Virus Heroes … Commander of Confusion … Jared??? … Orwell, 1984 … New Reality: From Hot to Frozen … Small Business Bailout … The Politics of Face Masks … Phase 4: Rescue Package … One Hopeful Thing … and other news of the week.
I call it “coping’ from home (h/tNPR)
Capstone National Partners
Politico “More than 6,000 people have died from the novel coronavirus in the U.S. And our country is locked up, stir-crazy at home, trying to make sense of an interminable quarantine as winter turns to spring.
Our Political Leaders? Seemingly Stir-Crazy as well, engaged in feuds that seem nonsensical, hatching arguments that are detached from reality and getting involved in kayfabe hijinks that assume we’re a bunch of dopes.
— THE SHOW: President Trump sent Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer a letter Thursday, scolding him for being a partisan, calling him a lousy senator …
— THE SHOW: The USNS COMFORT — a hospital ship — cruised up the Hudson River this week to help relieve New York City hospitals that were overtaxed from the coronavirus crisis. Images of the white ship with a red cross in front of the Statue of Liberty flooded Twitter. People took it as a hopeful sign that the U.S. government was coming to aid its most iconic city in its time of travail. THE REALITY: The NYT is reporting this morning that the ship has taken only 20 patients, and the “1,000 beds are largely unused, its 1,200-member crew mostly idle.” The head of New York’s largest hospital system said this to the Times: “If I’m blunt about it, it’s a joke.”
— THE SHOW: JARED KUSHNER, on Thursday in the White House briefing room, explaining the Strategic National Stockpile (more on this below).
— THE SHOW: The Trump administration has touted, at times, the provision in the Phase Two coronavirus bill that would allow generous paid leave. THE REALITY: The NYT reports this morning that the Labor Department has curbed the policy through rulemaking, and now “75% of American workers are at companies that qualify for exemptions from the law.”
Commander Of Confusion
WaPo “Trump sows uncertainty and seeks to cast blame in coronavirus crisis”: “As Trump has sought to remake his public image from that of a skeptic of the pandemic’s danger to a savior forestalling catastrophe and protecting hundreds of thousands of people from a vicious contagion, he also has distorted the truth, making edits and creating illusions at many turns.
“Trump’s machinations have a dogged showman’s quality, using his omnipresence at daily White House news conferences — which sometimes stretch two hours or more and are broadcast to millions — to try to erase memories from his two months of playing down the crisis.”
Atlantic “The White House said it estimated anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 people to die from COVID-19 in the U.S. The debate rages on over whether the official estimates are correct. But that’s the wrong way to be understanding these models. Epidemiological models are not meant to be “right” or “wrong.” The coronavirus is advancing on the American South: So far, about one in 10 deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 has occurred in the four-state arc of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, according to data assembled by the COVID Tracking Project. And more young people are dying.”
Pandemic Early-Warning Program Ended
LATimes “Two months before the novel coronavirus is thought to have begun its deadly advance in Wuhan, China, the Trump administration ended a $200-million pandemic early-warning program aimed at training scientists in China and other countries to detect and respond to such a threat.
“The project, launched by the U.S. Agency for International Development in 2009, identified 1,200 different viruses that had the potential to erupt into pandemics, including more than 160 novel coronaviruses. The initiative, called PREDICT, also trained and supported staff in 60 foreign laboratories — including the Wuhan lab that identified SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.”
NYT “At one of the most perilous moments in modern American history, Mr. Kushner is trying in a disjointed White House to marshal the forces of government for the war his father-in-law says he is waging. A real estate developer with none of the medical expertise of a public health official nor the mobilization experience of a general, Mr. Kushner has nonetheless become a key player in the response to the pandemic. …
“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
– Orwell, “1984”
Axios “The language on the federal government’s public health emergency website has been edited to match statements made by White House adviser Jared Kushner on Thursday.”
At Thursday’s White House press briefing, [Kushner] said local and state officials are requesting medical supplies without understanding what they need, adding, “The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile … What you have all over the country is a lot of people are asking for things that they don’t necessarily need at the moment.”
TO THE WEBSITE
What the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is saying NOW: “The Strategic National Stockpile’s role is to supplement state and local supplies during public health emergencies.”
What the U.S Department of Health and Human Services said YESTERDAY: “Strategic National Stockpile is the nation’s largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out … When state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency.”
Katherine McKeogh, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement Friday that the edits to the stockpile’s webpage had been in the works prior to Kushner’s remarks Thursday.” (Right.)
‘I don’t know what Kushner was talking about, what he meant. But the stockpile is for the country. And the country is made up of states in the federal government.
– Sen. Cory Gardner (Repubican-CO)
The New Reality: From Hot To Frozen
Politico “The hot economy that President Trump and Larry Kudlow so frequently boasted about — the unshakable employment picture, soaring stock market and reorientation of the global trade picture — has morphed in just three weeks to into perhaps the most dreadful climate in U.S. history.
6.6 MILLION AMERICANS FILED for unemployment last week, more than double last week’s 3 million claim, and twice the number analysts expected. TEN MILLION AMERICANS are newly unemployed, and are seeking the government’s aid to help make ends meet. Add to that: The stock market has been decimated, America is frozen as a disease ripples through the country, and the fabric of our nation is fraying in ways that were previously unimaginable. It has left an American society shuddering, and the political system bickering about whether there is an answer, and, if so, what it might be.
SOME OF THE HARDEST-HIT STATES represent the core of the electorate that will decide our next president: Pennsylvania, which has 362,012 new unemployment claims, and Ohio, with 189,263 new claims.
BTW … THIS IS THE FIRST OFFICIAL WEEK for White House chief of staff MARK MEADOWS.
Small Business Bailout Chaos
Axios “Websites crashed, phones jammed and confusion reigned as small businesses rushed at today’s kickoff to get their chunk of the $350 billion “Paycheck Protection Program.”
Why it matters: This is a race to save jobs in the present and the future, and to ensure that as many workers as possible keep their benefits and paychecks during the coronavirus lockdown.
By the numbers: Thus far today, the program has resulted in 6,820 loans totaling $2.2 billion, the Small Business Administration’s head tweeted this afternoon. “Borrowers are waiting for their money, but the banks’ hands are tied because they can’t get into the SBA’s portal,” Paul Merski, who heads up government relations for one of the biggest community bank advocacy groups, told Axios’
— 60% of banks have not previously participated in SBA lending programs, he notes.
— Some banks and lenders, like Wells Fargo, said they wouldn’t be ready to take applications today.
— Others, like Bank of America, initially said they made the decision to only take customers who had previously taken out a loan with them to speed up the process. After a slew of outrage, it subsequently said small businesses that did not meet this requirement could deal directly with bankers to submit an application.
Between the lines: Because many banks are only accepting existing business clients, and some other banks aren’t processing PPP loans at all, it’s likely that many small businesses will get left out because they picked the “wrong” bank years ago.
Axios “If you feel like you’re suddenly spending a surprising amount of time thinking and talking about Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, you’re not alone.”
He’s become the third-most talked about person online, after only President Trump and Speaker Pelosi, according to data NewsWhip. What they’re saying: Of the top 40 stories about Fauci by interactions (likes, comments, shares) on social media, none had negative sentiment, and several were positively glowing.
On sites with left-leaning audiences, the top Fauci-related stories focused on instances when he contradicted Trump or gave more pessimistic forecasts than the president. Right-leaning publishers’ top stories were about Fauci praising Trump or criticizing the press for seeking to create a rift between the two.
P.S. … Fauci recently received a security detail, in response to “threats as well as unwelcome communications from fervent admirers.” (WashPost)
MORE FAUCI .. On Thursday, Fauci, suggested that the federal government should impose a nationwide stay-at-home order to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.
The Politics of Face Masks
Atlantic “In the beginning, the guidance was clear: Unless you have COVID-19 or are caring for someone who does, you probably don’t need to wear a mask in public. Now, that’s all in flux. The CDC reetooled it’s guidelines, advising Americans to wear cloth masks in public.
Here’s what science writer Ed Yong reported about the efficacy of such masks yesterday:
A few studies suggest that homemade cloth masks are less effective than proper medical ones, but are still better than nothing. In one experiment, a surgical mask filtered 89 percent of viral particles from the air, a tea towel blocked 72 percent, and a cotton T-shirt blocked 50 percent. … If people use makeshift masks, they should thoroughly wash them afterward. And most of all, they should remember that homemade masks are not fully protective.
Underpinning the mask debate is another about how this new coronavirus travels—specifically, whether it is airborne. (Airborne, in the public health sense, doesn’t just mean “travels by air;” it refers to a specific state, in which the virus moves as “aerosols.”) Early studies offer preliminary answers, but many questions remain.
“We’re trying to build the plane while we’re flying it,” one expert told Ed. “We’re having to make decisions with quite massive consequences in the absence of secure data. It’s a nightmare for your average cautious public-health professional.”
Axios The FDA issued an emergency approval Tuesday for a serological testing kit produced by Bodysphere Inc. that can detect a positive or negative result for COVID-19 in two minutes. Why it matters: Access to testing has improved in the U.S. thanks to commercial labs, but the average wait time for a patient’s results is four to five days — with some reports of it taking more than a week.
These antibody tests could help people know if they are able to go back to work, as well as aid researchers in tracking the scale and death rate of the disease — key data for current and future pandemic policies. They’re especially useful for determining whether health care workers have some immunity and are at lower risk if they go back to work.
What’s happening: The FDA has been rushing to approve tests from companies that promise quicker results. Abbott Laboratories received emergency authorization last week to produce portable coronavirus tests, which the company indicates can detect the virus within five minutes. Yes, but: These rapid tests can only detect the coronavirus in people who have had the infection for several days, meaning the test can’t be used too early on when the body hasn’t produced enough antibodies.
The Other Test We Need
Researchers are racing to develop tests that detect whether someone may have developed immunity to the coronavirus, which could help society return to normal faster. Why it matters: These tests could help people know if they are able to go back to work, as well as aid researchers in tracking the scale and death rate of the disease — key data for current and future pandemic policies. And … these tests could be especially useful for determining whether health care workers have some immunity and are at lower risk if they go back to work, says Nick Evans, an assistant professor at UMass Lowell.
Where it stands: Researchers at universities, companies and the CDC are working to develop tests to detect antibodies to SARS-CoV-2.
Phase 4: Another Rescue Package?
Politico “There has been a noticeable shift in rhetoric in the last day or so. Democrats — including Speaker Nancy Pelosi — are now talking about PHASE FOUR being much like PHASE THREE. In other words, more emergency measures are needed before consideration of infrastructure and other legislative initiatives. (This is what Republicans like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have pushed in recent days.) ”
Dem Convention Postponed
Axios “The Democratic National Committee announced on Thursday that its July convention will be postponed until August 13th – 17th, because of the coronavirus. The party’s new plans for mid-August would put its convention just a week before the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, which is set for Aug. 24–27.
DELAY IMPACTS FUNDRAISING Daily Beast “The Democratic Party’s decision to postpone this summer’s presidential nominating convention … has put a pot of money a bit further out of reach for the presumptive Democratic nominee. That’s because instead of getting access to funds for the general election on the initial convention date—July 16—Biden must wait until mid-August, when the convention now is planned to go forward in Milwaukee.”
BGov “Seventeen states have so far either delayed presidential or congressional primary contests, or extended the amount of time voters can return mail-in ballots, all in response to the challenges the coronavirus pandemic has inflicted on their abilities to hold elections.
Here are the most recent changes, which all came in the past week:
– West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) moved the state’s presidential and congressional primaries to June 9.
– New York’s presidential primary moved to June 23. The delay could result in penalties as the new date is after the June 9 deadline for primaries set by the DNC. States with primaries past the deadline — currently only New York and Kentucky — could lose up to 50% of their delegates.
– Wisconsin. A federal judge ruled voters will have until April 13 — six additional days — to get their absentee ballots into a clerk. Gov Evers has called a special legislative session tomorrow to consider all-mail election. The idea is to send a ballot to every registered voter who has not already requested one by May 19 and to extend the time for those ballots to be received to May 26. Saturday In person voting WILL happen on April 7th.
– Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) signed legislation delaying the state’s primary to June 2 after the change was approved by the legislature. The legislation also gives local election officials power to consolidate polling places to reduce in-person turnout.
– Ohio’s deadline to return mail-in ballots is April 28 after emergency legislation passed the state legislature and was signed by Gov. Mike DeWine (R). In-person voting is canceled in the state. Voting rights groups have sued over the new date, arguing the mail-by process will disenfranchise voters.
– The Hawaii Democratic Party, which previously announced it would use mail-in ballots only for the presidential election, pushed back the deadline to return mail-in ballots to May 22.
Worthy Of Your Ears
The National Orchestra of France is here to please, with a social media-friendly version of French composer Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero,” AP reports. The performance starts with three musicians: more and more join, until they are an orchestra of 50.
Behind the scenes: The musicians got their scores by email. They also got an audio track to listen to through headphones as they played. The musicians filmed themselves over four days in the final week of March. No black tie.