COVID-19 UPDATE: TUESDAY MIDDAY, MARCH 17

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day. Your trip to Kells is canceled!

A lot of impediments, locally and nationally, are being exposed as we scramble to contain a surging pandemic.

Crossposted on www.geov.org . If you find the information we’re sharing to be valuable, consider donating to help make our continuing work on this possible. Thanks!

LOCAL

* 488 cases have now been confirmed in King County, with 43 deaths. Our state’s total is now 904 new cases, with 48 deaths.

* The City of Seattle’s budget director said yesterday he thinks the city will see a revenue loss of at least $100 million this year as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. The estimate is based on the outbreak lasting only three months. I think that’s grossly optimistic on all counts.

* City revenue is heavily dependent on sales and B&O tax revenue that would be hit hard in an ordinary recession, but will be decimated in one when residents are largely self-isolating. It’s more unexpected evidence that Washington state cannot continue with its antiquated tax system designed for a 19th century wilderness economy. We needed massive structural tax reform, alleviation of regressive sales taxes, and a progressive income tax, years ago. As is, cities like Seattle have few budgetary tools available for this type of crisis

* Meanwhile, city council members Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales are redoubling their push to tax Amazon and other large local companies, arguing that such corporations are the only possible source of the large amount of emergency funds needed for necessary economic and public health responses.

* Pending City Council approval, Seattle will provide $800 in Safeway vouchers to more than 6,000 low income families already enrolled in Seattle’s childcare or food assistance programs, to help them buy food, cleaning supplies and other household goods. The funding will come from revenue produced by Seattle’s sugary beverage tax.

* Mayor Durkan also announced plans to issue a moratorium on commercial evictions of small businesses and nonprofit organizations during the crisis. She already signed an order Saturday banning residential evictions. Burien today also passed a 30 day moratorium on evictions.

* Seattle Children’s Hospital announced it would beginning accepting inpatients 21 and under, potentially freeing up some hospital beds in other facilities. It will also accept patients from other hospitals’ pediatric units that may need to shut down to respond to the crisis. Children’s has tested 660 children so far, four of whom tested positive and are now recovering at home. Four staff have also tested positive.

* Civil liberty and prisoner advocacy groups are urging Gov. Inslee to release thousands of prisoners in our state, to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19 behind bars at our crowded prisons. The groups, led by ACLU of Washington and Columbia Legal Services, point to the rudimentary and frequently awful medical care the Department of Corrections offers, the two positive cases already found among DoC staff, and the aging and at-risk population in our state’s prisons. The groups seek the release of over 1,000 prisoners over age 56, many of whom have existing serious medical issues; the release of prisoners within six months of their scheduled release date; and the cessation of violation orders mandating re-imprisonment for former inmates under DoC supervision.

* Most area casinos are now closed. In many ways, tribal governments have moved more quickly than other local jurisdictions, having some historical awareness of the power of pandemics to decimate communities.

* Amazon provided details on relief funds for the small businesses that normally depend on business from nearby Amazon office buildings in Seattle and Bellevue. It also announced plans to add 100,000 new employees nationwide and to give a $2/hour raise to delivery people as home delivery orders surge.The company said today that it will prioritize restocking household and medical supplies, and suspend delivery of non-essential items. Locally, it’s been nearly impossible for the last several days to order food or cleaning supplies; on Sunday Amazon’s delivery system crashed locally due to extremely high demand. Jeff Bezos’ wealth is the least of our problems; we are all Amazon Prime now…

NATIONAL

* On Monday, the White House randomly released a set of “guidelines” for state and local governments that were more stringent than and appeared to undercut the recommendations made only Sunday by the CDC – by, for instance, recommending barring gathering of more than 10 people rather than 50, and working from home where possible. None of the guidelines were made legally mandatory. It was curious, but kind of ignored given the lack of explanation or sourcing in the White House’s two page document, past lies and misrepresentations, and the White House’s general lack of credibility at this point.

* But now we know the apparent source: A report, also issued Monday, by 30 epidemiologists and other scientists at Imperial College of London. The authors, who say they gave their findings to the White House a week ago, used computer modeling to predict US outcomes in the pandemic with and without various measures taken by the federal government. It concluded that without draconian measures, the US death toll could reach 2.2 million Americans, or about 1 in 150 of us.

* The study looked at various stringent measures, alone and in combination, and what impact they would have on the spread of the virus. The current approach – basically, isolating patients, quarantining those in contact with them, and social distancing for three months – would only cut that death toll in half. If restrictions are lifted after three months, the pandemic roars back to life. The study recommended stronger immediate measures, to be enacted until a vaccine becomes widely available – which could take up to 18 months. The authors concluded that the health costs of such long-term draconian measures were also harsh, but that such measures would save far more lives than they would cost.

* The US is now uniquely vulnerable to this pandemic for a variety of reasons – some preventable mistakes, some deeply structural. Eleven weeks after the Wuhan outbreak became known to the rest of the world, the US still remains a patchwork of government responses. Testing for COVID-19 is still not widely available even as the pandemic spreads.

* The structural issuers are far more problematic: America’s uniquely dysfunctional health care system, where cost is a barrier to treatment; Our per-capita number of hospital beds is far lower than countries in Europe, including overwhelmed Italy; our atomized society, with relatively little family or community support available for many of us; our deeply ingrained cultural resistance to government intrusion of any kind; and the empirical fact that our Dear Leader is an incurious idiot incapable of empathy, learning, or adapting to rapidly changing circumstances.

* Wait – THE WHITE HOUSE HAD THOSE FINDINGS A WEEK AGO? You mean, like, when the US had 609 confirmed cases, rather than the 5,702 cases we have today? It took the poor intern tasked with reading those findings A WEEK to get the attention of Someone Important, like Jared or Mikey or Dear Leader himself? And those findings also weren’t shared with the CDC or any actual American scientists or public health experts?

* We’re so, so fucked.

* At least, if the pandemic persists, we’ll have a chance to install more competent leadership next January. If this year’s elections are allowed at all. But I digress.

* Meanwhile, the Trump Administration has de-emphasized its pointless payroll tax cut idea for stimulating the economy and is instead proposing something far more direct: sending cash payments to all Americans within the next two weeks. The White House also asked Congress to pass a new $850 billion emergency response bill.

* Details of the direct payment plan haven’t been finalized, but unless it’s an ongoing monthly payment or a one-time payment of, say, $10,000 rather than $500, it’s not going to do much to boost consumer spending, and, thus, the economy. People aren’t looking to go on frivolous shopping sprees right now. We’re more worried about paying for food, housing, utilities, and medical care – ongoing concerns during this crisis that a one-time payment will only briefly ameliorate. But widespread, ongoing subsidies might be far cheaper for the economy than an approach without that basic government support.

* Trump also ordered a 90-day deferral of federal tax payments, of up to $1 million for individuals and $10 million for corporations. The administration is also supporting an airline industry request for $50 billion in assistance.

* The administration also said it would not be enforcing HIPAA penalties, suggesting that the privacy rights of medical patients could become more…porous…during the pandemic.

* Trump being Trump, he also asserted today, despite having downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19 as recently as Friday, that he “felt this was a pandemic long before it was a pandemic.” We have always been at war with Eastasia…

* Vice President Pence, nominally coordinating the federal response, asked construction companies to give up their scarce N95 protective masks for the duration.

* The outgoing White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, is in self-quarantine after his niece, with whom he shares a DC apartment, fell ill and is awaiting test results for a test taken “early last week.” The niece is a fundraiser for Trump’s re-election whose boss was at the same Mar-a-Lago weekend that was attended by two known positive cases so far, a Brazilian official and Miami’s mayor.

* Meanwhile, there’s a Democratic presidential primary today in Arizona, Florida, and Illinois – but not in Ohio, which abruptly postponed its primary today after long lines formed during an early voting period. Ohio became the fourth state to postpone its primary, after Louisiana, Georgia, and Kentucky, which acted late last night. A fifth state, Maryland, also postponed its primary, moving it from April 28 to June 2.

* A number of Democratic lawmakers are pointing to this crisis as a reason to institute nationwide vote-by-mail standards similar to those in Washington and Oregon – but it’s doubtful such a system could, even if mandated, be implemented in time for this year’s voting. The virus is changing the math of not only the Democratic primary and the race to claim delegates, but the November general election, in wildly unpredictable ways.

* In the next two days New York City mayor Bill de Blasio says he may issue a “shelter in place” order to residents, similar to what Bay Area counties issued yesterday. There are now a staggering 814 confirmed cases in New York City, up from only about 150 three days ago. New York state now has 1,700 confirmed cases, by far the most in the nation. Washington and California are second and third.

* Uber has suspended shared rides in the US and Canada.

* The Kentucky Derby, traditionally held on the first weekend of May, has been rescheduled for September 5.

* Some good news: Actor Tom Hanks and his wife, actress Rita Wilson, both 63, have been released from an Australian hospital after being treated for COVID-19. They are now recovering in self-isolation in Queensland. Both were in Australia for the filming of a new movie.

GLOBAL

* Major European manufacturers like Volkswagen – now the world’s largest automaker – and Airbus announced they were shutting down plants across Europe.

* France ordered a lockdown of its residents, ordering them to stay at home or face stiff fines. Fifteen members of Poland’s government are in quarantine after the environment minister tested positive. Germany’s government is spending $55 million on logistics and flights to bring home Germans who were overseas. Greece ordered the suspension of church services. Most shops will be closed on Wednesday, and the country’s famed beaches are also closed

* China recorded just one new domestically generated case yesterday, in Wuhan, a milestone in its effort to contain COVID-19. An additional 20 new cases came from Chinese returning from other countries. Six weeks after the peak of China’s epidemic, tight restrictions mostly remain in place. Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous government announced it would require all arriving travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days.

* The Chinese government blasted the US for Trump and his surrogates’ use of the phrase “Chinese virus,” a linguistic framing meant to appeal to Trump’s xenophobic base.

* Global cases went up sharply again today: 196,639 cases, up from 181,127 confirmed cases last night; and 7,893 deaths, with 751 coming in the last 12 hours. By country:

China 81,058
Italy 31,506
Iran 16,169
Spain 11,748
Germany 9,257
South Korea 8,320
France 7,683
USA 5,894
Switzerland 2,700
UK 1,960
Netherlands 1,708
Norway 1,443
Austria 1,332
Belgium 1,243
Sweden 1,190
Denmark 1,024
Japan 878
Malaysia 673
Canada 478
Australia 452
Portugal 448
Qatar 439

Help your neighbors. WASH YOUR HANDS!

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