Parallel universe: The White House declared in a press release this week that President Trump’s most significant accomplishment in his first term of office was “ending the COVID-19 pandemic,” Nathaniel Weixel reports for The Hill. Yesterday, the U.S. reported at least 89,000 new infections, the largest single-day total since the pandemic began, according to The New York Times. The nation recorded 500,000 new cases in the past week, in what The Times’ Lauren Leatherby described as the “worst week yet” of the pandemic. Half of U.S. counties saw new cases peak in the last month, and a third of them suffered peaks in the last week. Although deaths are not as high as they were earlier in the pandemic, they are still ticking upwards. The country has now surpassed 9 million cases of coronavirus, with about 229,000 deaths. Members of the White House Covid Task Force told the Daily Beast that the statement about President Trump ending the pandemic was “mind-boggling” and an insult to them.
- Also: Trump declared at a rally that a vaccine will be ready “momentarily” but scientists and public health officials say that’s not true, Jordan Culver, Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub report for USA Today.
Here, there, everywhere: France and Germany have announced another lockdown to try to curb surging coronavirus infections, according to The Wall Street Journal. In France, bars, shops and restaurants will close for at least a month and people will be urged to stay at home. Germany will close restaurants, bars, fitness studios, concert halls and theaters, while hotels are barred from hosting tourists until the end of the month and public gatherings will be limited to 10 people from two households. Factories and schools in both countries will remain open. On the eve before the new lockdowns, Paris was snarled in traffic jams as people with means tried to escape to the country, The New York Times reported. Worldwide there have been more than 45.2 million coronavirus cases, and over 1.1 million deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.
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Paperwork woes: State agencies are trying to claw back millions of dollars in mistaken unemployment payouts, even if the error was the agency’s fault, Ava Kofman reports for ProPublica. Most people applying to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program are not familiar with the unemployment system, and they have been navigating new and hastily set up processes. It’s a situation ripe for errors on both sides. Kofman recounts the plight of one man, a gig worker in Washington, who mistakenly checked the wrong box in the questionnaire that determines his eligibility week-to-week, after the wording on the questionnaire changed (English is his second language). His benefits that week were denied, which made him reach out to the unemployment office to fix the error. He ended up with a bill for repayment of all $14,990 that he had received. Sometimes mistakes by technology vendors have caused havoc; in September, some 7,000 Louisiana residents were informed that they had to pay back thousands of dollars of unemployment benefits because of a programming mistake. The error was corrected but, as one woman who received the notice said, “Getting a letter like this could send someone over the edge.”
Phone fraud: Sixty people in more than a dozen states have been charged with conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, and with violating a 1994 law, the Senior Citizens Against Marketing Scams Act, for their role in what the Justice Department called the largest elder fraud scheme in the nation. The $300 million nationwide telemarketing scheme targeted more than 150,000 elderly victims. Victims were tricked into agreeing to make repeated payments for new, expensive magazine subscriptions. Or, the fraudsters would offer to “cancel” magazine subscriptions and pay outstanding balances in exchange for a lump sum.
Use it or lose it: North Dakota has reallocated $16 million that was supposed to go towards cleaning up abandoned oil and gas wells to pay oil companies to hydraulically fracture new wells, Nicholas Kusnetz reports for InsideClimate News. How’s that? Well, the federal coronavirus relief money had to be used by the end of the year or the state would have to pay it back, and cold weather was going to interfere with the cleanups. Other state officials would have preferred to see the money used for such things as improving contact tracing or helping nursing homes allow family visits. Instead, the state will be handing out checks of up to $200,000 to any oil company ready to open a new well.
Bike hike: Biking surged in popularity in March, as people bought out in-store inventory and manufacturers scrambled to meet increased demand. But will the enthusiasm continue? As David Zipper writes for Bloomberg CityLab, there are a few things the federal government could do to keep the bike boom booming. The first is to address the crisis of biking fatalities, which rose 38 percent between 2009 and 2018. Cities and states could be asked to contribute data on biking accidents to a federal database, and to report particularly dangerous corridors so that those can be prioritized for safety improvements. Federal authorities could also rank states for their work on prioritizing bicyclist and pedestrian safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could also make risks to pedestrians and bike riders part of its safety ratings for cars and trucks, as the European Union does.
Pay bias: Hewlett Packard Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have agreed to pay $1,450,000 in back pay and interest to settle allegations of systemic pay discrimination against 391 female employees. The Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs found disparities in compensation between male and female employees working in similar positions while conducting routine compliance reviews. The company did not admit liability. “We believe the charges in this case are without merit,” HP told The Mercury News. “We felt it was in the best interests of all involved to resolve this matter as quickly as possible through a voluntary settlement agreement. HP does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”
FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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