COVID-19 Update: We’re Going To Be Here A While

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

World cases top 2 million:

US deaths exceed 25,000:

NC and local:

We should remember that these totals, at least for the US, are low.

New York City, already a world epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, sharply increased its death toll by more than 3,700 victims on Tuesday, after officials said they were now including people who had never tested positive for the virus but were presumed to have died of it.

The new figures, released by the city’s Health Department, drove up the number of people killed in New York City to more than 10,000, and appeared to increase the overall United States death count by 17 percent to more than 26,000.

The numbers brought into clearer focus the staggering toll the virus has already taken on the largest city in the United States, where deserted streets are haunted by the near-constant howl of ambulance sirens. Far more people have died in New York City, on a per-capita basis, than in Italy — the hardest-hit country in Europe.

Trump’s ego is the only thing more potent that the virus:

The Treasury Department has ordered President Trump’s name be printed on stimulus checks the Internal Revenue Service is rushing to send to tens of millions of Americans, a process that could slow their delivery by a few days, senior IRS officials said.

The unprecedented decision, finalized late Monday, means that when recipients open the $1,200 paper checks the IRS is scheduled to begin sending to 70 million Americans in coming days, “President Donald J. Trump” will appear on the left side of the payment.

It will be the first time a president’s name appears on an IRS disbursement, whether a routine refund or one of the handful of checks the government has issued to taxpayers in recent decades either to stimulate a down economy or share the dividends of a strong one.

Treasury officials disputed that the checks would be delayed.

Regardless of whether this has or will hold up checks being sent out, the move is just one more sign of petty vanity and self-centered thinking from the president, who has spent way too much of this crisis raving about his ratings, lashing out at the media, and complaining that governors aren’t groveling enough for federal emergency supplies.

From the “you can’t make this stuff up” files:

Trump is still shilling for hydroxychloroquine the miracle cure, but this fact check by the Washington Post should sober everyone up:

“But I think it could be, based on what I see, it could be a game changer.”

— President Trump, at a White House news briefing, March 19, 2020

“Hydroxychloroquine — I don’t know, it’s looking like it’s having some good results. That would be a phenomenal thing.”

— Trump, at a White House news briefing, April 3

“What do you have to lose? I’ll say it again: What do you have to lose? Take it. I really think they should take it.”

— Trump, at a White House news briefing, April 4

“It’s this powerful drug on malaria. And there are signs that it works on this. Some very strong signs.”

— Trump, at a White House news briefing, April 5

Where did this come from? The right-wing fever swamp:

The world is looking for answers in the search for a treatment for covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives across the globe. President Trump has repeatedly touted the anti-malarial medications hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as that much-needed solution.

Even before Trump started talking about the drugs, studies abroad sparked interest in them as a potential cure. News about the drugs spread quickly online, percolated to the media and the White House.

Scientists have since pointed to major flaws in those original studies and say there is a lack of reliable data on the drugs. Experts warn about the dangerous consequences of over-promoting a drug with unknown efficacy: Shortages of hydroxychloroquine have already occurred, depriving lupus and rheumatoid arthritis patients of access to it. Doctors say some patients could die of side effects. Other potential treatments for covid-19 could get overlooked with so much concentration on one option.

The Fact Checker video team has reconstructed how the claim spread online and illustrates the troubling consequences of such misleading hope in the drugs.

The Facts:

Conversation around hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as potential treatments for covid-19 started in China in late January. According to Kate Starbird of the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, tweets from media organizations — including Chinese state outlets — and investors highlighted past studies in which the medications were tested as cures for severe acute respiratory syndrome. (The 2005 tests never made it to human trials.) They also pointed to statements from the coronavirus research center in Wuhan, China, suggesting the drugs could be used to fight covid-19.

Renée DiResta, technical research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, found similar trends on Facebook and Instagram in February. The number of total posts and interactions increased, and Internet speculation spread beyond China to Nigeria, Vietnam and France.

A large portion of activity online at the end of February and early March appeared in French and centered on a study published by French researcher and doctor Didier Raoult.

The spread in the U.S.

Raoult’s findings helped bring the theory to the United States. However, scientists have since discredited the trial, pointing to major flaws in the way it was conducted. The journal that published the study announced on April 3 that it did not meet its standards.

Yet before the record could be set straight, the hypothesis spread widely on U.S. social media. The Fact Checker has refrained from linking to original posts on the drugs to avoid giving further oxygen to misleading information.

According to Starbird, the first viral tweets were posted by Paul Sperry, a staunchly conservative author, on March 9 and 11. A blockchain investor, James Todaro, then tweeted a link to a Google document he co-wrote with Gregory Rigano about the potential cure on March 13. Tesla chief executive Elon Musk retweeted that Google doc on March 16, writing, “Maybe worth considering chloroquine for C19.” The faulty research then appeared in the Gateway Pundit, Breitbart and the Blaze. It ultimately made its way to Fox News, first appearing on Laura Ingraham’s program on March 16. Fox News shows hosted by Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson went on to promote the drugs and continue to do so.

On March 19, Trump first mentioned hydroxychloroquine at a White House news briefing. DiResta’s analysis showed that the following week, the claim started to spike in the United States, with 101,844 posts on Facebook. Starbird reports Trump’s first mention set off a surge in attention, seeing tens of thousands of tweets per hour in late March.

Data from Brandwatch, a digital consumer intelligence company, as well as DiResta and Starbird, show the total number of mentions about hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine increased in late March and early April.

Trump and his allies, including his son Donald Trump Jr. and his personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, tweeted about the drugs in late March. These posts saw the highest percent of reach, according to Brandwatch data, at some of the sharpest spikes in social media mentions online.

Because they had to keep Little Lord Trumpleroyd happy, they went ahead and put together big clinical trials just to shut him up even though this is not something they necessarily would have done otherwise because the evidence was just that thin. That’s how things work in Trump’s America.

Dr. Luciana Borio, the former head of medical and biodefense preparedness at the National Security Council, criticized the FDA’s EUA announcement and has called for a randomized clinical trial of the drugs.

“I think that it was a misuse of emergency authorizations of the authority that the FDA has. Because it gives this credence that the government is actually backing, and it’s so common for people to equate that with an approval,” Borio said.

When asked whether any of the completed studies have provided substantial evidence that the benefits of the drugs outweigh the risks, Borio responded, “Not at all. No study was done in a way that would allow that conclusion.”

(The Post story offers all the latest scientific thinking and data on these drugs if you care to read them. It’s eye-opening. )

The Pinocchio Test:

Over the course of only a few weeks, posts online, the media and politicians turned chloroquine from an unknown drug to a “100% coronavirus cure,” misleading the public on its effectiveness and engendering unintended but negative consequences.

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as treatments for covid-19 are not yet backed by reliable scientific evidence. In a pandemic, it’s important for everyone to follow the lead of scientists. Rumors on the Internet are the least reliable source of information. And politicians are not qualified to provide scientific advice, despite even the best intentions.

In particular, Trump’s incorrect comments on the drugs and his role in advocating for their use, based on minimal and flimsy evidence, sets a bad example. His advocacy for this unproven treatment provides potentially false hope and has led to shortages for people who rely on the drugs.

The president earns Four Pinocchios.

When all is said and done, whether the drug proves to have some efficacy or not, the role played here by quacks like Dr. Oz and Fox News personalities and, of course, Donald Trump will be remembered as one of the most astonishingly surreal of the crisis. These charlatans were able to convince the US scientific community (and plenty of doctors) to use this unproven treatment on patients and conduct multiple trials, probably to the exclusion of others that may have equal or better chances of being helpful. It is one of the worst things Donald Trump has done and that is saying something.

Stupid is as stupid does: