Scary New Estimate Puts U.S. Death Toll from Coronavirus at Nearly 135,000 by Early August

In the wrong direction: Federal officials are projecting that the daily death toll of coronavirus in the U.S. will reach 3,000 on June 1, a 70 percent increase from the current figure of 1,750 deaths per day, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times. The projections by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies show the number of new cases rising to 200,000 per day by the end of this month, up from approximately 30,000 new cases a day now. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington has revised its estimated total U.S. death toll from 60,308 deaths to nearly 135,000 deaths by early August, saying that’s due partly to ”changes in mobility and social distancing policies” as states relax stay-at-home orders and allow non-essential businesses to reopen. The current death toll in the country has topped 69,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. That means the Covid-19 death toll already has surpassed the first eight years of the AIDS crisis, from 1981 – 1988.

  • Also: The true death toll from coronavirus is likely higher still. A research team led by the Yale School of Public Health looked at federal data for The Washington Post and found that there were approximately 37,100 excess deaths in the U.S. in March and the first two weeks of April, meaning 37,100 more than the number ordinarily expected for that period.  That is 13,500 more deaths during that time than are currently attributed to Covid-19. “I think people need to be aware that the data they’re seeing on deaths is very incomplete,” Dan Weinberger, the Yale professor of epidemiology who led the analysis, told The Post.

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Kids sick with mystery illness: Fifteen children ages 2 to 15 have recently been hospitalized in New York City with a mysterious syndrome that has also been reported in several European countries, Joseph Goldstein reports for The New York Times. Doctors don’t fully understand the malady yet but believe it could be linked to Covid-19; some of the children have tested positive. Most of the 15 hospitalized children have had a fever and many had a rash, vomiting or diarrhea; five have needed a mechanical ventilator to help them breathe, and most of the 15 “required blood pressure support,” according to a bulletin from New York City’s health department. Although older adults have been hit hardest by Covid-19, children aren’t entirely immune; at least six children have died from the coronavirus in New York City. In the U.K., at least 12 children have needed intensive care for similar symptoms, Denis Campbell and Ian Sample report for The Guardian. There have also been cases reported in Italy, Spain, and France, and a handful in Switzerland and Belgium. Parents have been advised to be on the lookout for a high fever, rashes, or stomach pains, and to call a doctor if their child has any of these symptoms.

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Defying governors: At least three Northern California counties are allowing businesses to reopen in  defiance of Governor Gavin Newsom’s statewide stay-at-home order, Rong-Gong Lin II reports for the Los Angeles Times. The three rural counties, Modoc, Sutter, and Yuba, have seen few cases and deaths from coronavirus; Modoc is one of the four California counties that have not reported a single case of Covid-19. Other counties in the state are also clamoring to be released from restrictions on movement and economic activity. Meanwhile, polling by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies shows that most California voters want the stay-at-home order to be extended: 70 percent of California voters say they’re more worried that shelter-in-place orders will end too soon and worsen the health crisis than they are that the shutdown will go on too long and damage the economy. A similar drama is playing out in other states. Weld County in Colorado gave local businesses wanting to reopen the green light, despite Gov. Jared Polis’s orders to remain closed, Steven Goff reports for The Washington Post; a North Carolina county, on the other hand, backed down from a decision to allow businesses to reopen in defiance of Gov. Roy Cooper’s orders.

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Solar flare-ups: Eli Wolfe reports for FairWarning on the dubious practices of some solar energy companies, which have resulted in hundreds of complaints to the Better Business Bureau. Grievances range from damaged roofs to poor customer service to claims that salespeople misrepresented the terms of contracts. In recent years, Vivint Solar has led the pack in the number of complaints. In October 2019, the Better Business Bureau reported that Vivint had 774 complaints over the past three years, more than either Sunrun Inc. or Tesla-owned SolarCity Corp., two top competitors. Some states have taken legal action against Vivint; in January the company agreed to a $1.95 million settlement with New York’s attorney general, who had accused the company of using deceptive sales pitches, but did not admit liability. The company has also faced legal actions in New Jersey, New Mexico, and California.

  • Also: The coronavirus crisis is battering oil and gas and renewable energy producers alike, but the latter aren’t getting as much attention or relief in Washington, D.C., Steven Mufson and Dino Grandoni write in The Washington Post. None of the four economic rescue and stimulus packages that Congress has passed have included any money for renewable energy specifically.

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Eat less plastic: Scientists estimate that people consume about a credit card’s worth of plastic each week, Kevin Loria writes in Consumer Reports, and that’s consume as in “eat,” “drink,” or “breathe,” not simply “use”—but of course you  could have guessed that, since you probably use more plastic than that in your daily life. The scale of plastics production is monstrously large: more than 10 billion tons produced in total, mostly since 1950; 400 million tons of new plastic in 2018 alone. The system for recycling it is not just broken, it hardly exists: of those 10 billion tons, less than 10 percent has been recycled, Loria reports in a second article. “The reason the public thinks recycling is the answer is that the plastic industry has spent 30 years on multimillion-dollar campaigns saying that,” says Judith Enck, a former regional administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency and now a visiting professor at Bennington College in Vermont and president of Beyond Plastics, a nonprofit focused on ending plastics pollution. “That was absolutely the wrong message. The message should have been: Don’t use so much plastic.” Ways to reduce your personal plastics consumption include: drinking tap water instead of bottled; heating food in or on the stove, or by microwaving in glass instead of plastic; buy and store food in glass, silicone, or foil, not plastic; eat fresh food as much as possible; vacuum regularly, because the dust in your house could be loaded with microplastics and chemicals that are found in plastic, such as phthalates; and work with community groups focused on reducing plastics use.

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Cars at sea: The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a glut of new vehicles that Americans currently aren’t buying, Chester Dawson reports for Bloomberg, either because they don’t need them right now—or worry they can’t afford them. 2,000 Nissan Armada SUVs, Rogue crossovers, and Infiniti sedans sat on a cargo ship about a mile offshore of Los Angeles for almost a week, because the lots the vehicles were destined for didn’t have enough space to accommodate them. “Dealers aren’t really accepting cars and fleet sales are down because rental-car and fleet operators aren’t taking delivery either,” John Felitto, a senior vice president for the U.S. unit of Norwegian shipping company Wallenius Wilhelmsen, told Bloomberg. “This is different from anything we’ve seen before. Everyone is full to the brim.”

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America’s treasures: How would you like your (eventual) vacation to the Grand Canyon to come with a side of uranium mining? Mining in the forests on the Grand Canyon’s northern plateau has been barred since 2012, when Congress imposed a 20-year ban across 1 million acres there because past uranium extraction polluted drinking water and the air and land, but the Trump administration has proposed re-opening the region to mining as part of a plan to revive the domestic uranium mining industry, Judy Fahys writes for InsideClimate News. Environmental groups, which had been joined by local tribes in calling to make the ban permanent, swiftly and vehemently criticized the recommendations.

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

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