Official Toll Underestimates U.S. Coronavirus Deaths, Maybe By a Lot

Down for the count: With 380,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, the United States has more than twice as many as any other country, and more than one fourth of the world’s total of over 1.38 million cases, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker. As of mid-day today, about 12,000 people in the U.S. had died from Covid-19, but that figure almost certainly misses some, if not many, coronavirus deaths, because it only includes fatalities in which victims were tested and confirmed to have the disease. “We know that it is an underestimation,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund told The Washington Post. This was a problem early in the epidemic, when there was a national shortage of tests, but even now people who die at home or in nursing homes may not be tested and counted. What’s more, the National Center for Health Statistics is basing preliminary estimates on death certificates that list Covid-19 as an underlying disease, but as The New York Times reports, officials are encouraged, but not required, to list underlying diseases, even in cases where individuals had tested positive for coronavirus. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation expects daily deaths in the U.S. to peak around April 16 and to reach 81,000 by June 1.

  • Also:  U.S. coronavirus  deaths appear to be disproportionately higher for black Americans. In Louisiana, where about one third of residents are black, 70 percent of Covid-19 victims are African-Americans, according to The New York Times. NBC News reports a similar imbalance in other areas, including Chicago, where fewer than one third of residents are black, but African-Americans have suffered 72 percent of deaths. The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in intensive care after taking a turn for the worse, Max Colchester reports for The Wall Street Journal. Johnson tested positive for the virus two weeks ago, the first head of state known to have been infected.

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Drug pushing: President Trump has been aggressively promoting the anti-malaria medicine hydroxychloroquine as a cure for the coronavirus, mentioning it in several White House briefings, as The New York Times reported, even as public health officials declined to support his claims for lack of evidence of safety and effectiveness. The president and some of his supporters and associates stand to profit if the drug takes off in popularity, The Times has reported, including Ken Fisher, a major donor to Republicans and to President Trump, Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, and Chirag Patel, a member of Trump National Golf Course Bedminster in New Jersey. As of the last public reporting, three Trump family trusts had investments in a Dodge & Cox mutual fund, whose largest holding was in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine. The Food and Drug Administration has issued an emergency use authorization to treat extremely ill Covid-19 patients with the drug, and more clinical trials are in the works: according to Vice President Pence, 3,000 patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit will be part of a trial whose results will be tracked in a formal study, CNN reports.

  • Also: The run on hydroxychloroquine has created a shortage for those who depend on the drug to treat lupus, like Olga Lucia Torres, the author of this New York Times op-ed.

One nation, divided: Coronavirus has underscored political and cultural divides in the country. Out of the 50 states, just seven have declined to issue statewide directives for residents to stay home, all led by Republican governors, writes CNN’s senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. Those are: Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. South Carolina was among their number until Monday, when Governor Henry McMaster announced a mandatory “home or work” order that goes into effect at 5 p.m. today. Missouri’s stay-at-home order didn’t go into effect until yesterday, and Alabama Governor Kay Ivey didn’t issue an order until Friday, which went into effect on Saturday. The president declined once again on Saturday to issue a nationwide order, which aides to several of the holdout Republican governors told Zeleny would be the only thing that would change their minds.

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Subminimum: Among those hardest hit by the economic fallout of the coronavirus are tipped restaurant workers, many who made the federal wage for tipped workers of just $2.13 an hour, which hasn’t increased since 1991. (Many states have established higher minimums for tipped workers.) Now that the wages and the tips have evaporated, many of the workers are struggling, reports Liza Gross for Mother Jones. The advocacy group One Fair Wage created an emergency fund last month to help tipped workers survive the nationwide shutdowns, and more than 50,000 people signed up in five days. “About three workers are signing up a minute,” says the group co-founder, Saru Jayaraman. “We’ve been overwhelmed with the desperation.” If cash tips aren’t included in weekly paystubs, then they don’t factor into unemployment benefits for newly unemployed workers. Undocumented workers, who make up an estimated 10 percent of the restaurant workforce, aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits.

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Mass bleaching: The Great Barrier Reef off Australia, the world’s largest coral reef system, saw the third mass bleaching in five years this January and February, and the largest to date, Graham Readfearn reports for The Guardian. Bleaching, caused by warming waters, occurs when corals expel the algae that provide most of their energy, causing the coral to turn white. If the algae loss is prolonged, the coral eventually dies. Fully one quarter of the Great Barrier Reef suffered severe bleaching, according to aerial surveys of more than 1,000 individual reefs. David Wachenfeld, chief scientist at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, made a plea to the public to not lose hope but to see this as a call to action. “My greatest fear is that people will lose hope for the reef,”  he told Guardian Australia. “People need to see these [bleaching] events not as depressing bits of news that adds to other depressing bits of news. They are clear signals the Great Barrier Reef is calling for urgent help and for us to do everything we can.”

  • Also: An optimistic study published in the journal Nature says that marine life in the world’s oceans could be fully restored in as little as 30 years with aggressive conservation policies, Manu San Felix writes. The necessary measures would cost $20 billion or more per year, but the economic return on the investment would be tenfold.

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Hole in the sky: A vast hole in the ozone layer, which absorbs most of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation, has opened above the Arctic, covering an area about three times the size of Greenland, Alexandra Witze reports for Nature. The hole isn’t a threat to human health because the Sun is only just starting to rise above the horizon in high latitudes, and it will probably re-form in the coming weeks. There is some chance the hole could spread to more populated lower latitudes, in which case use of sunscreen would become more important. A large ozone hole opens in the Antarctic every year, as airborne chemicals, including chlorine and bromine, coalesce in high-altitude clouds and eat away at the ozone layer. But the conditions that allow that to happen rarely occur in the Arctic, except for this year.

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Willful and serious: The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Heaslip Engineering LLC, Citadel Builders LLC, Suncoast Projects LLC and numerous sub-contractors for safety and health violations after three workers died and 18 workers were injured last October when a Hard Rock hotel under construction in downtown New Orleans collapsed. Quinnyon Wimberley, 36, Jose Ponce Areola, 63, and Anthony Magrette, 49, were killed in the collapse, and the bodies of Winberley and Areola have not been recovered from the building; in January, the legs of one of the workers were temporarily exposed to public view after a tarp blew away. The violations, disputed by Heaslip, include significant design flaws that impacted the structural integrity of the building. “Heaslip unequivocally denies any ‘willful’ or ‘serious’ wrongdoing, and will vigorously contest all of the citations, Kelly Theard, an attorney for Heaslip, told Nola.com.

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

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One comment to “Official Toll Underestimates U.S. Coronavirus Deaths, Maybe By a Lot”

  1. Danni Lebaigue

    Thank God for independent journalists. It’s only truth that will help mankind and our planet’s survival. True knowledge will educate us not to make detrimental decisions that would have negative repercussions on us all.

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