“It is what it is”: When pressed about the U.S. pandemic death toll in an interview with Axios that aired Monday, President Trump said it was under control, adding: “They are dying, that’s true. And you have — it is what it is. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it. This is a horrible plague that beset us.”
- Also: The number of confirmed cases in the U.S. is greater than 4.7 million, with more than 155,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Globally, there are more than 18.3 million confirmed cases and more than 695,000 deaths.
Safe at any speed?: Government scientists and other experts worry that in the haste to bring a coronavirus vaccine to market before the November election, speed will be more important than ensuring the vaccine is safe and effective. “There are a lot of people on the inside of this process who are very nervous about whether the administration is going to reach their hand into the Warp Speed bucket, pull out one or two or three vaccines, and say, ‘We’ve tested it on a few thousand people, it looks safe, and now we are going to roll it out,’” the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Paul A. Offit, a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee, told The New York Times. During a tour of a North Carolina biotechnology lab, President Trump promised to “deliver a vaccine in record time.” He told a group of campaign supporters by phone Sunday, “We expect to have a vaccine available very, very early before the end of the year, far ahead of schedule. We’re very close to having that finalized.
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Mask switch: In April, the Food and Drug Administration made the decision to authorize sales of Chinese-made masks called KN95s, which were supposed to provide about the same protection as the N95 respirator masks that were in short supply at the time, The Wall Street Journal reports. Hospital administrators checked the list of approved manufacturers and model numbers and put in their orders, only for many of those masks to later be taken off the “authorized” list. The Journal’s investigation found that more than 60 percent of the 220 foreign-made mask brands failed basic U.S. government quality tests, according to U.S. regulatory data.“They weren’t legitimate products,” said Dr. Joseph Levy, a Massachusetts eye doctor who ordered 3,000 KN95s in April, adding that the FDA “did a disservice by putting a lot of companies on the list without screening them.” Suzanne Schwartz, a senior FDA device regulator, defended the agency’s actions: “We have provided regulatory flexibility where it is needed most,” she said.
Out sick and out of luck: Workers who fell ill with Covid-19 after going to work face another hurdle beyond their physical recovery: proving where they contracted the virus in order to secure workers’ compensation, John Hill reports for FairWarning. A few states have changed the rules during the pandemic to shift the burden of proof to employers, but most have not, giving workers’ comp carriers a reason to deny claims unless workers can prove they got sick on the job. This leaves some workers enduring a long and painful recovery from illness facing tens of thousands of dollars in healthcare costs that insurance won’t necessarily cover. Meanwhile, the families of workers who died after contracting Covid-19 receive no financial support, even though workers’ comp would normally kick in after a death on the job. Hill writes that New York insurers are rejecting most claims—perhaps out of fear that they will be on the hook for a lifetime of payments. “Is a person who has a positive test and has Covid-19 going to need medical treatment for the remainder of their life through medications or through occasional checkups, yearly checkups? I don’t know,” Michael Gruber, an attorney for a sickened worker, told FairWarning. “But if they do … then the workers’ compensation insurance company is on the hook.”
Rise in homicides: A Wall Street Journal analysis of crime statistics in the 50 largest U.S. cities found that reported homicides were up 24 percent this year. Shootings and gun violence also increased, even as other types of violent crimes fell. “I was surprised at the consistency of the increase across all of the different cities,” said Jens Ludwig, a University of Chicago professor and director of the Crime Lab. One of the bleaker interpretations of the data presented by The Journal is that the upward trend in murder could be evidence of a fraying of the social order. “Everything that society does that might shape public safety was turned upside-down during the pandemic,” said Ludwig.
Recalls recalled: The U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill Friday that prohibits the General Services Administration from selling cars subject to open recalls, Joce Sterman and Alex Brauer report for Sinclair Broadcast Group. The media outlet revealed in 2016 that GSA was auctioning off vehicles with a range of defective parts without notice to the buyer. Earlier this year, it added recall disclosures to the auctions, listing defects from brake lights to seat belts, airbags to software problems. Jason Levine, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, says that’s not enough. “This isn’t a buyer beware situation where disclosure fixes the problem,” said Levine. “Disclosure does nothing to address the dangers.” The measure’s fate in the Senate is uncertain.
Early storms: Tropical Storm Isaias will sweep through the Mid-Atlantic on Tuesday and through the Northeast into early Wednesday, after crashing ashore in the Carolinas as a Category 1 hurricane late Monday, The Washington Post reports. “This is the earliest on record that 5 Atlantic named storms have made continental US landfall,” Colorado State tropical weather researcher Phil Klotzbach tweeted. In a system that names storms in alphabetical order, Isaias is the earliest “I” storm on record by more than a week. The ninth named storm usually doesn’t develop until October. The season has also brought the earliest-forming C, E, F and G storms on record in the Atlantic.
Rising waters: It’s not just seaside dwellers who need to worry about ocean levels rising, Brad Plummer reports for The New York Times. Millions of residents of low-lying inland areas will also be at far greater risk of periodic flooding if sea levels continue to go up, according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports. About 171 million people today face some risk of coastal flooding from extreme high tides or storm surges; if climate change continues apace, that number will increase to 204 million people by 2050, and 253 million people by 2100—and that’s not even under the worst-case scenario. “Even though average sea levels rise relatively slowly, we found that these other flooding risks like high tides, storm surge and breaking waves will become much more frequent and more intense,” said Ebru Kirezci, a doctoral candidate at the University of Melbourne in Australia and lead author of the study.
- Also: A new study shows some 800 toxic Superfund sites will be at greater risk of flooding in the next 20 years, putting nearby communities at risk if soil and groundwater are contaminated with toxic substances, David Hasemyer reports for InsideClimate News. The study, by the Union of Concerned Scientists, found that more than 1,000 Superfund sites will be at risk for flooding by 2100 if carbon emissions continue on their current trajectory.
Coal’s decline: Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that coal production last year fell to the lowest level since 1978, Rebecca Beitsch reports for The Hill. “Last year’s production was the lowest amount of coal produced in the United States since 1978, when a coal miners’ strike halted most of the country’s coal production from December 1977 to March 1978,” according to the agency. Coal production has been on a downward trajectory since peaking in 2008.
FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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