By Robert A. Vella

On this Easter Sunday, we’ll take a look at the current state of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., more damning information about President Trump‘s intentional failure to formulate a national response, and the perverse politics contaminating this dire public health crisis.

In last Thursday post, I wrote:

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.

Late yesterday, the Kansas Supreme Court concurred that the legislative committee cited above did not have the authority to override an executive order issued by the governor.

The pandemic

From:  US coronavirus: Reported death toll tops 20,000, more than any other country

More than 20,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States, which now has more reported deaths than any country in the world, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.

The US death toll on Saturday climbed to 20,389, surpassing that of Italy, which is reporting 19,468 deaths, per Johns Hopkins.

At least 2,074 deaths were reported in the US on Friday, the largest increase in coronavirus fatalities the country has seen since the beginning of the outbreak. At least 524,903 people have tested positive for the virus, according to Johns Hopkins.

From:  It’s ‘People, People, People’ as Lines Stretch Across America

… millions of people across the country are risking their health to wait in tense, sometimes desperate, new lines for basic needs as the economic toll of the virus grips the country.

In cars and on foot, they are snapping on masks and waiting for hours to stock up on groceries, file for unemployment assistance, cast their ballots and pick up boxes of donated food. The lines stretch around blocks and clog two-lane highways.

In western Pennsylvania, cars stacked up for miles on Monday as hundreds of people waited to collect a week’s worth of groceries from the Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Outside Miami, some of the 16 million Americans who have lost their jobs over the past few weeks snaked around a library on Tuesday, waiting to pick up a paper application for unemployment benefits.

And in Milwaukee, Catherine Graham, who has a bad heart and asthma, slapped on a homemade face mask and left her apartment on Tuesday for the first time since early March to spend two hours waiting in line to vote at one of the five polling locations in the city that remained open for the Wisconsin primary election.

“It was people, people, people,” Ms. Graham, 78, said. “I was afraid.”

See also:

Nearly a third of Americans didn’t pay rent this month, new data shows

How Europe manages to keep a lid on coronavirus unemployment while it spikes in the U.S.

Trump’s response

From:  The ‘Red Dawn’ Emails: 8 Key Exchanges on the Faltering Response to the Coronavirus

WASHINGTON — As the coronavirus emerged and headed toward the United States, an extraordinary conversation was hatched among an elite group of infectious disease doctors and medical experts in the federal government and academic institutions around the nation.

Red Dawn — a nod to the 1984 film with Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen — was the nickname for the email chain they built. Different threads in the chain were named Red Dawn Breaking, Red Dawn Rising, Red Dawn Breaking Bad and, as the situation grew more dire, Red Dawn Raging. It was hosted by the chief medical officer at the Department of Homeland Security, Dr. Duane C. Caneva, starting in January with a small core of medical experts and friends that gradually grew to dozens.

The “Red Dawn String,” Dr. Caneva said, was intended “to provide thoughts, concerns, raise issues, share information across various colleagues responding to Covid-19,” including medical experts and doctors from the Health and Human Services Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Homeland Security Department, the Veterans Affairs Department, the Pentagon and other federal agencies tracking the historic health emergency.

Here are key exchanges from the emails, with context and analysis, that show the experts’ rising sense of frustration and then anger as their advice seemingly failed to break through to the administration, raising the odds that more people would likely die.

From:  Anthony Fauci admits earlier Covid-19 mitigation efforts would have saved more American lives

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that calls to implement life-saving social distancing measures faced “a lot of pushback” early in the US coronavirus outbreak and that the country is now looking for ways to more effectively respond to the virus should it rebound in the fall.

“I mean, obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives,” Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” when asked if social distancing and stay-at-home measures could have prevented deaths had they been put in place in February, instead of mid-March.

“Obviously, no one is going to deny that. But what goes into those decisions is complicated,” added Fauci, who is a key member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force. “But you’re right, I mean, obviously, if we had right from the very beginning shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.”

From:  As Trump’s COVID task force amassed power, it boosted industry

For weeks, Trump has resisted pressure to use the full power of his office to temporarily turn the private sector into an arm of the federal government in a national emergency. But he and his lieutenants instead have used the crisis to make federal assets and personnel ancillary to industry, according to NBC’s interviews with dozens of public- and private-sector sources involved in various aspects of the coronavirus response.

In doing so, the vice president’s coronavirus task force — mostly through a supply-chain unit led by Admiral John Polowczyk and heavily influenced by White House adviser Jared Kushner — has favored some of the nation’s largest corporations and ignored smaller producers of goods and services with long track records of meeting emergency needs, according to officials at multiple federal agencies and people familiar with contracting.

They have also operated almost entirely in the dark, releasing few details of their arrangements with the big companies; created a new and convoluted emergency response system; and sown confusion and distrust in the states and among the people who need medical supplies.

From:  Judge rules cities’ Affordable Care Act lawsuit can proceed

BALTIMORE — A federal judge in Maryland has ruled that a lawsuit by several cities alleging that the Trump administration has sabotaged the Affordable Care Act can go forward.

U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow on Friday denied part of the government’s motion to dismiss the complaint, which was originally filed in 2018 and amended last year.

The lawsuit asserts the administration is trying to discourage enrollment and reduce choices, and will destabilize the health insurance marketplace.

The politics

From:  ‘Got my blood boiling’: Florida nursing homes ask governor for immunity from coronavirus lawsuits

Florida’s largest advocacy group for long-term care providers is requesting protection from lawsuits for health care professionals engaged in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Florida Health Care Association sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this month requesting “immunity from any liability, civil or criminal” under certain conditions for nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities.

The group is the most recent in a series of health care associations seeking legal immunity amid the pandemic, when hours are long and staffing and equipment are short.

From:  Kansas court strikes down GOP measure allowing in-person Easter church services, lets coronavirus restrictions stand

LAWRENCE, Kan. —The Kansas Supreme Court on Saturday struck down a Republican-led effort to allow the continuation of in-person church services across the state despite the governor’s ban on such gatherings to prevent the spread of coronavirus — what has been called the “War over Easter” here — as the virus-related death toll continued to rise.

Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, recently expanded a state stay-at-home order to limit church events to 10 people after state public health officials traced coronavirus outbreaks, and three deaths, to four religious gatherings. Kansas has recorded 1,268 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 55 deaths related to the virus, according to the state’s Department of Health and Environment.

Republican lawmakers on the state’s legislative council revoked Kelly’s order on Wednesday — effectively allowing churches to hold regular services on Easter — saying that the order infringed on religious liberty. Kelly then took the matter to court, calling the Republican action “shockingly irresponsible.”

The court ruled Saturday night that a small Republican-led legislative council that rescinded Kelly’s order did not have the authority to do so.

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