Dark days ahead: With new coronavirus cases rising again around the country, the next few months may be the “darkest of the pandemic,” Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, warned this week. There have been more than 8.2 million cases in the U.S. and more than 220,000 deaths from Covid, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. However, as The New York Times’ David Leonhardt points out, part of the reason for a case count as high as the summer peak is that increased testing capacity is catching more mild cases and giving a fuller picture of the pandemic. Hospitalizations are still not at the previous peak, and deaths are holding mostly steady. Of course, if case numbers continue to rise and the spread of the virus continues unchecked, hospitalizations and deaths will likely go up as well.
- Also: The number of global cases has passed 40.5 million, with more than 1.1 million deaths. Ireland has again closed nonessential businesses to curb the spread, the first European country to do so.
Disaster zone: After Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS News’ 60 Minutes that he was not surprised that President Trump contracted Covid, the president lashed out at the public health expert, calling him a “disaster.” NBC News reports that on a phone call with campaign staff, Trump said, “If I listened to him, we’d have 500,000 deaths,” adding seconds later, “If we listened to him, we’d have 700-800,000 deaths right now.” His comments seemed to suggest he longs to give the doctor the boot: “Every time he goes on television, there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him,” Trump said.
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Profit before pandemic: Internal emails between California state and local officials reveal that several large hospital systems turned away seriously ill Covid patients who weren’t covered by insurance or were on Medicaid, prioritizing profit over caring for those affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Melanie Evans, Alexandra Berzon, and Daniela Hernandez report for The Wall Street Journal. In some instances, the hospitals’ actions may have violated a federal law that protects access to emergency care, and certainly goes against medical ethics. “It is wrong to say ‘no’ if you have capacity,” said Paul Biddinger, medical director for emergency preparedness at the Mass General Brigham hospital system in Boston, especially if the other area hospitals are overwhelmed and can’t provide good care, as many in California were at the time.
Galapagos “rape”: Tourism to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador has plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic, and put the park, which relies on tourist fees to fund preservation and conservation as well as upkeep and enforcement, in a vulnerable position, Susanne Rust reports for the Los Angeles Times. Tour boats and local fishing vessels have been grounded, making it harder to detect the presence of illegal fishing boats. This summer, more than 300 Chinese fishing vessels waited at the edge of the protected waters to catch fish migrating south toward the waters off Peru and Chile. The fleet deactivated its tracking system, raising suspicions that the vessels were trying to illegally plunder the protected waters closer to the islands. “This is an attack on our resources,” said Ángel Yánez Vinueza, the mayor of Santa Cruz province. “They are killing the species we have protected and polluting our biota with the plastic waste they drop overboard. They are raping the Galapagos.”
Flesh-eaters: Vibrio vulnificus is a bacteria found in brackish and balmy coastal waters, the most deadly strain in the genus Vibrio, killing one of every five people who contract it—and climate change is only making infections more common, a team of investigative reporters write for the Center for Public Integrity. Even if it doesn’t kill, the bacteria can turn small sores into gaping holes. Vulnificus, often referred to as “flesh-eating bacteria,” can also contaminate seafood like oysters and other shellfish consumed raw, and is the leading cause of death from seafood consumption. The bacteria thrives in warm water, so as the ocean and climate warms it continues to expand into new territory. The number of Vibrio infections from the three most common species of bacteria has doubled nationally over the 11 years that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tracked it, from 433 in 2007 to 897 in 2016.
Fire zone warnings: Environmentalists are increasingly using wildfire risk as a reason to oppose new developments in Northern California, J.K. Dineen reports for the San Francisco Chronicle. Wildfires have destroyed tens of thousands of homes built in semi-rural “Wildland Urban Interface” zones over the past few years, casting doubts on new development plans in Pittsburg, Antioch and Napa County. However, zoning laws often make it easier to build in these zones than in urban areas. “The challenge is how the state can promote housing but not promote it in dangerous places like WUIs,” Adam Millard-Ball, an environmental studies professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told the Chronicle. “The power to restrict development is held by cities and counties.”
Bureau of Land Re-Management: The actions of a controversial acting director of the federal Bureau of Land Management, William Perry Pendley, may be overturned after a U.S. District Court judge ruled that his oversight of the BLM was unconstitutional because he was never confirmed by the Senate, Judy Fahys reports for the Montana Free Press. Pendley had expanded oil and gas drilling, mining and grazing on public lands during his 14-month tenure. But Judge Brian Morris, in addition to finding Pendley’s oversight unconstitutional, also struck down three BLM plans in Montana, writing: “It remains probable that additional actions taken by Pendley should be set aside as unlawful.” He invited conservation groups to challenge them and environmentalists were quick to say they plan to do just that. “It is hard to measure the damage William Perry Pendley has done to America’s public lands, but this order rightly reverses several of the decisions made under his illegal watch,” said Tracy Stone-Manning of the National Wildlife Federation. “This administration has failed our public lands, and we’ll fight to rectify all of Mr. Pendley’s wrongs.”
More voters, fewer polling places: Even as the voter rolls in Georgia have swelled by two million since 2013, the number of polling places has been reduced by 10 percent, Stephen Fowler reports for Georgia Public Broadcasting and ProPublica. Atlanta and majority Black neighborhoods have been hit particularly hard. Nine counties have nearly half of the state’s active voters but only 38% of the polling places. The result is hours-long waits, and even then voters are sometimes told that ballot scanners have been shut down and they must submit provisional ballots instead. Georgia is considered a swing state for control of the White House and Senate, and voting difficulties in primarily Black communities could tip the scales on Election Day.
Hit pieces: Republicans are hiring freelance journalists to write attack articles about Democratic rivals in outlets masquerading as local news, Davey Alba and Jack Nicas report for The New York Times. The network of faux-journalism publications includes 1,300 websites, all carefully scripted and massaged by Republican groups and corporate public relations firms. While some liberal groups have tried similar operations in swing states, they are a fraction of the size. Since 2004, some 2,100 newspapers have folded across the country, opening a huge void in local news.
FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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