Keeping the score: In a lengthy article published over the weekend, a team of six New York Times reporters—Eric Lipton, David E. Sanger, Maggie Haberman, Michael D. Shear, Mark Mazzetti and Julian E. Barnes—painstakingly document how time after time, when presented with evidence and testimony that the coronavirus was a crisis in the making, President Trump chose to downplay the severity of the pandemic and sought to control the message instead. They assert that the president was informed of a memo from Jan. 29 that said the crisis could lead to half a million deaths and trillions of dollars in economic losses, and that top public health advisers wanted to tell the American people to begin practicing social distancing in the third week of February, but President Trump refused until March, while the virus continued to spread. In a press briefing on Monday, the president tried once again to depict himself as a leader who took decisive action in response to the pandemic, playing a campaign-style video for the assembled reporters and their cameras; some TV stations opted to cut to station reporters during the video, which CNN and others described as “propaganda.” President Trump lashed out at reporters, in what The Guardian writer David Smith and others described as a “tantrum.” Leaving no one in doubt as to what set him off, the president said: “So the story in The New York Times is a total fake, it’s a fake newspaper and they write fake stories. And someday, hopefully in five years when I’m not here, those papers are all going out of business because nobody’s going to read them.”
- Also: There have now been more deaths from coronavirus in the United States than any other country, or nearly 25,000 as of this writing, according to Johns Hopkins, which has released a new map just for the U.S. Total U.S. cases have passed 580,000 – more than a quarter of the global total, which is nearing 2 million. More than 123,000 people globally have died from the virus.
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Cities and states: New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that “the worst is over” when he announced that he is working with the governors of six other Northeastern states—New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Massachusetts and Rhode Island—on a plan to reopen businesses and schools, Luis Ferré-Sadurní and Jesse McKinley report for The New York Times. “If you do it wrong, it can backfire, and we’ve seen that with other places in the globe,” Cuomo said. “What the art form is going to be here is doing that smartly and doing that in a coordinated way.” On the other side of the country, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a similar arrangement with the governors of Oregon and Washington, Taryn Luna reported for the Los Angeles Times. The President has responded to news of alliances by asserting that it is the federal government’s job to decide how and when to reopen the country. “When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total,” the president falsely claimed. Constitutional law professor Josh Blackman told The Washington Post: “The federal government can’t give orders to governors. That’s a very simple fact of life.”
- Also: The economic toll of the pandemic has and will be severe, and governments aren’t immune. The Washington Post’s Tony Romm writes that more than 2,100 U.S. cities anticipate significant budget shortfalls this year and will likely cut staff and programs in response. Many mayors and Congressional Democrats have called for more federal aid to help cities forced to choose between balancing their books and sustaining public services, but Republicans are resistant, preferring to advocate for loans to small businesses.
Common ground: South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem refused to order residents to stay home, telling reporters “South Dakota is not New York City,” but now the state has one of the largest single coronavirus clusters anywhere in the country, Griff Witte reports for The Washington Post. Some 350 workers at a giant pork-processing plant became ill with Covid-19, forcing Smithfield to announce the indefinite closure of the facility. Gov. Noem has said she won’t issue a statewide stay-at-home order because it would flatten the curve so much it would need to last until October, Lee Stubinger reported for NPR. Instead, Noem has promoted the first state-supported clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine, the drug the president has championed as a potential treatment for coronavirus, Jenni Fink writes in Newsweek.
Market failures: Multiple meat processing plants, including the Smithfield facility in South Dakota, have had to suspend or cut back on production in recent weeks, either because of coronavirus outbreaks or absenteeism, Jim Zarroli reports for NPR. As a result, consumers may see fewer meat products on the shelves in coming weeks as existing inventory is used up. The American Prospect’s Alexander Sammon writes that “America’s food systems have begun to falter, resulting in the twin curses of scarcity and excess.” Sammon points to dairy farmers dumping thousands of gallons of milk into manure ponds; vegetable growers plowing under millions of pounds of vegetables; and a chicken producer breaking and throwing out hundreds of thousands of eggs instead of raising the chicks for meat. Meanwhile, Sammon says, tens of thousands of U.S. residents are struggling to feed themselves. More than 10,000 families recently sought help from a food bank in San Antonio, 4,000 more than the organization expected, Aaron Wright reported for KENS 5. The reason for this cruel mismatch is simply that the supply chain for restaurants is almost entirely separate from the supply chain for consumers, and it is proving difficult, near impossible, to merge the two during this crisis.
- Also: Farmworkers are considered essential and exempt from state and local stay-at-home orders, but as Monica Campbell reports for Reveal News, little is being done to protect these vulnerable workers, many of whom are undocumented and work in remote parts of the country with limited access to health services. In some cases, workers were told to wash their hands more often but have not been provided masks or hand sanitizer, or instructed to reduce physical contact or proximity with other workers.
Corona scam: A 39-year-old Atlanta man, Christopher Parris, was arrested for attempting to defraud the Department of Veteran Affairs by selling 125 million nonexistent face masks and other protective equipment to the agency for an upfront payment of $750 million, Kristine Phillips reports for USA Today. “As this case demonstrates, even beyond the typical costs associated with unlawful behavior, COVID-19 scams divert government time and resources and risk preventing front-line responders and consumers from obtaining the equipment they need to combat this pandemic,” Attorney General William Barr said in a press release. “The Department of Justice will not tolerate this conduct, especially when it involves this kind of egregious attempt to target and defraud our nation’s treasures – our veterans.” If convicted, Parris faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Not so public: In rural parts of the South, many residents are facing power shut-offs because state orders to not suspend service for late payments only apply to for-profit utilities, not the public power providers that cover large tracts of the country, Alexander C. Kaufman reports for The Huffington Post. A woman identified as Toni, a 38-year-old single mother of three, told Kaufman she was given five extra days to pay her bill—while accruing late fees—and if she didn’t pay, the municipal power company would cut her off. “They said if they let everyone not pay, they’d be losing money, and it wasn’t their problem,” said the woman, who had been furloughed from her job. In a sliver of silver lining, Toni told Kaufman that after the story was published, readers donated enough money to cover her electric bill.
Risky business: Private health insurers may raise premiums by 40 percent to cover increased costs from the coronavirus pandemic, according to an analysis by California’s state health care marketplace, Covered California, Igor Derysh reports for Salon. “Covered California’s analysis shows the impact of COVID-19 will be significant, and that absent federal action, consumers, employers and our entire health care system may be facing unforeseen costs that could exceed $251 billion,” said Peter V. Lee, executive director of the marketplace. “Consumers will feel these costs through higher out-of-pocket expenses and premiums, as well as the potential of employers dropping coverage or shifting more costs to employees.”
Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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