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By Robert A. Vella

Unemployment figures once again exceeded forecasts as the weekly U.S. Department of Labor report released today showed 6.6 million more Americans filing jobless claims.  That’s nearly 17 million new claims filed over the last three weeks despite the widespread logistical difficulties laid-off workers are experiencing with overwhelmed state unemployment agencies.

Updates on the coronavirus pandemic include the latest numbers on global infections and fatalities, a new report on how the spread of COVID-19 might or might not be affected by the approaching summer season, more warnings about a relaxation of containment policies triggering a deadly second wave of contagion later this year, plus a disturbing study on why the death rate among blacks is so much higher than among whites.

Republicans in Kansas are wielding powers they don’t legally possess to prioritize religious practices over the public health crisis.  The GOP-controlled Legislative Coordinating Council, whose purview is normally constrained to the state legislature, declared that it has overridden an executive order issued by the governor (who is a Democrat) to limit the size of public gatherings as a means to slow down the spread of coronavirus.  Although the legislature could pass a specific law to allow unrestrained religious gatherings under these or any other circumstances, it does not – to my knowledge – have any authority over executive orders.  That is analogous to Democrats in the U.S. Congress declaring an executive order issued by President Trump as null and void!  Legislators, like other concerned citizens, may seek to invalidate such orders instead through the judicial system.

Lastly, we’ll examine the stark comparison in pandemic responses between west coast states (which were struck first by coronavirus in the U.S.) and east coast states like New York (which were slower to act even though their more dense urban populations were more vulnerable).  It may give those who’ve been hero-worshipping N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo reason to reconsider their adulation.  I’m not by any means intending to equate Cuomo’s pandemic response to the abject failures of President Trump because that would be both factually unwarranted and absurd;  but, I am questioning the purpose of their daily press conferences.  Whenever I see government leaders dominate news media coverage in times of crisis, I justifiably suspect they are doing so for political reasons.  In Trump’s case, that is obvious.

Unemployment claims

From:  Another 6.6M Americans file for unemployment benefits as layoffs show no letup

The U.S. economy continues to shed jobs at a jaw-dropping pace and there’s little sign the payroll losses will ease significantly anytime soon amid the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

About 6.6 million Americans filed unemployment benefit claims for the first time last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, reflecting another surge in layoffs and an economy that has continued to shut down in stomach-churning waves the past few weeks to minimize further contagion.

Economists had estimated that 5.5 million workers filed initial claims last week, according to a Bloomberg survey. A total 10 million sought benefits the prior two weeks, figures that dwarf the previous record of 695,000 weekly unemployment applications during a deep recession in October 1982.

Forty-three states accounting for about 95% of the U.S. population are under stay-at-home orders…

From:  Struggle to apply for unemployment continues across the country

The [Florida] DEO, like many other state labor departments, is overwhelmed. Numerous reports of its website crashing and its phone lines ringing empty are leaving people who desperately need unemployment benefits in limbo.

Pandemic updates

From:  Global coronavirus cases near 1.5m as fresh WHO row erupts

Global cases of Covid-19 approached 1.5 million, as both the US and the UK recorded their deadliest day yet in the pandemic, and a fresh World Health Organization row erupted.

[…]

More than 88,538 people have died worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracker. The number of confirmed infections is approaching 1.5 million, although it is believed to be far higher due to under-reporting by some countries.

[…]

Meanwhile, an escalating feud between Taiwan and the World Health Organization (WHO) saw key figures publicly trading accusations in recent days.

[…]

The feud largely stems from Taiwan’s continued exclusion from WHO membership and activities due to lobbying by the Chinese government, which claims Taiwan as its territory.

From:  Coronavirus unlikely to diminish with warm weather, National Academies of Sciences panel finds

A panel convened by the National Academies of Sciences reported to the White House on Tuesday that the novel coronavirus is unlikely to wane with the arrival of summer, though there are many uncertainties remaining.

These findings are in line with previous studies offering hypotheses regarding how the virus may behave in warmer and more humid conditions, and is an attempt to help distill the evidence for and against reduced virus transmissibility during warm weather.

From:  U.S. coronavirus death projection lowered but official warns of ‘second wave’

NEW YORK, April 8 (Reuters) – An influential university model on the U.S. coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday scaled back its projected death toll by 26% to 60,000 but a federal health official warned of a second wave of infections if Americans relax “social distancing” practices.

[…]

“What’s really important is that people don’t turn these early signs of hope into releasing from the 30 days to stop the spread – it’s really critical,” said Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, referring to guidelines aimed at reducing the spread of the virus.

“If people start going out again and socially interacting, we could see a really acute second wave,” Birx added.

From:  ‘A crisis within a crisis’: Black Americans face higher rates of coronavirus deaths

Many are lower-income service workers and essential workers — delivery drivers, police officers, subway workers, corrections officers — who do not have the luxury of working from home or retreating to a second home in a less dense community.

[…]

The available data of the race of coronavirus victims — released by only a handful of states — bear out that observation, revealing a stark disparity between white and black residents.

In Michigan, black people have died at more than eight times the rate of white people. In Illinois, they have died at nearly six times the rate. In Louisiana, the difference is fivefold.

Public health experts said those figures reflected deep-rooted social and economic inequalities.

Not only are black Americans less likely to be insured and able to afford testing, but they are more likely to have underlying medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease that could put them at higher risk for severe illness.

They are 60% more likely than white Americans to be diagnosed with diabetes and 40% more likely to have high blood pressure, according to the U.S. government.

Kansas Republicans

From:  Kansas GOP leads overturn of Dem governor’s limits on church, funeral attendance

A Republican-led panel of Kansas legislative leaders on Wednesday overturned an executive order by the state’s Democrat governor that called for attendance limits on church services and funerals amid the coronavirus pandemic.

GOP members of the state’s Legislative Coordinating Council, composed of House and Senate leaders, asserted that first-term Gov. Laura Kelly had overstepped her authority by issuing the order, so they blocked it in a 5-2 vote along party lines.

[…]

Kelly had announced Tuesday that church services and funerals would no longer be exempted from a state order limiting gatherings to 10 people, the newspaper reported.

From:  Legislative Coordinating Council Committee, Kansas State Legislature

A standing committee of a state legislature is a committee that exists on a more-or-less permanent basis, from legislative session to session, that considers and refines legislative bills that fall under the committee’s subject matter.

From:  Kansas legislature strikes down governor’s directive limiting size of religious gatherings

State Attorney General Derek Schmidt had written in a memo Wednesday that the order was likely unconstitutional and discouraged law enforcement from enforcing it.

“In our view, Kansas statute and the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights each forbid the governor from criminalizing participation in worship gatherings by executive order,” Schmidt wrote.

[…]

Richard Levy, a constitutional law professor at the University of Kansas, told The Wichita Eagle that precedent was likely on Kelly’s side, saying the Supreme Court has held laws that do not burden specific religions are generally considered valid.

“If it’s possible to document that small religious gatherings had led to the spread of the coronavirus in a way that other gatherings have not, then there is a chance that the court would say singling out religious gatherings satisfies even strict scrutiny,” Levy said. In such cases, he added, “it’s not about suppressing religion. It’s about the realities of the coronavirus.”

Comparing state pandemic responses

From:  California coronavirus: What the state is doing right

California and New York — the nation’s hardest-hit state — had about the same number of coronavirus cases in the first week of March, according to Covid Tracking Project.

By Wednesday morning, California had more than 17,000 cases compared to nearly eight times that in New York, or more than 140,000 cases. The Golden State has 452 deaths to New York’s more than 5,000.

[…]

In a measure considered draconian at the time, nearly seven million Northern Californians were ordered to shelter in place March 16.

[…]

In Santa Clara, it appears the early action yielded big dividends, as the time span in which cases have been doubling dropped from three days to two weeks, or maybe longer, county public health officer Dr. Sara Cody said Wednesday.

“When you act early, just as the curve is taking off, you can slow things down. That’s what we did,” she said. “Early action is also extraordinarily disruptive, both socially and economically. … If you wait and take action later, you get the same social and economic disruption — you get all those harms — but you don’t get as much benefit.”

On March 19, Californians were ordered not leave home except for essential needs.

“This is a moment where we need some straight talk,” Newsom told reporters at the time. “As individuals and as a community, we need to do more to meet this moment.”

On the list of entities allowed to stay open were groceries, pharmacies, gas stations, farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, delivery restaurants, banks, some local government offices and law enforcement agencies.

California also benefited from strong and early public health awareness campaigns and a sprawling demography compared to more densely populated places such as New York City, said Dr. Robert David Siegel, a microbiology and immunology professor at Stanford University.

California’s efforts have been bold and controversial but appear to be working, Wachter said last week.

“There were people that said, ‘Why are you doing this? You’re going to kill the economy,'” he said. “I think there’s just a general attitude — let’s trust the science. If this is what the science tells us, we need to take it very seriously.”

From:  Social Distancing May Have Helped Washington and Oregon Flatten the Curve

With the number of new coronavirus cases beginning to decrease, evidence from both Washington and Oregon indicates that the coronavirus curve is beginning to flatten because of social distancing.

On Tuesday, 298 new positive coronavirus cases were confirmed in Washington, down from a maximum of nearly 1,000 cases reported in one single day.

Oregon reported 49 new cases on Tuesday, a little more than half of the state’s 100 cases that were reported on Friday.

From:  How Delays and Unheeded Warnings Hindered New York’s Virus Fight

For many days after the first positive test, as the coronavirus silently spread throughout the New York region, Mr. Cuomo, Mr. de Blasio and their top aides projected an unswerving confidence that the outbreak would be readily contained.

There would be cases, they repeatedly said, but New York’s hospitals were some of the best in the world. Plans were in place. Responses had been rehearsed during “tabletop” exercises. After all, the city had been here before — Ebola, Zika, the H1N1 virus, even Sept. 11.

“Excuse our arrogance as New Yorkers — I speak for the mayor also on this one — we think we have the best health care system on the planet right here in New York,” Mr. Cuomo said on March 2. “So, when you’re saying, what happened in other countries versus what happened here, we don’t even think it’s going to be as bad as it was in other countries.”

[…]

Epidemiologists have pointed to New York City’s density and its role as an international hub of commerce and tourism to explain why the coronavirus has spread so rapidly. And it seems highly unlikely that any response by the state or city could have fully stopped the pandemic.

From the earliest days of the crisis, state and city officials were also hampered by a chaotic and often dysfunctional federal response, including significant problems with the expansion of coronavirus testing, which made it far harder to gauge the scope of the outbreak.

[…]

Dr. Frieden said that if the state and city had adopted widespread social-distancing measures a week or two earlier, including closing schools, stores and restaurants, then the estimated death toll from the outbreak might have been reduced by 50 to 80 percent.

But New York mandated those measures after localities in states including California and Washington had done so.

7 thoughts on “Unemployment claims, pandemic updates, Kansas Republicans, and comparing state pandemic responses

  1. Following the new directives for wearing a face mask when interacting with others, I made mine last night, using an old camisole reinforced with a coffee filter. I put it to the test this morning when I went to do laundry in our shared laundry room. I look like a bandit. Maybe I’ll scare Mister Virus 🙂 What a strange new world we now live in!
    I hope that you’re managing your symptoms well ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Pingback: Sunday Topics: The pandemic, Trump’s response, and the politics surrounding it all | The Secular Jurist

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