By Robert A. Vella
The U.S. now has over 350,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases with over 10,000 fatalities. These figures represent roughly 27% and 14%, respectively, of the total global infections (over 1,300,000) and deaths (over 72,000) even though the U.S. has only 4.2% of the world population. The next three hardest hit countries are Spain with over 135,000 cases, Italy with over 132,000 cases, and Germany with over 100,000 cases.
To say that the U.S. under President Trump has responded very poorly to the pandemic would be an understatement. Trump’s refusal to mobilize the federal government to address this terrible public health crisis, his rebuke of desperate pleas to appoint a national emergency czar who could coordinate government actions, his continued push of untested drug treatments, his outright denial of factual realities, his attempts to silence anyone who disagrees with him, and his daily propaganda “press conferences” which are confusing and demoralizing the American people, are all making this dire situation much worse than it should be.
I’m seeing a lot more people wearing proper and improvised face masks today. Transparent acrylic glass shields are being mounted on retail checkout stands especially in grocery stores to help protect workers. Anxiety is building across the nation as areas of the country, which had previously been only marginally affected, are now suffering serious numbers of infections.
Hospitals continue to confront severe shortages in testing and protective equipment for medical staff working to combat the coronavirus outbreak, according to a government watchdog report released on Monday that appears to undercut President Trump’s assurances that states have sufficient resources.
Staff and patients alike are put at risk by the lack of available protective gear, according to the report by the inspector general of Health and Human Services.
Hospital administrators are forced to grapple with “sharp increases” in prices for items such as masks, gloves and face shields from vendors, the report continues.
The lack of testing has forced hospitals to extend the stays of patients, pushing the facilities even farther beyond their capacities. Hospitals are also in need of thermometers, disinfectants, medical gas, linens, toilet paper and food. And doctors around the United States are still pleading for ventilators, even as the federal government has limited the number of lifesaving devices issued to states.
The fast-spreading novel coronavirus is almost certainly killing Americans who are not included in the nation’s growing death toll, according to public health experts and government officials involved in the tally.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counts only deaths in which the presence of the coronavirus is confirmed in a laboratory test, agency spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said. “We know that it is an underestimation.”
A widespread lack of access to testing in the early weeks of the U.S. outbreak means people with respiratory illnesses died without being counted, epidemiologists say. Even now, some people who die at home or in overburdened nursing homes are not being tested, according to funeral directors, medical examiners and nursing home representatives.
The Trump administration has stumbled in its initial push to implement the $2 trillion coronavirus aid package, with confusion and fear mounting among small businesses, workers and the newly unemployed since the bill was signed into law late last month.
Small-business owners have reported delays in getting approved for loans without which they will close their doors, while others say they have been denied altogether by their lenders and do not understand why. The law’s provision to boost unemployment benefits has become tangled in dated and overwhelmed state bureaucracies, as an unprecedented avalanche of jobless Americans seeks aid.
Officials at the Internal Revenue Service have warned that $1,200 relief checks may not reach many Americans until August or September if they haven’t already given their direct-deposit information to the government. Taxpayers in need of answers from the IRS amid a rapidly changing job market are encountering dysfunctional government websites and unresponsive call centers that have become understaffed as federal workers stay home.
As the surgeon general told the nation to brace for “our Pearl Harbor moment” of cascading coronavirus deaths this week, several governors said on Sunday that their states were in urgent need of federal help and complained that they had been left to compete for critical equipment in the absence of a consistent strategy and coordination from the Trump administration.
Some clearly walked a delicate path, criticizing what they saw as an erratic, inadequate federal response, while also trying to avoid alienating the White House as states vie with one another for resources both from Washington and on the market that can mean the difference between life and death.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said Friday that his state would join with Partners In Health, a Boston-based global health nonprofit, to turn staffers into contact tracers, the backbone of any robust public health effort to squelch a deadly disease.
Those contact tracers will interview people who have come down with the coronavirus to determine who around them might also have been exposed. Those who may have been exposed will be warned to watch for symptoms themselves, giving public health officials a window into how the coronavirus is spreading and who might next be at risk.
Public health experts across the country hope Massachusetts will not be alone for long. Increasingly, those who have warned for months about the virus’s potential spread now say a mass-scale national program aimed at suppressing the virus at a community level through that sort of robust contact tracing is crucial to stopping its spread.
Such a program aimed at bolstering national public health would be unprecedented in the history of the country. But as the economy nosedives into what could be a depression and millions lose their jobs in the space of a few days and weeks, a government-backed effort to get those people back to work does have a precedent, in Depression-era programs like the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The co-founder of a huge private equity firm sent an email this week to Jared Kushner and other Trump administration policy makers seeking to relax rules on coronavirus relief money in a way that would benefit the company, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Kushner’s family real estate business has financial ties to the company, Apollo Global Management.
A source close to Kushner says there was nothing remarkable about his receipt of the email, from Apollo co-founder Mark Rowan. Kushner gets hundreds of proposals from all sorts of people, the source said. But Apollo is not just any business: It made a $184 million loan in 2017 to Kushner Companies, the real estate company in which Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, retains an interest.
Some cash-strapped states have dipped into their election security funds provided to them by the $2.2 trillion stimulus package to help pay for their responses to the coronavirus outbreak.
The money from the from the mammoth bill was included to help states protect the 2020 elections from malicious cyber activity.
Pennsylvania, Ohio, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Tennessee, and Alabama have either used or intend to these funds, as the pandemic continues to plague the country, ABC News reports.
UPDATE (April 6, 2020, 2:26 p.m.): On Monday, Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order attempting to postpone in-person voting for Wisconsin’s April 7 election to June 9; previously, Evers had said that he did not have the power to move the election unilaterally. It is unclear whether Evers’s order will be carried out, as Republicans in the state legislature say they will challenge it in court.