COVID-19: Cake Or Death?

Ken AshfordEbola/Zika/COVID-19 Viruses, Economy & Jobs & Deficit, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

World as of 10 am:

Spain’s coronavirus death toll overtook that of China on Wednesday, rising to 3,434 after 738 people died over the past 24 hours, the government said. The spiraling number of deaths came as Spain entered the 11th day of an unprecedented lockdown to try and rein in the COVID-19 epidemic that has now infected 47,610 people.

Prince Charles has been tested ppositive.

Playwright Terrence McNally died from COVID-19 yesterday.

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo were postponed to 2021.

Here’s how to read the charts above: Let’s use France as an example. For them, Day 0 was March 5, when they surpassed one death per 10 million by recording their sixth death. They are currently at Day 19; total deaths are at 184x their initial level; and they have recorded a total of 16.4 deaths per million so far. As the chart shows, this is slightly below where Italy was on their Day 19.

US as of 10 am:

Obviously, the US is in a dire situtation with NYC being the epicenter.

New Orleans is also looking especially bad, which makes the decision to have Mardi Gras seem a little stupid in retrospect.

From Axios:

The United States keeps reacting too late to the coronavirus, prolonging its economic pain and multiplying its toll on Americans’ health.

Why it matters: The spread and impact of the coronavirus may be unfathomable, but it’s not unpredictable. And yet the U.S. has failed to respond accordingly over and over again.

First, it happened with testing — a delay that allowed the virus to spread undetected.

  • Then we were caught flat-footed by the surge in demand for medical supplies in emerging hotspots.
  • And the Trump administration declined to issue a national shelter-in-place order. The resulting patchwork across the country left enough economic hubs closed to crash the economy, but enough places up and running to allow the virus to continue to spread rampantly.

Between the lines: Proactive containment and mitigation steps would have required extraordinary political and economic capital, especially if they had come early in the process, when many Americans didn’t grasp the full weight of this challenge.

  • But making decisions based on today’s information — without an understanding of how much worse tomorrow will be — is also politically and economically risky, and carries the extra cost of more deaths.

What they’re saying: A senior Health and Human Services official told me that if they could do it all over again, they would have engaged the private sector to ramp up medical manufacturing in mid-January — about two months earlier than ended up happening.

  • “By waiting to fully appreciate and acknowledge this as a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, this was a colossal missed opportunity,” the official said.
  • Now, even as testing and hospital capacity remain limited, President Trump is eager for an economic recovery — even though, by all estimates, the outbreak is only going to get worse.
  • Removing social distancing measures is “a catastrophically bad idea. The human cost would be devastating, and the economic toll from that devastation might be even steeper than what we’re seeing right now,” Indiana University’s Aaron Caroll and Harvard’s Ashish Jha wrote earlier this week in The Atlantic.

Case in point: The Trump administration squashed rumors more than a week ago that it was considering a national shelter-in-place policy. But it might have done some good at that point.

  • “The economic impact is severe in scope, but limited in duration,” Raymond James wrote in a research note dated March 15.
  • But just a week later, the firm published a new note: “The government has likely missed its window … The failure to establish a nationwide lockdown and instead allow individual states to make those decisions is likely going to result in the spread continuing.”

The bottom line: When I asked the HHS official how all of this keeps happening, the official said it’s at least partially due to disconnects — between Trump and his administration; between the government and the private sector, and between the U.S. and the rest of the world.

  • “At the end of the day, the virus has slipped through all those cracks that exist between all of these entities,” the official said.

The big issue remains… MEDICAL SUPPLIES.

A mad scramble for masks, gowns and ventilators is pitting states against each other and driving up prices. Some hard-hit parts of the country are receiving fresh supplies of N95 masks, but others are still out of stock. Hospitals are requesting donations of masks and gloves from construction companies, nail salons and tattoo parlors, and considering using ventilators designed for large animals because they cannot find the kind made for people.

The market for medical supplies has descended into chaos, according to state officials and health-care leaders. They are begging the federal government to use a wartime law to bring order and ensure the United States has the gear it needs to battle the coronavirus. So far, the Trump administration has declined.

“I can’t find any more equipment. It’s not a question of money,” said New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, whose state is battling the nation’s worst outbreak. “We need the federal help and we need the federal help now.”

At best, Cuomo said, his team has secured enough protective gear for health workers to last a few weeks. It’s been unable to buy most of the 30,000 ventilators it estimates it will need to keep hospitalized patients breathing at the peak of the crisis, he said.

His pleas are echoed by others, including the American Medical Association, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Joe Biden, who have called on the Trump administration to use the Defense Production Act to order companies to mass produce medical supplies. The law, enacted during the Korean War, allows the government to require companies to manufacture certain goods and to pay them for it.

Although governors and hospital leaders welcome the many U.S. companies stepping forward to make masks and ventilators, they fear the voluntary efforts will be too scattershot without federal coordination.

“When we went to war, we didn’t say, any company out there want to build a battleship? Who wants to build a battleship?” Cuomo said.

President Trump and his trade adviser, Peter Navarro, have repeatedly said they don’t need to force companies to produce under the Defense Production Act because so many manufacturers are volunteering to make medical supplies. Trump seemed to acknowledge the chaos on Tuesday, however, calling the world market for masks and ventilators “crazy” in a tweet, adding that it was “not easy” to acquire them.

But he also tweeted that he hasn’t had to use the Defense Production Act “because no one has said NO! Millions of masks coming as back up to States.” In a briefing Tuesday evening, Trump added: “Companies are heeding our call to produce medical equipment and supplies because they know that we will not hesitate to invoke the DPA in order to get them to do what they have to do. It’s called leverage.”

Early Tuesday, Peter Gaynor, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told CNN the government planned to use the DPA to acquire 60,000 coronavirus test kits. But later, FEMA Press Secretary Lizzie Litzow said the agency “at the last minute” had been “able to procure the test kits from the private market without evoking the DPA.”

In the meantime, states and hospitals are describing extraordinary efforts to secure equipment. In a briefing this week, Pritzker said he had a team of people working the phones seven days a week trying to buy medical supplies all over the globe. He asked nail salons, tattoo parlors and elective surgery centers to donate their stockpiles of masks and gloves while they are closed for business.

Pritzker said his team has made progress, including a big purchase of 2.5 million N95 masks, the government-certified masks that can screen out small particles and that are favored by health-care workers dealing with the virus. But he said his team is “running up against obstacles that shouldn’t exist,” including orders by other states and the federal government.

Senators and the Trump administration officials reached an agreement early today on a sweeping, roughly $2 trillion stimulus measure to send direct payments and jobless benefits to individuals as well as money to states and businesses devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The legislation, which is expected to be enacted within days, is the biggest fiscal stimulus package in modern American history, aimed at delivering critical financial support to businesses forced to shut their doors and relief to American families and hospitals.

Struck after midnight, the deal was the product of a marathon set of negotiations among Senate Republicans, Democrats and President Trump’s team that nearly fell apart as Democrats insisted on stronger worker protections and oversight over a new $500 billion fund to bail out distressed businesses.

The deal was completed after a furious final round of haggling between Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, after Democrats twice blocked action on the measure as they insisted on concessions.

The sheer size and scope of the package would have been unthinkable only a couple of weeks ago. Administration officials said they hoped that its effect on a battered economy would be exponentially greater than its $2 trillion cost, generating as much as $4 trillion in economic activity.

Businesses controlled by President Trump and his children would be prohibited from receiving loans or investments from Treasury Department programs included in a $2 trillion stimulus plan agreed to early Wednesday by White House and Senate leaders in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The provision, which was touted by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) in an early-morning letter to colleagues, would also apply to Vice President Pence, members of Congress and heads of federal departments, as well as their children, spouses and in-laws.

During a television interview Wednesday morning, Schumer stressed that the provision applies not only to Trump but to “any major figure in government.”

“That makes sense. Those of us who write the law shouldn’t benefit from the law,” Schumer said on CNN.

But the confidence of closing the deal led the markets to huge gains. The Dow burst 11.4% higher, while the more closely followed S&P 500 index leaped 9.4% as a wave of buying around the world interrupted what has been a brutal month of nearly nonstop selling. It was the biggest one day gain since 1933.

What else? Well, on a broader note, everyone is talking about Dan Patrick’s on-air death plea.

Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, touched off an outpouring of anger when he declared to Tucker Carlson that people like him — grandparents in their twilight years — should risk death so people can stop social distancing to avert economic calamity.

Why has this touched such a chord on social media?

I submit it’s because it captures something essential about President Trump, his response to coronavirus, and the vision of our responsibilities to one another underlying it — or, more accurately, the lack of any such vision.

President Donald Trump seems determined to end social distancing efforts by Easter (April 12), reiterating his plan at Tuesday’s press briefing to relax his administration’s guidelines in the next few weeks — even as experts continue to warn that efforts against the coronavirus could require months.

Patrick, a Republican, noted that it’s time to “get back to work,” adding that seniors such as him should be willing to be “sacrificed” if necessary, so our children don’t “lose our whole country” to an “economic collapse”:

No one reached out to me and said, “As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?” And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.

This is driving all the attention. But a crucial aspect of Patrick’s plea continues to elude us: He was offering his best argument in defense of Trump’s evolving position on what his government, and our society, should do in response to coronavirus.

Right now, Trump is actively considering relaxing federal recommendations on social distancing. As Trump put it, “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”

Health experts are screaming warnings. As Tom Inglesbe, the director of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, powerfully argues, the failure to test has dramatically undercounted the true numbers of those infected. This, plus a looming exponential surge in cases, almost certainly means that, if we don’t continue major social distancing, our health system will soon be overwhelmed.

Indeed, the World Health Organization is now warning that a major acceleration could turn the United States into the next coronavirus global epicenter.

But Trump plainly wants to ward off the coming economic downturn — no matter the cost — because he fears for his reelection. As the New York Times reports:Mr. Trump has watched as a record economic expansion and booming stock market that served as the basis of his re-election campaign evaporated in a matter of weeks. The president became engaged with the discussion on Sunday evening, after watching television reports and hearing from various business officials and outside advisers who were agitating for an end to the shutdown.

Indeed, as Matt Gertz documents, Trump may have adopted the idea that “the cure is worse than the disease” almost verbatim from a segment on Fox News, which has pushed this line relentlessly.

Patrick’s plea to Carlson was inspired by Trump himself. As Patrick noted, his “heart is lifted” by Trump’s suggestion that it might be time to go back to work.

“We’ve got a choice here,” Patrick said. “We’re going to be in a total collapse in our society if this goes on another several months. There won’t be any jobs to come back to.”

“As the president said, the mortality rate is so low,” Patrick concluded. “Do we have to shut down the country?”

Trump has not said the elderly should be prepared to sacrifice their lives, as Patrick did. But Trump’s framing of the broader choice at hand is very much like Patrick’s: We must get back to work, because he sees the risks posed to our economy by social distancing as more intolerable than the risks of relaxing it.

But the virus is the underlying cause of the threat to the economy. Indeed, it’s worse than this: As Will Wilkinson argues, the current Trump/Patrick line is that we should risk millions more dying, even though we’d only be guessing that relaxing social distancing would help the economy, when in fact the mounting deaths would take their own economic toll.

But, in a way, the very indeterminate nature of this guesswork — by Patrick and Trump alike — is what captures an essential truth about Trump’s handling of this whole disaster.

What Trump is really proposing here — and what Patrick is justifying — is a further washing-of-hands of responsibility for this whole affair.

We don’t have to choose between unbearably high mass death totals and an economic collapse that dooms the American experiment. The government can send people money in sufficient sums and fortify the welfare state to save them from personal economic calamity, while bailing out small and large businesses with tight conditions that sagely protect taxpayers and working people.

As it happens, Trump and both parties appear close to a deal doing this. But Democrats had to drag Trump toward conditions on bailouts, and drag Republicans toward spending enough on protecting individuals.

Those things might not stave off a recession. But they will mitigate the effects, and surely the result will be worth living through to avert countless additional deaths. We could do more to mitigate those effects, if Trump and Republicans (and to a lesser extent, Democrats) were willing.

The federal government could have done this while also offering a robust response to the crisis from the outset that itself would have minimized deaths. But Trump didn’t do this, because he feared taking the novel coronavirus seriously would rattle the markets and imperil his reelection.

Indeed, Trump’s failure to take the coronavirus seriously continues right now: He still won’t use the federal government in the manner he should to get private companies to supply equipment. It’s in that context that we should view Trump’s directive for people to get back to work.

That directive becomes exponentially more irresponsible and dangerous, because Trump is advocating a course of action that will result in many more cases while also refusing to do everything possible to marshal the needed supplies for dealing with that coming tidal wave.

Patrick is telling us we should simply accept horrifying levels of sickness and death, on the indeterminate claim that it will somehow mitigate economic pain that we could mitigate through determined government action, if only the leadership were there to do so.

Trump would not put it quite this way. But this, at bottom, is what he’s asking us to accept. And we don’t have to.

Still, this has led the far-right’s most zealous Trump supporters have set their sights on Dr. Anthony Fauci.

To the vast majority of Republicans, the entire medical community and the country at large, Fauci is the government’s leading infectious disease expert, respected for providing Americans with consistent, factual information about the coronavirus pandemic — even if it means contradicting President Donald Trump while he hovers feet away.

But to a vocal minority of ring-wing blogs and pro-Trump pundits, Fauci is the embodiment of the establishment forces that have been arrayed against the president since he came to Washington. And those voices are getting louder amid rumblings about Fauci’s standing with Trump as the president itches to get the economy restarted in the coming weeks.

“A Deep-State Hillary Clinton-loving stooge,” read a Saturday headline on the American Thinker, a far-right website, latching on to a WikiLeaks-released email that showed Fauci praising Clinton for her Benghazi testimony as secretary of State.

“Guy was a Hillary mole,” pro-Trump podcaster Bill Mitchell tweeted on Monday.

“Disrespectful,” read a Monday headline on the right-wing Gateway Pundit, comparing Fauci to ousted general Stanley McChrystal.

The narrative has even started to migrate to Fox News, a key source of information for the president.

“He’ll still have a job at the end of this, whatever happens,” Fox News host Steve Hilton argued during his Sunday night monologue on “The Next Revolution.” “Our ruling class and their TV mouthpieces whipping up fear over this virus, they can afford an indefinite shutdown.”

Fauci’s portrayal in conservative media circles could play a crucial role in the coming days as the country comes to the end of a 15-day period of social distancing and business closures intended to slow the coronavirus outbreak. While public health officials like Fauci have cautioned that the country will likely have to extend that period, Trump and his team are signaling that they want to get people back to work soon, by mid-April if possible. The cues from right-wing media, as split as they are, could influence how much Trump listens to Fauci.

“He obviously has the backing of the president right now, but a lot of people on the right in the grass roots are extremely skeptical of this entire coronavirus thing,’” said Lee Stranahan, the host of “Fault Lines” on Sputnik Radio, a Russian government-backed media outlet. The coronavirus has killed hundreds in the United States and almost 20,000 worldwide, according to researchers and government officials, overwhelming hospitals and straining global medical supplies. Cases and deaths are expected to keep rising in the coming days.

For the moment, Fauci — director of the National Institute Of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 — still has the respect of large swathes of Trump’s supporters, reflecting the unique fissures that have emerged in the MAGA movement during the coronavirus. Trump supporters who praise Fauci also tend to believe the president should employ swift, severe measures — and keep the economy shuttered — as long as necessary to keep coronavirus under control.

In past, non-pandemic times, the right would have likely unified in rallying against a government official publicly quibbling with the president. But this time, reliable Trump boosters like Breitbart and the majority of the Fox News stable are leaving him alone.

“I think he’s obviously excellent at his job, and I think he’s aware that he’s on that stage to offer detail and help finesse language, and he seems cool with it,” said Raheem Kassam, the former editor of Breitbart London and host of the podcast “War Room.”

Fauci’s criticism of palace intrigue reporting on his relationship with Trump has endeared even more to this crowd.

“Mainstream media and several journalists, especially as it pertains to the White House press corps, are purposely trying to get Fauci to contradict Trump for a juicy conflict in the middle of a pandemic,” said Stephen Miller, a conservative media columnist who contributes to The Spectator USA, the American division of the long-time conservative British outlet.

The New York Times published an article Monday suggesting the president was losing patience with Fauci’s willingness to oppose him in public and in interviews, even as the NIAID director has gone out of his way to praise Trump to more conservative outlets.

Miller noted Fauci had implicitly rebuked reporters for asking questions that Fauci said were “pitting one against the other,” calling it “just not helpful” in the middle of the pandemic.

Fauci, Miller said, “doesn’t appear to want to take the bait.”

Instead, it’s the right-wing fringe that has been going after Fauci, largely due to the fact that he tamps down Trump’s excitement over quick-fix solutions, such as the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, his desire for stringent restrictions on gatherings and his publicly dire predictions about the potential death toll that are at odds with Trump’s more optimistic outlook.

These figures have been latched on to Fauci for weeks, even if their comments weren’t initially gaining much traction.

“The guy has been around for 50 years yet never thought to prepare for something like this?” griped John Cardillo, a pundit for the Trump-friendly Newsmax, in a March 13 tweet. “Every time he speaks he makes things worse. Maybe he is the problem, not the solution.”

“I think a lot of people at this point are looking for an explanation for the very confusing, unprecedented events going on in the world,” said Stranahan, who vehemently opposed attacking Fauci.

Trump on Tuesday tried to quell any rumors of dissatisfaction with Fauci, who was noticeably absent at Monday’s White House coronavirus briefing and a Tuesday afternoon virtual town hall on Fox News.

But then Fauci was there again, at the president’s side, Tuesday night during the latest coronavirus briefing. And Trump praised Fauci early in the day, calling his performance as “very good,” and even appearing to make light on Twitter of a much-shared meme showing Fauci facepalm as the president jokingly used the term “deep State Department.”

Regardless, Trump does have a history of sidelining administration officials who disagree with him, from former White House counsel Don McGahn to ex-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

In this case, however, much of the conservative world, including many Trump supporters, would prefer to keep Fauci in his role.

“What I would say to the president is that we’re all in this thing together and people have come to recognize Fauci alongside Trump as a solid team up there, so why change it?” Kassam argued.

That won’t stop the hardcore MAGA fanbase from going after Fauci. Hours before Trump praised Fauci on Tuesday, Mitchell, the Trump-friendly podcaster, tweeted a fresh Fauci-bashing article from the far-right site Big League Politics.

“Dr. Fauci Wants America to Become a Police State Like China in Order to Stop Coronavirus.”

Other developments of the day: