Coronavirus Cases Soar With More Testing, and Lives are Upended in the U.S.

Going viral: With the numbers soaring as more people get tested, there were more than 50,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and 600 deaths by mid-day Tuesday, mostly in New York, Washington and California, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker. Globally, there were nearly 400,000 cases and more than 18,000 deaths. Stay-at-home orders covering about half of  all Americans were in place in many states, with essential activities, like going to the grocery store, still permitted, and millions of grocery, delivery and health care workers still reporting for work. President Trump for the first time ordered use of the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to speed production of 60,000 test kits. Japan and the International Olympic Committee announced that the 2020 Olympics, scheduled for this summer, will be postponed until 2021, ESPN reports.

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Aid package: After a string of huge losses, stocks spiked Tuesday on reports that Congress  was nearing final agreement on a roughly $2 trillion stimulus bill,  which would provide checks of up to $1,200 to individuals and aid to distressed companies and the health care system. The Labor Department reported a 30 percent increase in unemployment claims last week, one of the largest spikes on record, Patricia Cohen reports for The New York Times. Of course, those are just the people who could get through. Newly unemployed workers across the country, from Oregon to New York and Washington, D.C., have reported that state unemployment websites have been crashing due to increased traffic, Minyvonne Burke reports for NBC News.

  • Also: President Trump is toying with the idea of limiting government restrictions on the U.S. economy to only 15 days, egged on by Fox News hosts and guests, Aaron Blake writes for The Washington Post. Last night, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who turns 70 next week, advocated lifting social distancing guidelines to help the economy. “No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ ” he told Fox News. “And if that is the exchange, I’m all in.”

Hindsight is 20/20: While U.S. intelligence agencies were providing classified warnings about a potential coronavirus pandemic, President Trump and lawmakers downplayed the threat and postponed actions that could have slowed the spread of the pathogen, according to reporting by The Washington Post. Intelligence agencies “have been warning on this since January,” one U.S. official with access to intelligence reporting that was disseminated to members of Congress and their staffs, as well as to the White House, told The Post.

  • Also: Tim Morrison, a former senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense on the National Security Council under President Trump, took issue with the assertion by some former White House employees under President Obama—including Beth Cameron, quoted here last week—that the Trump administration “dissolved” the pandemic response office. “I led the very directorate assigned that mission, the counterproliferation and biodefense office, for a year and then handed it off to another official who still holds the post,” he writes. “I know the charge is specious.” As The Post clarifies in a fact-check of these two opinion pieces: “The office — as set up by Obama — was folded into another office. Thus, one could claim the office was eliminated. But the staff slots did not disappear and at least initially the key mission of team remained a priority.” On the other hand: “The question that cannot be answered — at least perhaps until a congressionally mandated commission examines the U.S. preparation for this crisis — is whether a separate directorate would have had more clout to bring the issue immediately to the president’s attention.”

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But forewarned is forearmed: Just days after Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, co-authored an opinion article for Fox News suggesting that the United States was “better prepared than ever before,” the Senator sold 33 different stocks that were collectively worth $628,000 to $1.7 million, The New York Times reports, including shares in two hotel chains that have since taken a beating. Three other senators also sold major holdings around the same time: Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who is also a member of the Intelligence Committee; James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma; and Kelly Loeffler, Republican of Georgia. All three said the shares were in blind trusts, and that they had no direct involvement in the sales. Members of Congress have had to report stock sales since 2012, when the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, which was supposed to prevent lawmakers from using inside information to profit, was passed. Senator Burr claims to have relied on publicly available news, not inside information, in making decisions about his portfolio, The Washington Post reported. Burr has requested a complete review of his actions by the Senate Ethics Committee.

  • Also: Americans are receiving two loud, mixed messages: to not hoard, and to limit time in public spaces like grocery stores as much as possible. The result is, as FairWarning reports, a confusing mess for those who want to do the right thing. “There is some dissonance in ‘don’t hoard’ versus ‘you’re going to be locked down for three weeks,’” Dr. George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco, told FairWarning. “This wasn’t put together by a public relations firm, believe me.” Although recommendations from government agencies have ranged from having enough supplies for one or two weeks, to vague encouragement to get “additional” supplies, public health experts recommend shopping as you normally would, but at less popular times to avoid crowds, and with extra caution about picking up items and putting them back.

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Tobacco warnings The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a final rule to require new health warnings on cigarette packages and advertisements that graphically emphasize serious health risks of cigarette smoking, including impact on fetal growth, cardiac disease, and diabetes. Public health and anti-smoking grouops, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids celebrated the announcement as “a critical and long-overdue step forward in the nation’s battle against tobacco use – the number one cause of preventable death.” The rule mandating new warning labels will go into effect June 18, 2021, and will replace the previous text-only warnings in use since 1984. The tobacco industry could mount a legal challenge. Cigarette makers  successfully challenged a previous set of graphic warnings in 2011, as FairWarning reported.

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Downstream consequences: Test results from 174 children who were exposed to lead in tap water in Flint, Michigan, suggest that 80 percent will require special education services, Sharyn Alfonsi reports on 60 Minutes. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who first made the connection between the high levels of lead in the children of Flint and the tap water, estimates 14,000 kids in Flint under the age of six may have been exposed. “There is no safe level of lead,” she told 60 Minutes. “We’re never supposed to expose a population or a child to lead. Because we can’t do much about it. It is an irreversible neurotoxin…Actually drops IQ levels. It impacts behavior, leading to things like developmental delays. And it has these life-altering consequences.”

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PG&E’s plea: Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the 2018 Camp fire in the Northern California town of Paradise that killed 85 people and destroyed more than 13,900 homes, Joseph Serna and Matt Hamilton report for the Los Angeles Times. California’s largest utility agreed to pay to pay $3.5 million, and in exchange no additional sentence will be imposed. PG&E also pled guilty to one count of unlawfully causing a fire, with three “special allegations” for greatly injuring a firefighter, greatly injuring more than one person and burning multiple structures, J.D. Morris and Lizzie Johnson reported for the San Francisco Chronicle. The charges were filed by Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, who said no PG&E executives were indicted because the blame did not rest with any one person.

 

Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.

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