COVID-19 UPDATE: TUESDAY LATE NIGHT,MARCH 24

I’m getting too tired – I’ll need to post local and global items separately tomorrow. The big news tonight is that in the last two hours the White House and Democrats reached a deal on a record-sized stimulus bill. Text pending, details tomorrow.

One month ago today, Donald Trump assured the nation that COVID-19 was “under control.” Today, the World Health Organization warned, as I wrote earlier today, that that US is at risk of becoming the center of the world’s pandemic – thanks largely to Trump’s inaction.

LOCAL

King County Health reports today that our county has 1,277 confirmed cases, with 94 deaths.

* Washington’s Department of Health said today that it is “expecting” the federal government to deliver two 150-bed mobile hospitals, and six 40-bed hospitals, “during the next couple of weeks. It’s anticipated that those beds will be located in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties. King County alone estimates that it will need at least 3,000 more beds as the pandemic peaks here. Those extra 540 federal beds will help – but it’s not nearly enough.

* State Insurance Commissioner Larry Kreidler issued an emergency order today that requires all health insurers to expand telemedicine coverage; cover all testing, including drive-thru tests, for respiratory illnesses with no co-pay, co-insurance or deductible; waive or expedite pre-authorization requirements for home health care or long-tern care facilities, so that patients can be discharged more quickly; and that patients who rely on AppleCare have a 90-day grace period to pay premiums, with a 60-day period for those enrolled in a private plan through thw state’s ACA exchange.

NATIONAL

* Trump’s Tuesday press briefing set a new standard for dishonesty and immorality – and that’s a very high bar indeed. Among other things, Trump claimed that “we’re at the end of this” – sadly, no – and that his plan to send everyone back to their normal lives by Easter was “a beautiful timeline” – which is true, if you find the unnecessary deaths of countless Americans “beautiful.” By contrast, the Pope cancelled traditional Vatican Easter services two weeks ago.

* Trump’s argument, and that of some of his cultists, is that the lives of thousands of Americans, particularly seniors and health care workers, are worth sacrificing for a better economy, and thus, for Trump’s perceived chance of re-election. It’s hard to imagine a more disgusting example of his narcissism.

* Fortunately, Trump can’t just order businesses to open again – or the stock market to just recover. Stocks won’t consistently improve until the pandemic passes – which won’t happen if enough Republican governors follow his lead. It’s the governors and mayors who have ordered businesses to shut and people to stay at home. California and New York alone account for a quarter of the Nation’s GDP.

* The White House and congressional Democrats have reportedly reached agreement in principle late this evening on a compromise emergency bill that would provide nearly $2 trillion in direct aid to individual Americans and small businesses, and up to $4 trillion in guaranteed loans to big corporations – “guaranteed” meaning that if companies default on their loans, taxpayers would pick up the tab. A major sticking point in negotiations has been the lack of transparency and oversight for a $500 million “slush fund” the White House would award to distressed businesses like, you know, Trump’s hotel and resort properties. Trump insisted, in Tuesday’s press briefing, that he “will be the oversight” – not exactly reassuring from a president who has already been impeached for diverting federal funds to benefit himself personally.

* Another sticking point: Republicans wanting to offer money for small business loans through the Small Business Administration, a process that could take months when many small businesses need help immediately. The bill’s text is still being finalized tonight; we’ll see what the details are tomorrow.

* The Trump Administration didn’t just eliminate the White House’s pandemic response office. It turns out a CDC group based in China and charged with tracking emerging diseases was also eliminated. In otherwords, the CDC could have been on site in Wuhan in January monitoring the burgeoning outbreak.

* Airlines are warning the White House that they are considering shutting down all domestic and most international air travel.

* New economic estimates say that without immediate assistance, about 75 percent of all US restaurants may close permanently. After the federal government, the restaurant industry employs more people – about 13 million – than any other sector of the economy.

* Nationally, there were about three million unemployment claims filed last week. By comparison, at the height of the 2008-09 recession it took a full three months to reach that number.

* The stark contrast between how many – but not all – Republican-controlled states and Democratic-controlled states have handled the pandemic is becoming stark. Two new political science studies highlight the divide, showing that self-identified Republicans are taking the pandemic less seriously than other Americans, and that after hearing Trump’s assurances, Republicans often stop trying to obtain hand sanitizer.

* The adjacent states of Kentucky and Tennessee are providing real-time proof of the divide’s impact. Kentucky’s Democratic governor, elected by a razor-thin margin last year, today ordered additional businesses to shut down. Tennessee, one of the last state governments to respond to the pandemic, only got around to closing schools yesterday. Kentucky has been a week to ten days ahead of Tennessee in taking statewide action, an eon ago in the spread of the pandemic; the WHO only declared a global pandemic 12 days ago. But Tennessee, with about a 50 percent larger population than Kentucky, has five times as many confirmed cases. Social distancing is working. Public health projections are that without social distancing, Tennessee will suffer 40,000 deaths; with it, that death toll drops to “only” 4,000. In one, medium-sized state.

* Another instructive comparison is Santa Clara County (San Jose), California, one of the first counties in one of the first states to enact aggressive policies, and Miami-Dade County, Florida, which saw swarms of Spring Break visitors unimpeded by any statewide action. Santa Clara County’s case numbers are growing slowly, while South Florida’s are now exploding.

* The thermometer maker Kinsa has another interesting data point. The company uses wireless transmission to aggregate results when customers use their thermometers. Last week, the company started publishing the results on its web site, allowing for last year’s cold and flus, to see what’s different this year. The result is a real time map of where people are symptomatic. The result is a possible map of where COVID-19 will hit hardest in about ten days.

* So what does their map show now? That Florida is in big, big trouble. The combination of unimpeded Spring Break tourism, especially from the New York City area, and a large population of vulnerable seniors. makes the state uniquely vulnerable. Today that state’s Republican governor ordered a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone from New York or New Jersey arriving by air – but put no restrictions on such visitors arriving by car. Too little, too late. The good news: The rate of fevers in New York City has started to drop.

* Miami-Dade County announced today that it is building a field hospital on local fairgrounds.

* Denver and St. Louis issued stay at home orders. Massachusetts and Louisiana closed all non-essential businesses.

* Numerous reports of alarming shortages are emerging across the country – not just in New York City. Atlanta leaders said their hospitals are already at capacity. The more rural city of Albany, Georgia said it is also running out of beds. Detroit’s biggest hospital chain also said it was nearing capacity – and running out of ventilators.

* New York’s crisis continued to worsen, with the state desperately working to add hospital beds and scarce medical equipment. New York’s governor warned that with that state’s apex of cases arriving “faster and higher” than expected, it will take two weeks for ventilators the state can find to be shipped and then distributed to local hospitals. it may already be too late for a state that estimates it is short by 25,000 of the life-saving machines, and 40,000 more intensive care beds.

* Louisiana also estimated its hospitals would be unable to provide care by next week – and began building isolation chambers in state parks. New Orleans now has one of the worst and fastest-growing infection rates per capita in the country. A likely culprit: Mardi Gras, which saw throngs of visitors descend on NOLA, party, and then leave.

More local and global items, plus whatever else happens, in the morning. WASH YOUR HANDS!

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