Hazmat hearing: The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich writes, even though two Republican members of the committee recently tested positive for coronavirus, and the committee chairman Senator Lindsey Graham attended the “super spreader” event at the White House last month and has refused to be tested in recent days. Senator Mike Lee, the Utah Republican who has recently tested positive, delivered his opening statement without a mask. He claimed to have been “cleared” by his doctor. The other committee member who tested positive, Republican Thom Tillis of North Carolina, has been cleared for in-person activities and planned to attend the hearings. Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, appeared remotely Monday because he was quarantining after coming into contact with Senator Lee, but returned to the hearing room Tuesday. Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, a member of the committee, also appeared remotely, saying, “This hearing should have been postponed. The decision to hold this hearing now is reckless and places facilities workers, janitorial staff and congressional aides and Capitol Police at risk.” Protesters outside the hearings wore hazmat suits. “We are making a point,” Jennie Spector, one of the few dozen demonstrators in full-body protective gear, told Leibovich.
Presidential rallies: President Trump held his first rally since testing positive for coronavirus Monday in Sanford, Florida, after his doctor Sean P. Conley wrote in a memo that he had tested negative on consecutive days using the Abbott rapid-testing machine, and therefore was no longer contagious, The Washington Post reports. However, the Abbott test is less accurate than the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test, and is more likely to produce a false negative. “The challenge is that the president’s physician is not a credible source,” Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The Post. He said there wasn’t enough information in Conley’s memo to know whether or not the president is contagious. The president continued to downplay the severity of coronavirus at the rally. “The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself can. The cure cannot be worse,” he told those gathered. He added, “One thing with me, the nice part, I went through it. Now they say I’m immune . . . I feel so powerful.” Trump has vowed to attend a campaign rally every day until the election, Axios reports.
- Also: More than 7.8 million people in the U.S. have tested positive for coronavirus, and more than 215,000 people have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. Globally, 37.8 million people have tested positive and 1.08 million have died. Meanwhile, CNN reports that the U.S. is hunkering down for a winter surge, with 10 states reporting record hospitalizations since Friday and 33 states reporting more cases in the past week that in the prior one.
True toll: Although Covid-19 directly caused more than 150,000 deaths between March and July, a group of researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond found that the pandemic indirectly caused an additional 75,000 deaths during that period, Adrianna Rodriguez reports for USA Today. “There have been some conspiracy theories that the number of deaths from Covid-19 have been exaggerated,” Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, told USA Today. “The opposite is the case. We’re actually experiencing more death than we thought we were.” Patients with chronic illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and heart disease might have postponed or avoided seeking health care out of fear of contracting the virus, or because they underwent an emotional crisis because of the pandemic that contributed to their deaths. Based in part on this study, researchers at the University of Washington predict nearly 400,000 people will die this year from Covid-19 or due to consequences of the pandemic.
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Vaccine trial paused: Johnson & Johnson has halted its large late-stage clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine due to an “unexplained illness” in one of the volunteers, The New York Times reports. The pauses are not uncommon, and can be lifted if the illness is investigated and determined not to be a safety risk related to the trial. “It’s actually a good thing that these companies are pausing these trials when these things come up,” Dr. Phyllis Tien, an infectious disease physician at the University of California, San Francisco, told The Times. “We just need to let the sponsor and the safety board do their review and let us know their findings.” AstraZeneca has also paused its coronavirus vaccine trial twice, and although the trial in other countries has resumed, the one in the United States has not.
Testing, testing: A fast, at-home Covid test could be on the market within the next few months, Aidin Vaziri reports for the San Francisco Chronicle. However, these antigen tests are less accurate than laboratory tests and often return false-negative results. This, combined with user error, could give people who rely on the tests a false sense of security. Experts say over-reliance on testing, while ignoring social distancing and masking guidelines, gave the White House a false sense of security, and led to an outbreak that has infected at least 34 people, including the president.
Lose-lose situation: Families with loved ones in long-term care facilities are starting to demand that restrictions on visiting be loosened, Jessica Glenza reports for The Guardian. Isolating nursing home residents may be as lethal to them as the coronavirus, they argue. “Many of these facilities’ families haven’t been in there in months, and they can see their family members dwindling away, and they’re losing days they can never get back,” Dave Bruns, a spokesperson for AARP of Florida, told The Guardian. “If you don’t reopen them, that’s definitely going to kill some people, and if you do open them it’s definitely going to kill some people.” Mary Daniels, the founder of Caregivers for Compromise and a leader of this grassroots movement, went so far as to get a job as a dishwasher at the facility where her husband lives. She is permitted to visit him in his room on the days she works. “My response to that, again, is why is it OK as a dishwasher, but it’s not OK as a wife?” Daniels asked. “I would buy that at two months, and three months and four months, but these patients need stimulus and touch.”
Ecosystem collapse: The insurance firm Swiss Re says that one-fifth of the world’s countries are at risk of ecosystem collapse from the destruction of wildlife and their habitats, Damian Carrington writes for The Guardian. This threatens water and air quality, soil health, food supplies and coastal resiliency, among other things. It’s also bad for the global economy; more than half of global GDP, $42 trillion, depends on high-functioning biodiversity, according to the report. Countries most at risk of ecosystem collapse include Australia, Israel and South Africa as well as India, Spain and Belgium. Of the top G20 economies, South Africa and Australia are most at risk, with China 7th, the U.S. 9th and the U.K. 16th.
Absolutely bankrupt: The operator of a now-closed lead-acid battery smelter in Southern California that polluted the soil with lead has filed for bankruptcy, and the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency have said they will not make the company clean up the environmental disaster zone as part of its bankruptcy plan, Tony Barboza writes for the Los Angeles Times. This sticks state taxpayers with the bill for California’s largest environmental cleanup, which has already cost more than $270 million. Some state regulators, elected officials and community groups in the mostly working-class Latino neighborhoods affected by the pollution are demanding the proposed plan be scrapped and the company, Exide Technologies, be held accountable. The Department of Justice and the EPA will hold a virtual public meeting “to listen to the community’s concerns.”
Chemical weapons: When federal law enforcement began responding to Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Oregon, in late July, they used a type of smoke grenade that can cause more serious and lasting health effects than ordinary tear gas, Sharon Lerner reports for The Intercept. Volunteers with a group called the Chemical Weapons Research Consortium collected 20 canisters of a hexachloroethane “smoke grenade” manufactured by a company called Defense Technology. According to the compound’s labeling information, or material safety data sheet, hexachloroethane can cause nausea, vomiting, central nervous system depression and kidney and liver damage. Zinc chloride, another compound released by the grenades, can cause fever, chest pain and liver damage.
FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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