It’s a glorious day. Funny how much clearer the skies are now… Washington reaches 500 dead, and New York reaches 10,000 dead; Boston quietly has the second-worst outbreak in the country; Trump claims “total authority” to do whatever he likes; six feet may not be nearly enough social distancing; and much, much more news, not ALL of which is alarming.
Fair warning: This is my longest update yet. A lot has been happening today.
* Washington state now has 10,411 confirmed cases, with 508 deaths. Local counties: King, 4,422 cases/292 deaths; Pierce, 898/20; Snohomish, 1,844/70
* Today the Democratic governors of California, Oregon, and Washington announced a “West Coast Pact” agreement that will have them moving jointly – and cautiously – to reopen their states’ economies. “Health outcomes and science – not politics – will guide these decisions,” the governors’ joint statement says.
* Weeks too late, this morning Gov. Inslee announced the early release of 950 nonviolent offenders to help mitigate the spread of the virus in the state’s prison system. At least eight inmates and 14 Department of Corrections staff have contracted COVID-19 already. Inslee is responding to Friday’s Washington State Supreme Court order to take action on the issue, which carried a deadline of noon today.
* The University of Washington Medical Centers have begun COVID-19 testing for all patients admitted to their hospitals.
* Amazon announced that, on top of the 100,000 it had already said it was hiring, it would hire an additional 75,000 new employees to meet the unprecedented stay at home demand. “It turns out a pandemic is great for our business model,” said founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. “Who knew? Our labs are busy trying to create additional pathogens so that we can incorporate them into our future business models.”
* The company’s new TV ads, with the inscription “You Don’t Want To Die, Do You?” and the Amazon Prime logo, rolled out in select test markets Monday.
* OK, I made up that last item and the whole Bezos quote. Probably. But they really are hiring. And building a lab. But not for that.
* While the stay at home orders have been great for cleaning up Seattle’s smog-infused skies, and for giving stressed wildlife in the region’s closed national parks a break, it hasn’t been so good for weaning our culture off of plastic. Oregon has suspended its ban on plastic bags, as has the city of Bellingham. Numerous cities and states *have* banned the use of reusable cloth bags during the pandemic. And, of course, takeout orders are way up.
* Similar to the West Coast announcement, five East Coast governors, all Democrats – the governors of Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island – announced a cooperative agreement to work together on shared principles to reopen their respective states. Together, the eight states produce a bit more than half of the nation’s GDP.
* President Nero claimed on Twitter this morning that it was his call, not that of governors, that would determine when the nation would “reopen.” Did you get that? Governors get to deliver the bad news – the patchwork of state and local restrictions that have made this country’s pandemic exponentially worse. Then Santa Trump gets to deliver the good news! Sure. it might kill tens of thousands more people needlessly, but, whatevs, so long as it gets good ratings and helps him get reelected. There’s always someone else to blame. Right, Dr. Fauci?
* And then there was this afternoon’s even-more-batshyte-than-usual Trump campaign, er, press briefing, complete with a new campaign video highlighting Dear Leader’s success in creating, er, *containing* the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the world – by far. Some choice quotes: “Everything we did was right.”; and, apparently responding to the joint governors’ agreements, “When somebody is President of the United States, your authority is total.”
* Of course, the Constitution doesn’t agree, but who will enforce it? William Barr’s Department of Justice won’t stop him. Nor will the Republican-controlled Senate, nor all the reactionary new federal judges they’ve rubber stamped for lifetime appointments. Will voters stop Trump in November? Only if President Total Authority allows an election – or allows more than one name on the ballot – or allows votes from counties that supported Clinton in 2016 to be counted.
* Today’s briefing featured a lot of contentious exchanges with reporters asking reasonable questions that weren’t fawning. I fear Trump’s first exercise of Total Authority will be trying to imprison reporters and shutting down media outlets whose coverage he doesn’t like. That was one of the first things Putin and Erdogan did in killing their countries’ democracies. THEN they moved to imprisoning political rivals. National emergencies are great for that sort of thing. Trump is a real and present danger.
* Experts as different as the head of the CDC and a board member of the Federal Reserve warned Monday that any kind of business rebound will be slow, uneven, and will depend as much on consumer confidence – and consumers having any money to spend – as on government orders and lifting social distancing restrictions. Simply put, if people are still worried about contracting a virus for which there is no effective vaccine or treatment, the economy will keep suffering. (Trump, screaming, to virus: “Respect my authoritaaayy!” Virus: “…” Trump IS Cartman.)
* The Los Angeles Times reported this weekend that the FBI is investigating an international scam effort to sell to a California health workers’ union a supply of 39 million N95 masks that did not, in fact, exist. The feds only discovered the scam because they were investigating whether they could interrupt and seize the shipment under the Defense Production Act. This all begs the question, of course, of why a union – let alone a hospital or a city, county, or state – should have to bid on an open market for something the federal government should have been coordinating in the first place.
* Meanwhile, 3M – ordered belatedly to make more masks by the federal government – is suing a smaller New Jersey distributor for allegedly offering to sell, at a 500 percent markup, 3M’s N95 masks to New York City. So why exactly isn’t the Justice Department cracking down on this? Oh. Right. William Barr is still flying around the world trying to gin up a fantasy scandal involving Hunter Biden and/or James Comey.
* I’m trying to imagine World War Two, and MacArthur, Eisenhower, Pershing, and the other generals all bidding against each other – and the Brits, and the Germans and Japanese – for desperately needed tanks, that may or may not actually exist, at a 500 percent markup. So much for our wartime president. He’s sitting this one out with his bone spurs, too. Or, more likely, trying to cash in.
* President Nero raised a lot of eyebrows this weekend by retweeting someone calling for the firing of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease expert whose unhappy lot it has been to contradict some of Nero’s claims as being, in scientific terms, nonsense. This was inevitable; the two men have mutually incompatible goals. Fauci wants to save lives using the best available data. Trump wants to spin fantasies and to hold onto power by any sociopathic means necessary. Dr. Deborah Birx will be next. People tethered, however loosely, to reality don’t last long in TrumpWorld.
* The US Supreme Court announced that it will take the unprecedented step of holding oral arguments, now scheduled in May for some key cases, by teleconference.
* If the Supreme Court can do this, so can Congress!
* A fourth emergency aid bill is stalemated in Congress, over three weeks after lawmakers passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. Republicans want to limit the next bill to $250 billion for small businesses, to supplement the chaotic small business loan program authorized in CARES. Democrats are insisting that additional money is also needed for state and local jurisdictions, for cash-strapped hospitals, for food assistance and for more rapid testing – all needed in the pandemic.
* According to a House congresswoman, Trump Administration officials want to postpone 2020 Census field operations – the folks that come knock on doors – until at least June 1, and delay the rollout of the country’s census totals until October 31 of this year. The Census Bureau itself asked Congress today to delay its delivery of population data for reapportionment by four months, from the end of 2020 until April 30, 2021. State legislatures, charged with redistricting in many states, would get the data as late as July 31, 2021 – but they would still need to submit redistricting plans in time for 2022 congressional elections.
* Smithfield Foods, one of the largest pork processing companies in the country, closed its huge Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant over the weekend after 293 confirmed cases of COVID-19 exploded across its workforce – about half of South Dakota’s total number of cases.
* A Tyson’s Foods chicken plant in Camilla, Georgia, has had three deaths. Plants in Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee have also shut down after cases were confirmed. Industry experts have been warning for weeks that the food processing plants of the Midwest and South were disasters waiting to happen, with crowded, unsanitary conditions and impoverished workers. The Sioux Falls plant alone is responsible for almost five percent of our country’s pork.
* Migrant tomato pickers in Immokalee, in rural southwest Florida – workers deemed essential during Florida’s belated stay at home order – are demanding a field hospital and say that social distancing is impossible in their working and living conditions. Organizers warn that such encampments are a disaster waiting to happen in many of the country’s agricultural areas, and that outbreaks risk disrupting the nation’s food supply as well as spreading the pandemic.
* Florida IS doing something right. SNAP recipients in that state can now buy groceries online, something most states continue to prohibit.
* Tornadoes ripped across the South yesterday, killing at least 30. Coronavirus social distancing restrictions complicated both rescue efforts and community support. For example, in Mississippi, where 11 died, evacuees were not moved into one big shelter in a high school gym, but into separate local hotel rooms.
* Forecasters fear that this will be a more active than usual upcoming hurricane season, with abnormally warm Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and Atlantic Ocean waters this Spring and unseasonably hot weather in Florida this month.
* California announced that upcoming local elections in May and June will be held entirely by mail.
* Southwestern tribal communities are continuing to get hit hard by the pandemic. In addition to the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Reservation in Arizona and the Zuni, Zia, and San Felipe Pueblos in New Mexico are dealing with outbreaks. The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which is responsible for federal help for reservations in a crisis like this, has been pretty much missing in action.
* Hospitals are reporting increasing shortages of essential drugs, including antivirals, sedatives for people on respirators, and other drugs made in Europe, China, and India. Many countries are now limiting exports so that they can serve their own hard-hit populations first. The US is doing this as well, but the FDA isn’t set up to be able to monitor the global supply chain.
* Hospitals are also anecdotally reporting, in different parts of the country, shipments of needed PPEs and other medical supplies being intercepted and seized by the federal government. FEMA isn’t saying, so we don’t know the extent of this problem – or why it’s happening.
* George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “This Week” announced that he and his wife, actress and comedienne Ali Wentworth have both tested positive for COVID-19.
* The US Navy reported the first COVID-19 death of a sailor from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. 585 crew members had tested positive as of Sunday.
* New York exceeded 10,000 deaths and closed in on 200,000 cases – ten percent of all confirmed cases in the world. Even so, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was cautiously optimistic that, for his state, “the worst is over” – IF people continued to obey social distancing orders.
* Top ten states for cases/deaths (Sunday’s total cases in parentheses).
New York 195,749/10,058 (188,902)
New Jersey 64,594/2,443 (58,151)
Massachusetts 26,793/756 (22,860)
Michigan 24,638/1,487 (23,993)
Pennsylvania 24,292/589 (22,938)
California 23,585/689 (22,424)
Illinois 22,025/798 (19,180)
Louisiana 21,016/844 (20,595)
Florida 20,601/470 (19,347)
Texas 14,041/300 (13,509)
* A new study from Wuhan, China suggests that the novel coronavirus can spread up to 4 meters, or 13 feet in the air – more than double US social distancing requirements, and more than quadruple the current WHO recommendation. The virus can also be spread on the soles of people’s shoes. Really.
* Early on in the pandemic, the Icelandic government committed to an ambitious goal: testing all 364,000 of its residents. That project has been slowed by testing kit component shortages, but the country has still tested about ten percent of its population – more per capita than any other country in the world. And it’s reporting a disturbing finding: that at the time of testing, half of those who tested positive for COVID-19 were asymptomatic.
* It’s not clear how many of those positive test cases went on to become symptomatic, but that’s a much higher rate, among a large and relatively homogeneous sample size, than other studies have found. The WHO, for example, estimates that about a quarter of positive test cases will be asymptomatic. And it has important implications for the ease with which the novel coronavirus spreads, the need to maintain social distancing, and the danger of trying to go back to “business as usual” too soon.
* A riot broke out in a prison in the remote northeastern Indonesian province of North Sulawesi last night. As with similar prison uprisings in Italy, the US, and elsewhere, the disturbance came after positive tests within the prison for COVID-19; at issue, invariably, are unsanitary conditions, poor social distancing, and lack of access to testing or good medical care.
* Silver lining: In the Central American Countries notorious for high murder rates – El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala – homicides are down sharply since the beginning of the pandemic. The same is true in Mexico and Colombia.
* The global total of confirmed cases is 1,912,923, in 185 countries, with 118,966 deaths. The total number of cases will likely pass two million tomorrow.
* Countries with over 10,000 cases; today I’m adding deaths for each country in the same format I’ve been using for WA counties: xx,xxx cases/xxx deaths. Facebook doesn’t seem to allow columns, so I don’t know a more readable way to do this; let me know in the comments if you know of one! (Sunday’s total cases in parentheses):
USA 577,842/23,232 (547,681) cases
Spain 169,628/17,628 (166,019)
Italy 159,516/20,465 (156,363)
France 137,875/14,986 (133,669)
Germany 129,207/3,118 (127,007)
UK 89,569/11,347 (85,199)
China 83,213/3,345 (83,134)
Iran 73,303/4,585 (71,686)
Turkey 61,049/1,298 (56,959)
Belgium 30,589/3,903 (29,647)
Netherlands 26,710/2,833 (25,746)
Switzerland 25,688/1,138 (25,407)
Canada 25,551/767 (24,290)
Brazil 23,430/1,328 (21,065)
Russia 18,328/148 (15,770)
Portugal 16,934/535 (16,565)
Austria 14,041/368 (13,945)
Sweden 10,948/919 (10,483)
Ireland 10,647/365 (9,655)
Israel 11,586/116 (11,145)
South Korea 10,537/217 (10,512)
India 10,453/358 (9,205)
Sorry for inserting so much opinion this time; I generally try to stick to the facts. But IMO it is an objective fact that one of the things at risk of dying in this pandemic is American democracy, flawed as it is. Now go wash your hands – or better yet, take a nice, hot shower – and then don’t mourn. Organize