Nightmare before Christmas: California is the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., with more new cases than many entire countries–including Britain, Germany and India–in the last couple of days, Reis Thebault writes for The Washington Post. The state reported more than 50,000 new cases on Thursday, and capacity in hospital intensive care units in Southern California dropped to zero percent. “I want to be very clear: Our hospitals are under siege,” Christina Ghaly, director of Los Angeles County’s Department of Health Services, said Wednesday. “The worst,” Ghaly said, “is still before us.” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s daughter tested positive for coronavirus this week after running a fever, and the family is quarantining, Dakota Smith reports for the Los Angeles Times. More than 17.2 million people in the U.S. have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than 311,00 have died, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.
- Also: The president of France Emmanuel Macron tested positive on Thursday, sending European leaders who recently met with him scrambling to test and isolate, Elizabeth Pineau and Michel Rose report for Reuters. Macron is said to be tired and to have a cough. Globally, more than 75 million people have tested positive for the virus that has claimed more than 1.6 million lives.
All stakeholders?: A Washington Post investigation by Douglas MacMillan, Peter Whoriskey, and Jonathan O’Connell found that while 45 of the 50 biggest U.S. companies have turned a profit since March, 27 have laid off employees in the middle of the pandemic. Collectively, the companies fired 100,000 workers. Walmart gave more than $10 billion to shareholders this year, after firing 1,200 corporate office employees. Many of the companies had signed on to a Business Roundtable pledge to serve the interests of all stakeholders, including workers, and not just shareholders. Three companies, Salesforce, Cisco Systems and PayPal, made staff cuts even after their chief executives said they wouldn’t. Other profitable companies that fired workers include: Comcast, AT&T, Microsoft, Nike and Berkshire Hathaway; unprofitable companies that made big cuts include: Disney, Boeing, ExxonMobil and Chevron. Some of the companies said they hired more new employees this year than they let go.
- Also: Congress is said to be nearing consensus on a new $900 billion stimulus and coronavirus relief bill, although talks could still drag on through the weekend, Mike DeBonis, Jeff Stein, and Seung Min Kim report for The Washington Post. If so, lawmakers will need to pass a stopgap bill to avoid a government shutdown tonight.
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Getting out of Dodge: The mayor of Dodge City, Kansas, Joyce Warshaw, has resigned her post after threatening phone calls and emails made her fear for her safety, Vincent Marshall reports for the Dodge City Daily Globe. The threats were made after Warshaw was quoted in a USA Today story about the city’s mask mandate, which was only put in place after one in 10 residents had tested positive for coronavirus. Warshaw, whose aunt died from Covid-19 and whose daughter also contracted the virus, told the paper: “We just felt like we had to do something so everybody was aware of how important it was for everybody to be responsible for each other’s health and well-being.”
Pence poked: Vice President Mike Pence received the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on live TV this morning, a demonstration meant to “promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and build confidence among the American people,” according to a Trump administration statement quoted by The New York Times. According to the most recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than a quarter of Americans remain vaccine skeptical, and either probably or definitely would not get a vaccine even if it were free and deemed safe by scientists. However, confidence in the vaccine is up from September, with the number of people who would definitely or probably get a vaccine jumping from 63 percent to 71 percent. Approval by the Food and Drug Administration of a second coronavirus vaccine from Moderna is expected soon, after an FDA advisory panel endorsed it as safe and effective.
- Also: Although a recent UK study showed that people with Down syndrome are 10 times more likely to die from Covid than other people, the United States has not included Down syndrome in the list of conditions that make people more susceptible to coronavirus, or prioritized those with the condition (more than 200,000 Americans) for early vaccination, Meredith Wadman writes for Science magazine.
Dying for profit: The Los Angeles Times has published a shocking exposé about the for-profit hospice industry, in which providers try to acquire as many patients as possible—whether or not they are close to death—because each body brings in $154 to $1,432 per day in Medicare payouts. The number of hospice providers around the country, and in Los Angeles County in particular, has exploded over the past decade, with horrifying consequences: Some patients realize too late that they have signed away rights to lifesaving emergency treatment. Others never receive the care they need to alleviate pain in their final days, or develop festering bedsores from neglect. Since 2008, regulators have cited hospices in California more often than any other state for the most serious types of violations, but state reports show state and federal regulators have rarely acted to fine, suspend, or shut down the offending institutions. Oversight has been further weakened during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Also: Rodney Mesquias, the owner of the Merida Group chain of hospice providers in Texas, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for falsely telling patients with diseases like Alzheimers that they had less than six months to live and sending them to hospice, lining his pockets with the proceeds from $150 million in false and fraudulent claims, according to the Department of Justice. Three co-conspirators have been convicted or pleaded guilty, and are awaiting sentencing.
Home improvement: Home Depot will pay a $20.75 million penalty to settle complaints that its contractors across the country failed to properly contain toxic lead dust when performing renovations in homes with lead paint, the Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department said. The EPA found the violations when following up on customer complaints in Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The company has also agreed to implement a program to ensure that its contractors are certified and trained to use lead-safe work practices so as not to spread lead dust and paint chips during home renovations.
Asleep at the wheel: Over the past four years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has repeatedly failed to complete safety standards that could increase the chance of people surviving or avoiding a crash, Myron Levin and Eli Wolfe report for FairWarning. It’s become “a total do–nothing agency” in recent years, according to Joan Claybrook, who ran NHTSA from 1977 to 1981. Since reaching an all-time low of 32,479 deaths in 2011, traffic fatalities rose and in recent years have hovered between 36,000 and 38,000.
FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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