected in America from the coronavirus pandemic. Afterwards, medical experts began questioning the methodology and purpose of the forecasts to which no substantive answers were forthcoming from the White House. Their skepticism is warranted. Epidemiological modeling is not a statement of fact, but it is useful information intended to aid official disease responses to plan for various potential scenarios. In this case, however, the intent appears to have been political in nature. It’s all pure speculation at this point, but the White House forecasts could have been intended to persuade Trump to back-off on his plan to reopen the economy (by loosening public “stay at home” recommendations), or it was done specifically at Trump’s request (for some unknown reason which we all can guess at). Regardless, such forecasts are the purview of medical science conducted at universities, nonprofit organizations, the healthcare industry, and government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but not the White House which is a political apparatus.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is assuming a larger role inside the White House concerning the pandemic response. His controversial public remarks regarding the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) of medical supplies and equipment, which is a major point of contention between the states and the Trump administration, highlights both the purpose of and the secrecy surrounding that reserve supply of desperately needed hospital gear. I’ve spent several days trying to learn exactly how the SNS is being utilized, but my research has produced few if any tangible discoveries as if I was searching in the dark for something well-hidden. What I can convey to readers are only my reasonable suspicions. It appears to me that the Trump administration is prioritizing the business interests of private manufacturers and distributors over the need of hospitals who are on the frontlines of the coronavirus fight. The circumstantial evidence of urgent pleas from healthcare professionals and state governors does support my assumption, but does not prove it. You can decide for yourself.
Another interesting development is the abrupt change in public opinion over the last two weeks. In March, economic concerns overshadowed coronavirus concerns among most Americans. Now, those concerns have reversed.
Here’s more on those stories plus the rest of today’s news:
Leading disease forecasters, whose research the White House used to conclude 100,000 to 240,000 people will die nationwide from the coronavirus, were mystified when they saw the administration’s projection this week.
The experts said they don’t challenge the numbers’ validity but that they don’t know how the White House arrived at them.
White House officials have refused to explain how they generated the figure — a death toll bigger than the United States suffered in the Vietnam War or the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They have not provided the underlying data so others can assess its reliability or provided long-term strategies to lower that death count.
Some of President Trump’s top advisers have expressed doubts about the estimate, according to three White House officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. There have been fierce debates inside the White House about its accuracy.
Other experts noted that the White House didn’t even explain the time period the death estimate supposedly captures — just the coming few months, or the year-plus it will take to deploy a vaccine.
Almost the entirety of what the public knows about the death projection was presented on a single slide at a briefing Tuesday from the White House coronavirus task force. A White House representative said the task force has not publicly released the models it drew from out of respect for the confidentiality of the modelers, many of whom approached the White House unsolicited and simply want to continue their work without publicity.
A representative for Fauci did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for Vice President Pence declined to comment. On a Thursday call with conservative leaders, Pence said it was “difficult” to view the models but “the president thought it was important to share with the American people.”
Among epidemiologists, the estimate raised more questions than it answered — not just about methodology and accuracy but, perhaps more importantly, about purpose.
The handful of projections the task force has plucked from the group and used in White House discussions, administration officials said, are sometimes deployed with an audience of one in mind: Trump.
White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner said state officials can’t necessarily count on using “our” federal stockpile of emergency medical equipment during the coronavirus crisis, prompting widespread confusion and criticism.
It was Kushner’s first time fielding questions from the press since reports emerged that he had set up his own “shadow” coronavirus team in the White House, which is tasked with obtaining key supplies for hospitals and rolling out testing for the disease.
When asked about his work with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ensure states can obtain vital equipment, he said that state officials should not assume that federal stockpiles of equipment are for state use.
Kushner’s remarks seem to contradict the purpose of the Strategic National Stockpile, which is operated by HHS. According to its website, the stockpile is “the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on Kushner’s remarks, and comment on the criticism leveled against him.
The New York Times on Tuesday reported that Kushner had staffed his team with allies and figures from the private sector who one unnamed source likened to a “frat party.”
In response, health officials in several states – from Washington State to Delaware — have tapped the federal government for access to a network of storage facilities scattered across the country that houses the “largest supply of potentially life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out,” according to a page on the Department of Health and Human Services website.
It’s known as the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), and for national security purposes the number of warehouses and their locations remain a secret. Its contents include pre-packed and transport-ready containers for delivery anywhere in the United States within 12 hours of a federal decision to deploy.
States have been clashing with the federal government over who’s responsible for ensuring that critical medical equipment and supplies get to the places that need them most amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
After declaring a national emergency over the health crisis on March 13, President Donald Trump directed governors to order their own ventilators, respirators and supplies, saying the federal government is “not a shipping clerk.” Governors in both parties shot back that Trump’s stance and a lack of coordination from Washington have left states bidding against one another and the federal government for access to critical equipment.
The federal government responded to the chorus of complaints about bidding wars March 30 by setting up a FEMA supply chain task force to coordinate sourcing of supplies nationwide and help allocate equipment to high-priority areas.
A FEMA spokeswoman told PolitiFact that the agency is working to meet demand for equipment through new purchases, Defense Department allocations or from the Strategic National Stockpile.
The head of Florida’s emergency management agency, Jared Moskowitz, called the market for masks a “Ponzi scheme” and said on Twitter that he was urging supplier 3M to send supplies directly rather than dealing through costly middlemen.
His decision comes after Howard-Browne was arrested Monday and charged with misdemeanor counts of unlawful assembly and violating public health rules after hosting two Sunday services at his church.
The church violated social distancing measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus by holding services with nearly 500 people in attendance.
On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) issued a statewide stay-at-home order but included an exemption for religious services conducted in houses of worship, deeming them “essential business.”
DeSantis also signed a second order overriding restrictions set by local governments, according to the Tampa Bay Times, to prevent them from setting restrictions that were more stringent than the state level ones.
Veterans have spoken out against the decision to relieve the captain of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt after he sent a letter to the Navy pleading for help after his ship was stricken with the coronavirus.
Thomas Modly, the acting secretary of the Navy, accused Capt. Brett Crozier of having “poor judgment” for using a “non-secure, unclassified” email address to write an email to his immediate chain of command which also included “20 or 30” additional recipients.
Crozier’s letter, which was then leaked and published by the San Francisco Chronicle, asked officials for help in isolating more than 4,000 sailors onboard the aircraft carrier docked in Guam, after a COVID-19 outbreak was detected among its crew. A day after the letter was published, around 1,000 sailors were removed from the Theodore Roosevelt. A total of 114 crew have since tested positive for COVID-19.
Most Americans say saving lives by preventing the spread of COVID-19 should be the top priority for the U.S. government as the global coronavirus pandemic strains the nation’s health care system and social distancing measures ravage the economy, according to a new poll.
The Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos poll poll released Friday found the nation is becoming more accepting of drastic interventions to stop the virus’ spread, compared with a poll taken March 10 and 11. The increased support for restrictions comes as Americans believe coronavirus effects will be felt for the foreseeable future, the new survey found.
[Sue] Clinton is among the majority (72%)of respondents who believe the government’s priority should be saving lives by stopping the spread of the virus, as opposed to sparing the economy.
Only about 1 in 5 said the government’s main priority should be saving the economy.