Deadliest catch: A widely circulated list ranking the deadliest days in American history is picked apart here by Slate for leaving some things out, but the point remains that Covid deaths on several days this month have been higher than from the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that killed 2,403 people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that number has been surpassed on multiple days in December, including on Wednesday, when Covid claimed 3,411 lives–far and away a record and more than from the September 11, 2001 attacks. “The epidemic in the U.S. is punishing,” Dr. Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s chief of emergencies, told the Associated Press. “It’s quite frankly shocking to see one to two persons a minute die in the U.S. — a country with a wonderful, strong health system, amazing technological capacities.” More than 292,000 people in the U.S. have died of the coronavirus, nearly one-fifth of the world’s total, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington forecasts that 500,000 people in the United States will have died from coronavirus by April—but if mask use increased to 95 percent, it could save 56,000 lives, CNN reports.
- Also: The vaccine advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration voted to recommend the agency authorize the Pfizer and BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, CNN reports. The FDA is expected to issue the authorization on Saturday, The New York Times reports, and the first vaccinations of health care workers and nursing home residents could happen as early as next week. Canada became the third country to approve the use of the Pfizer vaccine, after the United Kingdom and Bahrain, The Wall Street Journal reports, and Canadian officials said they will make a decision about the Moderna vaccine soon.
Playing catch-up: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been ramping up enforcement of coronavirus safety precautions after taking a hands-off approach earlier in the year, Amy Martyn reports for FairWarning. But a review of OSHA inspections reveals the agency is mostly responding to deaths or hospitalizations, as required by law, not identifying unsafe working conditions before more people get infected and possibly die. Under the Trump administration, the number of OSHA inspectors has fallen to record lows, while key positions have gone unfilled.
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Rebel, rebel: Several city councils in Los Angeles County have voted to form their own health departments out of outrage and frustration that the county health department has closed outdoor dining, Adam Popescu reports for The New York Times. The concern is that these strict coronavirus restrictions threaten the existence of some 30,000 dining establishments. “It’s kind of like a mini secession,” Raphael J. Sonenshein, the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles, told The Times. “Their complaint is the county has a one-size-fits-all prescription.” The votes don’t have a lot of teeth, Popescu notes, because there is no process for local jurisdictions to easily create their own health departments. As in much of the country, Covid infections have surged in Los Angeles County, routinely setting daily records for new cases.
- Also: While there may be a “mini secession” in California, there’s an “autonomous zone in Staten Island.” A bar owner in the most conservative borough of New York City defied local and state restrictions on indoor service, declaring his establishment an “autonomous zone,” and then tried to evade arrest by driving away with a sheriff’s deputy clinging to the hood of his car. The deputy suffered multiple fractures, and the bar owner, Daniel Presti, was charged with second degree assault, Sydney Pereira reports for Gothamist. In a statement to the media, Presti said, “We’ve pleaded with the mayor and the governor and the sheriff to help work with us and to get small businesses open, or to assist us in some way.” In September, the National Restaurant Association estimated nearly one in six restaurants, or close to 100,000 establishments, would close by the end of the year.
Bare necessities: Shoplifting of essential items like food and feminine hygiene products is increasing during the pandemic, Abha Bhattarai and Hannah Denham report for The Washington Post. The stimulus checks sent to Americans earlier this year have been spent, the extra unemployment aid is gone and chronic hunger is more common than it has been in decades. The situation is unlikely to improve significantly in the new year, as federal food programs that have provided fresh produce, dairy and meat to U.S. food banks will expire by the end of the year. “I used to think, if I get in trouble, I’d say, ‘Look, I’m sorry, I wasn’t stealing a television. I just didn’t know what else to do. It wasn’t malicious. We were hungry,’ ” Jean, a 21-year-old mother who has been stealing small items from Walmart, told The Post. “It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s what I had to do.”
- Also: Congressional stimulus aid talks have stalled, as GOP leaders declare a proposed $908 billion package a no-go, Mike DeBonis and Jeff Stein report for The Post.
Unchecked spewing: Thousands of abandoned underwater oil and gas wells could be leaking unknown quantities of methane into the ocean and, ultimately, into the atmosphere. An Environmental Health News analysis of federal data found there are 55,315 offshore oil and natural gas wells in U.S. federal waters, nearly 97 percent of which are in the Gulf of Mexico; more than half of those are permanently abandoned or decommissioned. Although wells are supposed to be plugged before they go out of use, they are not monitored, so any gas leakage—which could include methane, benzene, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide—will go unchecked. Activists are calling for greater regulatory oversight and a more proactive approach to monitoring and ultimately plugging any leaks—which they say is good for the environment, good for the oil and gas companies and good for the economy, because it would create a bunch of jobs.
- Also: The U.S. oil and gas industry flared or vented more natural gas in 2019 for the third year in a row, releasing carbon monoxide and methane into the atmosphere, Nichola Groom and Jennifer Hiller report for Reuters. Companies do this when they lack the infrastructure to capture and deliver the gas to market, or when the price of natural gas is so low that the cost of moving it to market isn’t worthwhile.
FairWarning contributor Jessica McKenzie is an independent journalist. Find more of her work at jessicastarmckenzie.com.
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