In his own words: In recorded interviews with the journalist Bob Woodward for his new book in February, Donald Trump described the coronavirus as “deadly stuff” and more dangerous than “even your strenuous flus.” Days later, he told the public that there were very few cases and that the country was in “good shape.” Over the next few weeks he continued to say that the coronavirus was “under control” or just like the “regular flu.” In March, Trump confirmed to Woodward in a follow-up interview that he intentionally downplayed the virus. “I still like playing it down,” Trump said, “because I don’t want to create a panic.” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters this week that Trump has never played down the virus, contradicting the president’s own words, Maggie Haberman writes for The New York Times. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said Woodward’s book offered “damning proof that Donald Trump lied and people died.”
- Also: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. has topped 6.4 million, amounting to more than one in 55 Americans since the start of the pandemic. More than 192,000 have died of Covid-19, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker–a death toll equivalent to sixty 9/11 attacks. Globally, coronavirus cases have passed 28.2 million, with more than 910,000 deaths.
Marooned: Some 300,000 migrant fishermen and seafarers have been stranded at sea or in ports far away from home after the coronavirus pandemic closed borders and kept them from returning home, Ana P. Santos reports for the Los Angeles Times. One sailor who spoke with the Times is stuck on a boat with 37 others, and the only news of the outside world they receive is what the senior crew members choose to tell them. “We heard the captain saying something about a pandemic, but we thought it was just a joke — nothing as bad as this,” Anthony Medina told the Times. Watchdogs worry that some of these sailors have or will soon run out of drinking water, or will need healthcare that they can’t get at sea. “Being anchored in the middle of the ocean for a long period of time is not tenable,” said Rossen Karavatchev, fisheries section coordinator for the International Transport Workers’ Federation. “If you get sick on board, sorry, you can’t get medical assistance and you can’t get out. If you die, you may be thrown into the sea for a sea burial.” Stranded and in despair, some sailors are on the verge of taking drastic action: “The shore is so near that we can see it from here,” Medina said. “On the really bad days, we think about jumping overboard and swimming to shore. Maybe we can be rescued.”
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Failing to protect: The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited the pork processor Smithfield for failing to protect workers from the coronavirus at its Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant. At least 1,294 Smithfield workers contracted coronavirus, and four employees have died from the virus, OSHA said. The agency proposed a penalty of $13,494 against Smithfield, which it said was the maximum allowed by law. The federal agency’s state counterpart in California, Cal/OSHA, has started cracking down on Covid-related workplace hazards, citing the frozen food manufacturer Overhill Farms for failing to install barriers or implement procedures to space employees at least six feet apart at two plants in Vernon, California. At least 20 employees fell ill and one died. Cal/OSHA has proposed more than $200,000 in penalties for Overhill Farms and its temporary employment agency Jobsource North America Inc. “It is critical that employers evaluate the workplace and take proactive measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker in a press release. Both OSHA and Cal/OSHA have come under attack for what critics say has been a poor job of protecting workers from the coronavirus.
Scorched earth: The West Coast is burning. Thousands of square miles in Oregon, Washington and California have been charred by wildfires, with at least 15 deaths, hundreds of thousands of people evacuated and toxic air pollution afflicting millions more. At least 10 people have died in the North Complex Fire northeast of San Francisco—making it the deadliest fire in California this year—and 16 others are still missing, according to The Weather Channel. Tens of thousands of people across the state have had to evacuate and fires have consumed hundreds of buildings. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said that wildfires have scorched nearly 4,844 square miles this year. About 500,000 people in Oregon–over 10 percent of the state’s population–were under orders or warnings that they might have to evacuate their homes, reports The Washington Post. Wildfires burned some 1,400 square miles of land in just three days—nearly twice the acreage that normally burns in a whole year. “We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across the state,” said Gov. Kate Brown. Whole towns have been nearly wiped out. Chris Luz, the mayor of Phoenix in southern Oregon, said his town (population 4,650), had been devastated. “Many businesses have been burned down,” Luz said. “Certain neighborhoods, including my own, have been burned down. There are many, many, many homes that are gone.” Fires in Washington have destroyed more than 120 homes. “It’s really shocking to see the number of fast-moving, extremely large and destructive fires simultaneously burning,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles, told The New York Times. “I’ve spoken to maybe two dozen fire and climate experts over the last 48 hours and pretty much everyone is at a loss of words. There’s certainly been nothing in living memory on this scale.”
Rumor mill: Police in Oregon have been inundated with false reports that the fires are being started intentionally by antifascists, Robert Mackey reports for The Intercept. “Rumors spread just like wildfire and now our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires,” the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office in Roseburg, Oregon wrote on Facebook . “THIS IS NOT TRUE! Unfortunately, people are spreading this rumor and it is causing problems.” The misinformation has resulted in at least one instance of a videographer and his partner being stalked and tracked on social media by people threatening physical violence against them, Christopher Miller and Jane Lytvynenko report for BuzzFeed.
Money talks: A report commissioned by the federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission says that climate change could wreak havoc on financial markets, as the cost of wildfires, storms, droughts and floods overwhelms insurance and mortgage systems, Coral Davenport and Jeanna Smialek write in The New York Times. “A world wracked by frequent and devastating shocks from climate change cannot sustain the fundamental conditions supporting our financial system,” the report concludes. “This is the first time a government entity has looked at the impacts of climate change on financial markets in the U.S.,” Robert Litterman, the chairman of the panel that produced the report and a founding partner of Kepos Capital, a New York investment firm, told The Times. “Rather than saying, ‘What’s the science?’ this is saying, ‘What’s the financial risk?’”
Crackdown: The Environmental Protection Agency has brought enforcement actions against dozens of companies that make or distribute ”defeat devices” that nullify pollution controls on cars and trucks, FairWarning reports. The agency estimates that such devices have been illegally installed on more than 500,000 diesel pickups since 2009, resulting in hundreds of thousands of extra tons of air pollutants linked to higher rates of cancer, heart attacks and strokes.
FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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