Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Trump Sacks Head Of Pandemic Oversight Committee

For the second time in less than a week, President Trump has removed an inspector general from his post. Glenn Fine, the Acting Inspector General for the Department of Defense was removed from his temporary post this afternoon. Fine was also the head of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.
Politico reported that Fine, who had been selected by a panel of inspectors general to head the oversight board, was being replaced by Sean W. O’Donnell. O’Donnell is the Acting IG for the Environmental Protection Agency and will now handle both roles.
At this point, it isn’t clear who will be selected to chair the oversight committee.
Fine is being returned to his permanent posting as principal deputy inspector general at the Pentagon. His removal from his role as the acting IG for the DOD makes him ineligible to head the oversight committee, however.
The White House has not given a reason for Fine’s removal.
Late Friday night, the president announced his intention to fire the IG for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson. Atkinson had played a pivotal role in the Ukraine whistleblower scandal by vetting the initial whistleblower claim. Michael Horowitz, the DOJ inspector general, said on the weekend that Atkinson’s “actions in handling the Ukraine whistleblower complaint… [were] done ‘by the book’ and consistent with the law.”
The president has also attacked a third inspector general recently. Yesterday, Mr. Trump sharply criticized Christi Grimm, the Health and Human Services inspector general, who had issued a scathing report that showed that the government had sent out-of-date supplies to hospitals and issued confusing guidance to health workers.
The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee was created by the recent Coronavirus relief bill to provide oversight for $500 billion earmarked for business loans. The Trump Administration and Republicans had resisted oversight of what Democrats called a “slush fund” to be administered by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin.
Even as he signed the bill into law, President Trump attacked the oversight provisions in a signing statement, saying, “I do not understand, and my administration will not treat, this provision as permitting the [special inspector general for pandemic recovery (SIGPR)] to issue reports to the Congress without the presidential supervision.”
In other words, the president wanted an inspector general created to hold his administration accountable to report directly to him. Now, he has removed the person who was independently selected to head the oversight committee.
President Trump should face some hard questions about why he removed Fine as well as why he is so opposed to congressional oversight of half a trillion dollars of taxpayer funds. Republicans should also ask themselves hard questions about how they can continue to support a president who tries so hard to avoid being held accountable.

Originally published on The Resurgent

White House Trade Advisor Warned Of Coronavirus Pandemic In Memos As Early As January

Reports are trickling out from the White House about the early warnings that were given regarding a possible Coronavirus pandemic. Several weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that US intelligence agencies raised several red flags in January and February about the outbreak in China. Now, the New York Times reports that White House Trade Advisor Peter Navarro penned another higher-level alert.
Per the report, the memo, which was dated January 29, warned that the lack of immunity and vaccines from the COVID-19 virus could lead to a widespread outbreak and risk the lives of “millions” of Americans.
“The lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on U.S. soil,” Navarro said in the memo. “This lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.”
Navarro laid out options, “Aggressive Containment versus No Containment,” for handling a possible US outbreak with different scenarios. He noted that human and economic costs would be low if a Coronavirus epidemic resembled a seasonal flu outbreak but emphasized that the “risk of a worst-case pandemic scenario should not be overlooked” due to the serious nature of reports on the Chinese outbreak.
Navarro estimated the cost for the no-containment strategy would range from nothing if there was no pandemic to $5.7 trillion for a lethal virus. Containment, in the form of stopping travel from China, was estimated to cost $2.9 billion per month or $34.6 billion for a full year. Navarro estimated a worst-case death toll of 543,000 Americans.
A few days later, on January 31, the Trump Administration announced restrictions on flights from China. Although touted as a ban, The Dispatch points out that Americans and lawful residents were still allowed to enter the country. In fact, it was an American who had traveled to China who had already become the US patient zero for Coronavirus on January 19. Arriving passengers were required to enter through one of 13 specific airports where, the Washington Times reported, they were “waved through immigration, and then simply urged to self-quarantine. It’s like the honor system, but for containing a deadly pandemic.” An additional problem is that by the end of January, the virus had already spread beyond China to 15 countries.
However, there is evidence that the Trump Administration still did not take the looming pandemic seriously. Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy tweeted that the Administration was not asking for emergency funding to prepare for the virus’ arrival in the US.
“Bottom line,” Murphy said, “They aren’t taking this seriously enough.”
Murphy’s tweet is supported by President Trump’s own words and actions. The president hosted five rallies around the country in February alone played golf four times between the beginning of February and declaring a national emergency on March 13. At the same time, he made numerous assurances that Coronavirus was “under control” in the US and that the “risk is very, very low.”
At a rally on February 28, President Trump called Democratic concerns about a US Coronavirus outbreak “their new hoax.” This was two days after the CDC had confirmed community transmission in the United States after a patient in California tested positive with no travel to outbreak areas or contact with known carriers of the virus.
Other elements of the Trump Administration weren’t moving much faster. The lackluster response to a growing threat may be why Navarro penned a second memo on February 23. In that unsigned memo, the author, who White House staffers say was Navarro, wrote that there was an “increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1.2 million souls.”
The second memo, initially reported by Axios, warned, “This is NOT a time for penny-pinching or horse trading on the Hill.”
In the second memo, Navarro requested an “immediate supplemental appropriation of at least $3 billion” to prepare for the pandemic.
“We can expect to need at least a billion face masks, 200,000 Tyvek suits, and 11,000 ventilator circuits, and 25,000 PAPRs (powered air-purifying respirators)” over a four to six month period, the memo predicted.
It wasn’t until February 24, the day after Navarro’s second memo, that the Administration asked Congress for a $1.25 billion appropriation to prepare for COVID-19. Congress approved $8 billion on March 4 and Trump signed the bill two days later on March 6. An Associated Press review of federal contracts found that the government did not actually order medical supplies until mid-March.
Despite issuing limited travel restrictions on China in January, the Trump Administration seems to have not taken the numerous warnings about the impending health crisis seriously. Unfortunately, those travel restrictions were too little too late. The Administration wasted at least a month and only started to act with urgency when COVID-19 was already raging out of control in the United States.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, April 6, 2020

Final Attempt To Delay Wisconsin Primary Falls Flat

Wisconsin’s primary election was canceled for a few hours on Monday, but then it was back on. After working with legislative Republicans for the past week to try to reach an agreement to postpone the election, Gov. Tony Evers (D) issued an Executive Order moving the election to June 9. A few hours later, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court overturned the order and decreed that the election must go on.
Politico reported over the weekend that 10 mayors representing more than a million people had signed a joint letter asking the state government to delay the election. Following the letter, Evers called a special session on Saturday to consider a delay after weeks of party squabbling had failed to produce an agreement.
Evers, who had not called for delaying the election before last Friday, proposed a measure that would allow an all-mail election and extend the deadline for ballots. Republicans did not act on the measure, saying that the move was too late.
Before issuing his Executive Order delaying the election, Evers had tweeted only five days ago, “If I could have changed the election on my own I would have but I can’t without violating state law.” There were no known changes to the Wisconsin constitution or election laws over the past week.
The order from the state Supreme Court does lay the seeds for more competent handling of future elections. Per the Wisconsin State Journal, the court let stand Gov. Evers’ call for a special session that could set rules for elections in future crises. Republicans are not expected to take action, however.
The back-and-forth over the election has led to an unprecedented level of requests for absentee ballots. The number of requests has led to delays in receiving absentee ballots, which must be postmarked by Election Day per the US Supreme Court.
For those voters choosing to vote in person, there will be problems as well. Shortages of poll workers and concerns about infections mean that there will be far fewer polling places than normal. The city of Milwaukee normally has 180 polling places but this on Tuesday will only have five. Long lines at polling places are expected, which probably represents a nightmare for Drs. Fauci and Birx.
Joe Biden is expected to win the presidential primary handily but turnout will be a wild card. Three polls taken in March showed Biden with a growing lead over Bernie Sanders. The most recent poll, by Marquette University, gave the former vice president a 28-point lead.
With most states delaying elections due to the pandemic, Wisconsin may be the only state to hold an in-person election in April. In terms of epidemiological studies, the sole election in the midst of a pandemic could be a valuable case study on the spread of a communicable disease. However, in terms of governance, it represents a political system that has failed to protect the citizens of the state from an existential threat.

Originally published on The Resurgent

CEOs Weigh In On When America Should Return To Work

The unprecedented economic pause that America is currently experiencing comes with a question: How and when should the economy be restarted and Americans sent back to work? The Trump Administration and business leaders are working together to walk the tightrope between restarting too early, which could rekindle the pandemic, and waiting too late, which could cause irreparable economic damage.
“The damages of keeping the economy closed as it is could be worse than losing a few more people,” Tom Golisano, founder and chairman of Paychex Inc., told Bloomberg in March. “I have a very large concern that if businesses keep going along the way they’re going then so many of them will have to fold.”
“You’re picking the better of two evils,” said Golisano. “You have to weigh the pros and cons.”
Golisano advocated partially reopening the country. Hot spots would remain under lockdown, but people in areas that were not hard hit could venture out and return to work.
Golisano’s comments echo the president’s repeated desire to put the country back to work. Mr. Trump originally targeted an end to stay-at-home orders for Easter Sunday but was forced to relent on that plan in the face of predictions of catastrophic death tolls. White House medical advisors predicted that ending the mitigation strategies early could increase deaths from 200,000 to more than two million.
The desire of the president and business leaders to get America back to work conflicts with the advice of medical leaders such as Anthony Fauci. Speaking to CNN last week, Fauci said all governors “really should” issue stay-at-home orders to slow the transmission of the virus, adding “I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that.”
Fauci’s belief in the need for Americans to stay home has earned him attacks from some pundits such as Rush Limbaugh, who called Drs. Fauci and Birx, both prominent members of the Coronavirus Task Force, “data-slaves” and members of the “Deep State.” The anger and threats directed at Fauci prompted the Health and Human Services Department to give the immunologist a security detail last week.
Nevertheless, Americans can’t stay home forever. The question is when to send them back into the workplace.
Gary Cohn, a former Trump economic advisor and president of Goldman Sachs, said in Axios that business leaders need “a realistic timeframe” because they are concerned that employees will leave to take other jobs. Further, some business owners are mulling whether to cut their losses and “just lay my people off and shut down and give the landlord the key.”
Dr. Fauci said last week that the return to work is dependent upon the results of the mitigation strategies.
“I think if we get to the part of the curve … when it goes down to essentially no new cases, no deaths at a period of time,” Fauci said, “It makes sense that you’re going to have to relax social distancing.”
That metric may be met at different times in different parts of the country and for different industries. Areas that have already flattened the curve might be released for work before areas that have not yet peaked, for example. Industries in which workers can be separated from each other or where they can wear masks and gloves could also be restarted earlier than those in which people are in close proximity without protection. People who have already recovered from the virus or who test negative might also be returned to work earlier than those who have not been tested.
Cohn also cautioned that past downturns had shown that depression and substance abuse can become problems for people who don’t work regularly and are worried about their financial wellbeing, saying, “No one wants to talk about this, but can you even get workers back who aren’t so addicted or depressed they can actually function?”
The flip side is that workers, especially those who are high-risk, may refuse to return to jobs if they feel that the situation is unsafe. This is especially true as the death toll continues to rise and thousands of new cases are reported daily around the country. Those employees who did return to work might find that there were no customers since many people would prefer to shelter-in-place rather than risk becoming infected on a shopping trip.
“If this goes on too long, the fear builds more and more,” the executive of a global company told Axios. “We need to lay the groundwork for the fear to ebb.”
For the fear to ebb, the death rates will have to fall. Right now, the IHME models are predicting that won’t happen nationally until April 16. For many states, the peak will come even later. The CEOs that Axios talked to said that most workers probably wouldn’t be back on the job until June at the earliest but that phased restarts should be taking place by May.
At this point, it is too soon to reopen the economy, but state and local leaders will have to start making those decisions within the next few weeks. The decisions need to be made in consultation with medical experts and with an eye toward preventing a resurgence of the outbreak.
“A lot of people are concerned” about the economy, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said, but then added that he would “err on the side of safety, every single time.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

New York To Bury COVID-19 Victims In City Parks

In a shocking example of just how bad things are in New York City, Mark Levine, the chairman of the New York City Health Committee said in a Twitter thread that the system for handling dead bodies is so overwhelmed that the city will resort to burying the dead in parks.
Calling the pandemic “the equivalent of an ongoing 9/11,” Levine said that every aspect of the system is now “backed up.” That includes hospital morgues, funeral homes, and cemeteries.

NYC’s healthcare system is being pushed to the limit.

And sadly, now so is the city’s system for managing our dead. And it, too, needs more resources.

This has big implications for grieving families. And for all of us. 1/
NYC’s “city morgue” is the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), which luckily is the best in the world.

But they are now dealing w/ the equivalent of an ongoing 9/11. And so are hospital morgues, funeral homes & cemeteries.

Every part of this system is now backed up. 2/

228 people are talking about this

Levine goes on to explain that 80 refrigerated semi-trailers had been deployed around the city to supplement hospital morgues. Hospital morgues hold about 15 bodies and the trailers can hold 100 bodies each. Some hospitals have two or three trailers but are still running out of room.

A typical hospital morgue might hold 15 bodies. Those are now all full. So OCME has sent out 80 refrigerated trailers to hospitals around the city. Each trailer can hold 100 bodies. These are now mostly full too. Some hospitals have had to add a 2nd or even a 3rd trailer. 3/
Grieving families report calling as many as half a dozen funeral homes and finding none that can handle their deceased loved ones.

Cemeteries are not able to handle the number of burial requests and are turning most down. 4/

228 people are talking about this

The Coronavirus deaths are in addition to the 20-25 deaths that would occur in New York on an average day. The pandemic has increased that number by a factor of 10 to more than 200 daily deaths.
COVID-19 deaths may even be undercounted. Levine says that attempts to test people who died at home for the virus have failed because of the lack of test kits.

It’s not just deaths in hospitals which are up. On an average day before this crisis there were 20-25 deaths at home in NYC. Now in the midst of this pandemic the number is 200-215. *Every day*. 5/
Early on in this crisis we were able to swab people who died at home, and thus got a coronavirus reading. But those days are long gone. We simply don't have the testing capacity for the large numbers dying at home. 6/

464 people are talking about this

Due to the increasing number of bodies, Levine says that the city will soon start “temporary interments” in mass graves in city parks. Ten caskets will be buried in a single trench in what he calls a “dignified, orderly – and temporary – manner.”

And still the number of bodies continues to increase. The freezers at OCME facilities in Manhattan and Brooklyn will soon be full. And then what? 8/
Soon we'll start “temporary interment”. This likely will be done by using a NYC park for burials (yes you read that right). Trenches will be dug for 10 caskets in a line.

It will be done in a dignified, orderly--and temporary--manner. But it will be tough for NYers to take. 9/

1,596 people are talking about this

Levine closes his thread with a request for doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists from other parts of the country to help New York’s deluged medical professionals. He also asks for aid from mortuary professionals.

As New York City continues to appeal to the nation for help, we need to ask not just for doctors and nurses and respiratory therapists. We also need mortuary affairs staff. This is tough to talk about and maybe tough to ask for. But we have no choice. The stakes are too high. 12/
To recap: Nothing matters more in this crisis than saving the living. But we need to face the gruesome reality that we need more resources to manage our dead as well. Or the pain of this crisis will be compounded almost beyond comprehension. 13/13

397 people are talking about this

“Nothing matters more in this crisis than saving the living,” Levine says, “But we need to face the gruesome reality that we need more resources to manage our dead as well.”
The horrifying news that New York is unable to cope with the volume of its dead is one more piece of evidence that the Coronavirus pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime medical crisis. Conspiracy theorists who question whether hospitals are really overwhelmed and who postulate that the media is blowing the disaster out of proportion put even more lives at risk.
The news also underscores that people who insist that the American economy should be reopened immediately are deeply and dangerously wrong. Prematurely reopening businesses would have the same effect as the calls by New York’s city leaders in February for New Yorkers to attend public events. It would allow the virus to spread quickly through other cities and states.
In a few weeks, much of the rest of the country could look like New York.

UPDATE: New York officials are backing away from the plan to use city parks for temporary burials. The press secretary for Mayor Bill De Blasio tweeted that the city was “exploring” the use of Hart Island, a small island northeast of New York City in Long Island Sound for the burials. There is already a cemetery located on the island.
Independent reporter Zack Fink also tweeted that New York Mayor Andrew Cuomo said that he would not allow park burials.
It seems likely that the park burials were seriously considered but were quickly nixed by the governor and the mayor.
-DWT 4/6/20 1:24pm

Originally published on The Resurgent