By Robert A. Vella
As the number of COVID-19 infections in the U.S. approach 1.1 million with nearly 64,000 fatalities (3.275 million and 234,000 worldwide), the coronavirus is now spreading most rapidly in more rural predominantly white communities which are the bastions of President Trump’s political support. When the pandemic erupted in America, it clustered in densely populated urban areas along the coasts and then propagated towards inland cities. Consequently, the initial victims were concentrated more among ethnically and racially diverse groups in a reflection of urban demographics. However, wherever people gather together in close proximity – such as nursing homes, hospitals, industries and crowded workplaces, prisons and detention centers, sporting events, concerts, and other public venues – the contagion has the perfect vector for transmissibility. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before those rural communities were also severely affected; and, now they are.
As the 2020 election looms on the horizon, the political ramifications of this public health and economic crisis are only beginning to be felt. While Trump and his GOP allies have already lost significant support among suburbanites, older voters, independents, and even moderate Republicans, they now risk alienating lesser educated blue-collar workers who flocked to Trump’s xenophobic campaign in 2016. I’m not at all suggesting that these voters will suddenly flip back to Democrats en masse, but I am suggesting that their support could waver. Because Trump is forcing meat processing plants (most of which reside in heartland red-states) to reopen without requirements for COVID-19 diagnostic tests and personal protective equipment, and because Republican governors are threatening to take away unemployment benefits from employees who refuse to return to their jobs, these workers are facing a personal dilemma. Do they go back to work amid unsafe conditions and risk getting themselves and their families infected, or do they stay home without any income? I can’t speak for other people, but being forced to make that choice would make me extremely angry. At election time, I would remember such a painful experience. Wouldn’t you?
Here’s today’s news. I’d also like to briefly mention that the Trump administration is also pressuring Mexico to keep its U.S.-owned production plants open despite the rise of coronavirus illnesses, Trump’s armed fascist supporters are occupying the Michigan state capitol and threatening lawmakers, Texas (like some other red-states) is concealing data on nursing home COVID-19 infections, and the pandemic is putting colleges into deep financial trouble and causing some of them to fold.
The coronavirus that has infected more than a million Americans is increasingly moving into rural areas in search of new victims, as nearly one-third of the nation’s counties experienced widespread transmission over the last week.
A new analysis by the Brookings Institute demographer William Frey shows the virus spreading to new areas in almost every state in the country. But its spread is now more concentrated in smaller towns, rural areas and exurban areas that had previously been untouched.
The people living in these counties are 62 percent white, a shift from the end of March when counties with high prevalence were 48 percent white.
Much of the growth in rural areas comes in places where people are forced into higher-density situations. Prisons and meat-packing plants have suffered outbreaks in recent days.
The further spread of the virus into smaller communities also means it is beginning to affect more areas that President Trump won in 2016. Trump won more than two-thirds of the 901 counties that have reached high prevalence status since March 30.
The District, Maryland and Virginia have been shut down for weeks, their economies in tatters. Large swaths of the population venture out only rarely, wrapped in masks and gloves.
But hundreds of new coronavirus cases are still reported each day as the virus continues its devastating march through nursing homes, jails and other institutional settings. Doctors and public health officials said it increasingly is infecting people who cannot afford to miss work or telecommute — grocery store employees, delivery drivers and construction workers. Sometimes they, in turn, infect their families.
Government leaders in Maryland, Virginia and the District say they won’t ease shutdown restrictions until the number of new hospitalizations starts to fall. And they warn that the continued spread of the disease illustrates that when businesses, schools and retail establishments are allowed to reopen, people may need to wear masks and avoid crowds for many months to come.
State and local health departments do not publish the occupations and living conditions of everyone who tests positive, so there is no comprehensive analysis of who is getting sick. But interviews with doctors and public health officials, and data that has been made public, paint a portrait of a pandemic that increasingly is infecting those who have limited ability to socially distance.
Iowa, Oklahoma and other states reopening soon amid the coronavirus outbreak are issuing early warnings to their worried workers: Return to your jobs or risk losing unemployment benefits.
The threats have been loudest among Republican leaders in recent days, reflecting their anxious attempts to jump-start local economic recovery roughly two months after most businesses shut their doors. In Iowa, for example, state officials even have posted a public call for companies to get in touch if an “employee refuses to return to work.”
WASHINGTON — The federal government placed orders for well over 100,000 new body bags to hold victims of COVID-19 in April, according to internal administration documents obtained by NBC News, as well as public records. The biggest set was earmarked for purchase the day after President Donald Trump projected that the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus might not exceed 50,000 or 60,000 people.
Body bag contracts bid by the Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments are just one illustration of how Trump’s sunny confidence about the nation’s readiness to re-open is in conflict with officials in his own administration who are quietly preparing for a far worse outcome.
Around the same time as it wrote the contract for the body bags, FEMA opened up bidding to provide approximately 200 rented refrigerated trailers for locations around the country. The request for proposals specifies a preference for 53-foot trailers, which at 3,600 cubic feet, are the largest in their class.
The cache of internal documents obtained by NBC News includes an April 25 “pre-decisional draft” of the coronavirus task force’s “incident outlook” for the response, a summary of task force leaders’ meeting the same day and various communications among officials at several agencies. The documents show that task force members remain worried about several major risks ahead, including insufficient availability of coronavirus tests, the absence of a vaccine or proven treatments for coronavirus, and the possibility of a “catastrophic resurgence” of COVID-19.
The issue, according to people involved, is whether Herman’s tweet violated the off-the-record terms of a planning document sent via email Monday evening by the vice president’s office to reporters who planned to travel with Pence to the clinic.
A copy of the document obtained by The Washington Post explicitly stated that masks are required for the visit and instructed reporters to wear them. “Please note, the Mayo Clinic is requiring all individuals traveling with the VP wear masks,” the document said. “Please bring one to wear while on the trip.”
The directive confirms that Pence’s staff was well aware of the need for masks, raising the possibility that none of his aides alerted him to the requirement or that Pence had intentionally flouted it, perhaps to avoid being photographed in a mask.
Two years before the novel coronavirus upended the world, a report by a government watchdog warned that the U.S. could have a “fragmented” response to a potential pandemic.
A 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office said federal officials should establish a biodefense coordination team and outline a clear process for joint decision making before a pandemic struck. GAO analysts called a potential pandemic “high consequence, but low likelihood type of event” and acknowledged it could be difficult to get government leaders to prepare in advance.
CHICAGO (AP) — A sharply worded ruling by a federal appeals court in Chicago on Thursday said the Trump administration policy of threatening to withhold grant money from so-called sanctuary cities to force them to comply with its more stringent immigration policies violates the separation-of-powers provisions enshrined the U.S. Constitution.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said a freeze of that policy should extend nationwide, rejecting arguments by U.S. Department of Justice lawyers that if an injunction were OKed in the case it should only apply to the city of Chicago.
In other court news: