Trump Threatens U.S. Withdrawal from WHO, Touts Taking Anti-Malarial Drug Despite Safety Warnings

Hopped up on hydroxychloroquine: President Trump said he has been taking the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure against coronavirus, prompting medical experts to warn people (once again) of the potential dangers of the drug, Annie Karni and Katie Thomas report for The New York Times. “All I can tell you is so far I seem to be OK,” the president said. “I get a lot of tremendously positive news on the hydroxy.” Trump added a cavalier, “What do you have to lose?” Dr. Scott Solomon, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, characterized the president’s words as irresponsible. Less than a month ago, the Food and Drug Administration issued a safety warning about the drug, saying it could cause dangerous abnormalities in heart rhythm in Covid-19 patients, and should be taken only in supervised clinical trials. In March, an Arizona man in his 60s died after swallowing an aquarium cleaning product that had chloroquine on its label, and his wife became dangerously ill. They had taken the pills thinking that would protect them from the virus.

  • Also:  After suspending U.S. support for the World Health Organization in April, President Trump now is threatening to cut off funds permanently and to end U.S. membership in the organization, which he has accused of a pro-China bias, The Wall Street Journal reports. Trump has blamed China and the WHO for not doing enough to prevent the global spread of the coronavirus.

Hope on the horizon: The Massachusetts biotechnology company Moderna announced promising early results from the first human safety tests of a coronavirus vaccine, Carolyn Y. Johnson reports for The Washington Post. Eight participants received low and medium doses of the vaccine and subsequently had blood levels of antibodies similar or greater than those in recovered Covid-19 patients, which could indicate some level of immunity. One of Moderna’s directors, Moncef Slaoui—who owns more than $10 million in company stock options—days ago left his position to become chief scientist for the White House vaccine initiative, Operation Warp Speed.

  • Also: The number of U.S. cases blew past 1.5 million, with more than 90,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. The country is rapidly approaching 100,000 deaths, and yet the president’s son, Eric Trump, claims that the pandemic is being used as a weapon to injure his father, William Cummings writes for USA Today. “You watch, they’ll milk it every single day between now and Nov. 3. And guess what, after Nov. 3, coronavirus will magically all of a sudden go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen,” Trump told Fox News host Jeanine Pirro.

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Staying safe outside: As cities and states begin to ease restrictions, people increasingly want to be outside doing summertime things. But what’s the risk of catching, or spreading, coronavirus? The New York Times has an overview of the expert consensus, which is that transmission risk outdoors generally is very low: DON’T meet in large groups, or share food, utensils or beverages; DO keep your hands clean; and stay at least six feet from people who don’t live in your home. If you’re exercising in close proximity to others, wear a mask, but on the flip side, if you’re a pedestrian, passing walkers, joggers, and bikers is not a big threat. “The risk is lower outdoors, but it’s not zero,” Shan Soe-Lin, a lecturer at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, told The Times. “And I think the risk is higher if you have two people who are stationary next to each other for a long time, like on a beach blanket.”

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Chain reaction: Nursing homes have been hotspots for Covid-19 because large numbers of older or infirm residents live in close proximity to each other. But even as the country’s death rate was soaring, government inspectors found that one of the largest nursing home chains was violating federal standards meant to slow the spread of the disease, The Washington Post reports. At least 10 Life Care nursing homes that underwent inspections had lapses in infection control and prevention, including the most basic steps, like staff members who did not wash their hands or enforce social distancing guidelines. Since a Life Care Center in Washington state suffered the country’s first reported outbreak in February, the privately owned company with more than 200 nursing homes has seen at least 2,000 cases and 250 deaths among residents and staff, according to a Post tally. Five Life Care nursing homes saw outbreaks of 100 or more cases.

  • Also: The death toll is so high in California nursing homes–more than 1,100 residents and staff killed–that privately run nursing facilities are seeking immunity from lawsuits once the virus passes, Scott Wilson reports for The Post.

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Flavor of the week: As of this week, it’s illegal to sell flavored e-cigarettes and vaping products in New York State, Giuliana Bruno reports for News 10. New York is the 4th state after Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island to take this action to prevent kids from getting hooked on nicotine. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids called it ”the right move  to reverse skyrocketing youth use of e-cigarettes and couldn’t come at a better time as health experts are warning that smoking and vaping can worsen the effects of COVID-19.” On the other hand, Mike Kruger of the New York State Vapor Association, an industry group, warned that many flavored vape users will go back to conventional cigarettes, which are far more dangerous.

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Street safety: The Department of Transportation has revised hours of service rules for truck drivers, which the agency says are meant to give drivers more flexibility concerning rest breaks, sleeper berths and driving in adverse conditions. Sam Mintz points out in Politico’s Morning Transportation that response to the rule change is divided along party lines, with Republicans and the trucking industry praising the change, and safety advocates and Democrats warning that the rule will lead to tired drivers and less safe roads. “The rules finalized today expand exemptions, will keep drivers on the road longer, and allow more on-duty time before a required rest break,” said House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon). “We should be doing everything we can to support the health and safety of truck drivers, especially as they serve on the front lines of our response to the current pandemic — not sanctioning rules that run them into the ground.”

  • Also: Emptier roads have led to a surge in speeding and reckless driving, Luz Lazo reports for The Washington Post. In Minnesota, 42 people were killed in traffic collisions in the first 45 days after the state’s March 16 stay-at-home order, well over the number of deaths (29) on Minnesota highways during the same period in 2019. Traffic nationwide is down 41 percent during the pandemic, but traffic incidents like crashes have dropped only 21 percent.

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Better safe than sorry: The Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly urged pregnant women to avoid medically unnecessary ultrasounds, which may be unsafe for the developing fetus, Amy Martyn reports for FairWarning. But the warnings have not stopped the spread of keepsake ultrasound businesses that provide the scans for entertainment’s sake, and sell images and videos for display at baby showers and gender-reveal parties. The industry perpetuates the misconception that repeated, long-term ultrasound exposure is proven to be harmless. Worse, radiologists worry that people without any medical training could be operating the machines unsafely.

  • Also: The Trump administration will not impose limits on perchlorate, a toxic chemical used in rocket fuel that has been linked to fetal and infant brain damage, Lisa Friedman reports for The New York Times. The decision by Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler appears to defy a court order requiring the agency to establish a safe drinking-water standard for the chemical by the end of June.

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Plant-based plastics: A biochemicals company in the Netherlands that has the support of major beverage companies, including beer-maker Carlsberg, Coca-Cola and Danone, is trying to produce “all-plant” bottles made from sugars from wheat, corn, and beets to replace petroleum-based plastics, Jillian Ambrose reports for The Guardian. The new packaging could be on shelves by 2023 and, if sent to a composter, could theoretically be decomposed by 2024.

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

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