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Tag: coronavirus deaths

How (Most) Americans Rose To The Pandemic Challenge

This month, the United States recorded a horrific milestone: 500,000 deaths from COVID-19. Someday, historians will look back at the pandemic and note all the mistakes and failures that helped make it the most deadly outbreak of disease in more than a century. But if they are wise, they will also note this past year as one in which Americans were asked to rise to a challenge — and did so in impressive fashion.

It's tempting to focus our attention on all the ways our leaders and people went wrong. The 45th president repeatedly lied about the severity of the threat, resisted basic measures to curb it and held out false hopes that only aided the virus. Some Americans protested against public health mandates and selfishly disregarded medical guidance, spreading disease in the process.

But the noise and fury in some quarters obscure the broad acceptance of unwanted changes. For the most part, Americans have recognized the danger and have embraced unprecedented obligations.

Most people have gotten used to faithfully covering their faces when they're out in public and interacting with others. Most have sharply curtailed social contact — even with family. Most have largely given up dining inside restaurants. Most have gamely accepted not being able to attend ballgames, concerts and festivals.

None of this was foreordained. In past crises, such as the 9/11 attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Great Recession, the citizenry was asked to make few if any sacrifices. On the contrary: Our leaders urged us to carry on as usual.

The pandemic is the first major national episode since World War II that required us to give up anything significant. At the start of 2020, we could hardly have imagined how radically life would change. Who could have imagined Americans adopting face masks, social distancing and remote work on such a vast scale? Who would have thought we would accept a brutal economic downturn as a regrettable necessity?

I speak as someone who expressed doubts about our willingness to step up. Even as the disease gathered steam in places like South Korea and Italy, a lot of Americans preferred to ignore reality.

By late February of last year, alarm bells were ringing. "We expect we will see community spread in this country," said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a top official of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on February 25. "It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness."

But her boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, promptly insisted the virus was "contained" — one of many false administration claims that fostered deadly complacency.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot didn't cancel the city's massive St. Patrick's Day parades until just a week before they were scheduled. Not until March 12 did Broadway theaters halt productions. Not until March 11 did the National Basketball Association suspend play. We were collectively reluctant to confront what had to be done.

But that changed. By April, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found, 80% of Americans supported stay-at-home orders. By May, more than half of Americans said they were wearing masks every time they left the house, and the great majority didn't plan to stay in a hotel, go to a live event or fly over the summer.

The inconveniences and disruptions went on much longer than expected at the outset, but most people didn't falter. By December, 73 percent said they were wearing face coverings on every venture outside the home, and 70 percent said they were prepared to abide by social distancing guidelines for another six months.

Now that vaccines are available, the great majority of us are determined to get the shots. Gallup Polls found that in September, only 50 percent were willing to be vaccinated, but by February, the number was 71 percent.

The death toll would be lower if more people had agreed to adapt as needed. But without the sort of mass support and cooperation we have seen, the number of U.S. fatalities could have been far higher — as high as 2.2 million.

Many lives have been lost because of the actions of an irresponsible minority of people and politicians. But a lot more have been saved by those who stoutly refused to become accomplices to COVID-19. Let history record: Most Americans did what needed to be done.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

Congress Launches Probe Of Meatpacking Worker Fatalities In Pandemic

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

A key congressional panel launched an investigation this week into the wave of COVID-19 infections that killed hundreds of workers at meatpacking plants nationwide last year and highlighted longstanding hazards in the industry.

Since the start of the pandemic, the meat industry has struggled to contain the virus in its facilities, and plants in Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas have endured some of the biggest workplace outbreaks in the country.

The meat companies' employees, many of them immigrants and refugees, slice pig bellies or cut up chicken carcasses in close quarters. Many of them don't speak English and aren't granted paid sick leave. To date, more than 50,000 meatpacking workers have been infected and at least 250 have died, according to a ProPublica tally.

The congressional investigation, opened by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, will examine the role of JBS, Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods, three of the nation's largest meat companies, which, the subcommittee said, had “refused to take basic precautions to protect their workers" and had “shown a callous disregard for workers' health."

The subcommittee is chaired by Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House.

In response to the subcommittee's announcement, officials for JBS and Tyson said that the companies had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to implement coronavirus protections and to temporarily increase pay and benefits, and they looked forward to discussing their pandemic safety efforts with the panel. Smithfield said in a statement that it had also taken “extraordinary measures" to protect employees from the virus, spending more than $700 million on workplace modifications, testing and equipment.

The House subcommittee noted that reports from a variety of news organizations had illuminated problems with how the meatpacking companies handled the pandemic, and with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's enforcement efforts. The subcommittee cited ProPublica's reporting on how meat companies blindsided local public health departments, and on Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts' efforts to intervene when local health officials tried to temporarily shutter a JBS plant amid an outbreak.

ProPublica has also documented how meat companies ignored years of warnings from the federal government about how a pandemic could tear through a food processing facility, and chronicled the role that meatpacking plants like a Tyson pork facility in Waterloo, Iowa, have played in spreading the virus to the surrounding community.

The subcommittee's inquiry will also scrutinize the federal government's shortcomings in protecting meatpacking workers. “Public reports indicate that under the Trump Administration, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failed to adequately carry out its responsibility for enforcing worker safety laws at meatpacking plants across the country, resulting in preventable infections and deaths," according to the subcommittee's letter to OSHA.

The subcommittee also said that the agency had issued only a “few meager fines" and “failed to show urgency in addressing safety hazards at the meatpacking facilities it inspected." The letter noted that OSHA had received complaints about JBS and Smithfield plants months before the agency conducted inspections.

David Seligman, a lawyer who helped meatpacking workers in Pennsylvania file a lawsuit against OSHA during the pandemic, said he hopes the subcommittee's efforts are “just one of the initial steps" to holding companies accountable and ensuring workers are safe. “The harm inflicted on meat-processing workers during this pandemic, in service of the profits of corporate meat-packing companies and under a government that seemed happy to turn a blind eye, is a grave scandal," Seligman wrote in an email.

In a statement, a Department of Labor spokesperson said that the subcommittee's inquiry is “focused on the Trump administration's actions surrounding the protection of workers from COVID-19 related risks," and the agency is committed to protecting workers, and that new guidance on coronavirus enforcement that was issued in late January will serve as a “first step."

In its Feb. 1 letters to OSHA, JBS, Tyson and Smithfield, the subcommittee has requested documents related to government inspections at meatpacking plants and COVID-19 complaints lodged with the companies. OSHA was asked to brief the subcommittee by Feb. 15.

Fauci Says Trump’s Lies About Covid-19 ‘Very Likely’ Cost Lives

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Dr. Anthony Fauci says the coronavirus misinformation now-former President Donald Trump spread for nearly a year "very likely" cost American lives.

Asked point-blank by CNN's John Berman Friday morning if Trump's "lack of candor" and "lack of facts" about COVID-19 "cost lives," Fauci replied, "You know it very likely did."

Ever the diplomat, the nation's top infectious diseases specialist immediately added, "You know I don't want that to be a soundbite."

He also accused Trump of going down "paths that are not based on any science at all," calling Trump's wild forays into fake "cures" like hydroxychloroquine, "not helpful at all and particularly when you're in the situation of almost being in a crisis."

"When you start talking about things that make no sense medically and no sense scientifically that clearly is not helpful," Fauci said.

Watch:


’The Numbers Are Real’: Fauci Rebuts Trump On Denial Of Pandemic Death Toll

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Donald Trump again showed that his problem with COVID-19's staggering death toll in the United States is not that more than 350,000 people are dead, but that the public knows that more than 350,000 people are dead. And Trump will absolutely do his best to convince people that the death count is lower.

Sunday morning Trump paused trying to pretend that he didn't lose the election for long enough to try to pretend that U.S. coronavirus deaths are overcounted, tweeting "The number of cases and deaths of the China Virus is far exaggerated in the United States because of @CDCgov's ridiculous method of determination compared to other countries, many of whom report, purposely, very inaccurately and low. 'When in doubt, call it Covid.' Fake News!"

In reality, COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are undercounted, possibly by more than a third. But on Meet the Press Sunday morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci didn't get into the question of undercounting. He simply affirmed that "The numbers are real."

"We have well over 300,000 deaths," he continued. "We're averaging 2,000 to 3,000 deaths per day. All you need to do, Chuck, is go into the trenches, go into the hospitals, go into the intensive care units and see what is happening. Those are real numbers, real people and real deaths."

Trump responded by lashing out at Fauci for stating those facts.

Fauci is a career civil servant, not a Trump political appointee, and has served under six presidents. Trump is not responsible for elevating him except to the extent that a nation seeking sound counsel and not getting it from Trump or his political appointees has turned to Fauci as the most credible prominent person in government.

Why does Trump get no credit for his "work"? Maybe because he lies about the number of deaths and then attacks the scientist who says "The numbers are real." Maybe because he works a lot less than he golfs.

Thousands of people are dying every day—people whose family members are forced to say goodbye over FaceTime and Zoom, people beloved and needed by their communities. Donald Trump only cares about their deaths insofar as, by becoming known, they make him look bad. And he's fighting to overturn an election so he can keep presiding over the incompetence and contempt for life that brought us to this place.

We Are Not Helpless

This is a tightrope column, the kind you'd rather not write, about an event you don't feel you can ignore. You tread carefully, but you want people to pay attention as you do.

Four days after Christmas, five days before he was to be sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman-elect Luke Letlow died of complications from COVID-19 at a hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Letlow was 41 years old. He leaves behind his wife, Julia, and two young children, Jeremiah and Jacqueline. He is the highest-ranking politician to die of COVID-19.

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Culpable For Thousands Of Deaths, Fox News Is ‘Misinformer Of The Year'


Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

In 2019, the United States government ran a simulation of a global influenza pandemic. A draft report on the effort, published earlier this year by The New York Times, pointed to a host of flaws in the simulated response that now appear prescient as the country continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But one crucial element appears missing: No one contemplated that a major national news source would try to stymie the response -- or that the outlet could convince the president to take its side against the government's public health experts.

That's what Fox News did this year. The right-wing network has promoted coronavirus misinformation an estimated 13,551 times on its weekday programs over the course of the pandemic. And its lies had a deadly impact.

President Donald Trump spends much of each day watching and tweeting along with Fox. The network, long a uniquely destructive force in American political life, reinvented itself as his personal propaganda outlet over the course of his presidency. The Fox obsession shapes Trump's worldview, provides him with his most trusted advisers, encourages his worst impulses, and in 2020 thus far triggered at least 475 live tweets of Fox News and its sister network, Fox Business. Once a curiosity that served to explain his most bizarre tweets, this insidious Trump-Fox feedback loop came to set the course of our nation's politics.

And this year, the country has suffered the consequences of Fox's unrivaled influence on the president and federal government. The feedback loop fueled Trump's disastrous handling of a pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 300,000 Americans to date. It stoked bigotry and violence amid a national reckoning on racism and police brutality as the network's typically abhorrent treatment of Black Americans turned uglier than ever. And as the year came to a close, the feedback loop was powering Trump's attempt to overthrow the election, shaking our political system to its foundations.

For the first time, Media Matters is naming Fox News its Misinformer of the Year for 2020. While we have previously given that title to specific Fox leaders and employees, it has never gone to the network as a whole. But never before have its personalities and executives had the blood of this many Americans on their hands.

The Virus


Fox spent 2020 recklessly minimizing the pandemic as it took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. It's impossible to calculate how many might still be alive if the network had treated the coronavirus as a real threat to the health of its viewers and the general public rather than a political obstacle for its beloved president.

The network's viewers desperately needed credible information about the threat posed by the virus in late February and early March, as public officials sounded alarms about its first wave spreading across the country. Instead, they got propaganda.

Fox painted the virus as a minor problem, no more dangerous than the flu, and claimed that Democrats and journalists arguing otherwise were ginning up fears to damage Trump politically. Those raising concerns, the network's hosts told their audiences, were simply trying to "bludgeon Trump with this new hoax" in "another attempt to impeach the president."

How Fox News lied about the pandemic www.youtube.com

Fox briefly took the coronavirus somewhat more seriously after Trump declared a national emergency to slow its spread. But on April 7 -- around the time it became clear that the virus's victims were disproportionately Black and brown -- the network's prime-time hosts effectively declared victory, arguing that public health experts had exaggerated the danger it posed and giving their predominantly white viewers license to ignore the measures designed to curb it.

The U.S. outbreak was still in its early days, with only a tiny fraction of the current total of coronavirus cases and deaths recorded. But Fox's pivot to demands for ending public health restrictions and reopening the economy had already begun. The network's commentators never looked back for the rest of the year, undeterred by overflowing hospitals and soaring death totals as they preached the need to preserve businesses rather than people.

It's difficult to imagine what prime-time stars Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham might have done differently if they were deliberately trying to get as many Americans killed as possible. The hosts and the assemblage of kooks and cranks they brought on for supposed expertise used their massive platforms to wage a nightly, systematic assault against virtually every measure that public health officials supported.

They denounced social distancing, masks, quarantines, and increased testing as ineffective and dictatorial, while praising both the purportedly miraculous properties of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which studies show is ineffective against the coronavirus, and the less-restrictive response of Sweden, which ultimately failed. They baselessly claimed at first that the coronavirus death toll had been inflated, and eventually stopped mentioning those figures altogether. They embraced protests against stay-at-home orders, valorized small business owners who flouted coronavirus restrictions, and denounced credible experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci. Over a single week in July, their shows combined to push misinformation about the virus at least 83 times.

But while those hosts stand out, the entire network has been complicit in its campaign of deception, with the network's purported "straight news" shows often hammering the samemisinformation as its "opinion" programming.


How Fox News dismissed the pandemic's death toll www.youtube.com

As the year came to a close, the U.S. daily death toll from COVID-19 had crested 3,000, a horrific rate that the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said could continue for two to three months. Fox, meanwhile, was hiding that staggering death toll from its viewers while encouraging them to violate coronavirus restrictions and gather together for the holidays.

This coverage had an impact. Fox's viewers consistently told pollsters they were less worried about the virus than did people who got their news elsewhere, triggering fears among party leaders that the network's programming was endangering the lives of the GOP base. And because of the nature of infectious disease, Fox viewers who did not change their behavior because they were convinced the virus was overblown also endangered those around them.

But Fox's unique hold on the president's attention, and his eagerness to seek out advice on how to handle a deadly pandemic from its personalities, pushed the impact of its coronavirus coverage far beyond its own audience.

Trump didn't just live-tweet Fox coronavirus coverage at least 89 times, or parrot the network's most unhinged coronavirus conspiracy theories, though he did do that. He ensured that the federal government's response would track the complaints, obsessions, and blind spots of its right-wing ideologues. The network's fingerprints are everywhere, from the lax attention paid to the virus during its early spread, when Fox was telling Trump it wasn't a problem; to the stockpiling of unproven and ineffective drugs; to Trump's unwillingness to serve as a positive example by wearing a mask and forswearing heavily attended indoor events; to his refusal to provide desperately needed funds to state and local governments.

Most dangerous of all, Fox's promotion of Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist and right-wing think-tanker with a contrarian take on the pandemic, attracted Trump's attention. Trump liked that Atlas told him what he wanted to hear -- that the virus was no big deal and he was handling it brilliantly -- so he gave him a position on the White House coronavirus task force. From that post, Atlas increased his power and reportedly called for deliberately allowing the virus to spread in order to reach "herd immunity." By the time he left office on December 1, the nation had completely lost control of the pandemic. A few weeks later, the day's death toll exceeded that of the 9/11 terror attacks.

The failure of Fox's pandemic strategy was predictable -- and indeed, Fox's executives knew better than to try to implement it for their own employees. Even as the on-air talent urged a premature return to normalcy, the network largely shuttered its offices and told its employees to wear masks.

But those executives refused to take responsibility for the network's output. During the spring, facing public outrage over Fox's pandemic disinformation, they parted ways with a handful of low-level employees who had made particularly egregious claims. But Fox stars who had produced virtually identical commentary avoided accountability and continued to lie to their viewers and downplay the pandemic.

For Fox, mass death was simply the cost of doing business.


The Protests

As Americans joined nationwide protests against racial injustice following the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd this year, Fox's response was vicious and divisive. The network painted Black activists seeking an end to police brutality as violent terrorists endangering the lives of its viewers and civilization itself, while Fox celebrated white, right-wing vigilantes as heroes, the true victims of law enforcement.


The network's coverage revolved around terrorizing its audience by fixating on instances of rioting, arson, looting, and property damage, at times citing hoaxes or other misinformation. Carlson in particular lashed out at the "thugs" of the Black Lives Matter movement and its supporters. The moment, he claimed at one point, "is definitely not about Black lives. And remember that when they come for you." "Vigilante justice," he suggested, might be needed against demonstrators in the streets. And when that inevitably came to pass, with lethal consequences, he praised its perpetrator.


Tucker Carlson's racist attacks on Black Lives Matter in 2020 www.youtube.com

Fox traditionally tolerates, and even rewards, on-air bigotry. But its coverage of the protests was so horrific that its Black employees reportedly began confronting executives. One staffer even told a reporter that executives "created a white supremacist cell inside the top cable network in America, the one that directly influences the president."

And indeed, the president was watching the network's coverage of the protests, live-tweeting its programming at least 58 times, and taking action in response. Trump stokedracial tensions, abandoned bipartisan police reform legislation and ordered federal law enforcement deployed to U.S. cities, put Carlson's demagogic message at the center of his campaign, and echoed Carlson's talking points by making the racist appeal to white suburbanites that Biden wanted to destroy their hometowns by importing low-income people.

The result was more indiscriminate violence, as law enforcement attacked protestors and reporters with impunity, cheered on by the president and his propagandists.

The Coup

As this piece was written, Trump was still seeking to overturn the results of a free and fair election because he lost. Even as his lawyers have been laughed out of court for alleging nonexistent election fraud, he continues to denounce the results as rigged and seek to toss out millions of votes and have himself declared the victor. For all intents and purposes, he's attempting a coup in broad daylight -- and his Fox propagandists are eager accomplices to his would-be authoritarian power grab.


No one can say they didn't see this coming. Since the spring, Trump has been promoting Fox's warnings of inevitable election fraud as the network laid the groundwork for him to steal a close election. Unfortunately for the plan, Biden won in a relative landslide, with his victory confirmed by Fox itself.


Much attention has been paid to Trump's rage at Fox after its decision desk called first Arizona and then the election for Biden. But the network's "news" and "opinion" sides both trumpeted his baseless fraud allegations in the days following his defeat, with stars like Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, and Maria Bartiromo gleefully aiding the president's cynical effort to subvert the vote and usher in the end of American democracy.


Fox cast doubt on or pushed conspiracy theories about the election results nearly 600 timesover the nine days after the network declared Biden had won, and that treatment has not abated since. Trump himself has repeatedly promoted the network's election fraud lies on social media, apparently after watching his favorite shows. Indeed, dating back to the spring, he sent at least 89 live tweets calling the election's legitimacy into question in response to Fox programming.


Fox in denial of 2020 election results www.youtube.com


The result is that Fox's audience doesn't believe Biden actually won, while the network is responding to criticism by promoting increasingly unhinged lies about the election in order to tell its viewers that Trump's victory is imminent. The results could prove catastrophic, sending the nation into the abyss.

The Crisis

When historians look back at 2020 in the decades to come, it will likely also be remembered as yet another year in which the U.S. did not act to stop the climate crisis.

Fox's routine promotion of climate science denial was identified as a key obstacle to preventing change more than a decade ago. The increasing urgency of the impending calamity -- and the network's stranglehold on the president's attention span -- has only made its intransigence more critical.

In 2020, as massive wildfires stoked by the changing climate raged across the Australian interior and American west, Fox responded by ignoring, downplaying, and denying the situation. Trump, in turn, continued to contradict science and refuse to act, as the threat grew.

The Misinformer

Fox's misinformation had a direct impact on the lives of every single American this year, whether they watched the network or not. Its propagandists helped wreck the response to a deadly pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, tried to drown a movement for justice out of racism and fear, and, as the year came to a close, waged an assault on America's democracy.

This year was a low point in the network's shameful history, and none of its employees should ever live it down. They betrayed their viewers and endangered their fellow Americans because they wanted to protect the president and preserve their position as his state TV outlet of choice.

Fox News is 2020's Misinformer of the Year.

Trump Adviser Urged Spreading Virus To Achieve ‘Herd Immunity’ — Which Would Kill Millions

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

According to a new report from POLITICO, a former top Trump appointee urged for health officials to adopt a "herd immunity" approach to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing for millions of people to be infected.

"There is no other way, we need to establish herd, and it only comes about allowing the non-high risk groups expose themselves to the virus. PERIOD," then-science adviser Paul Alexander wrote on July 4 to his boss, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for public affairs Michael Caputo, and six other senior officials.

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'Never Had To Be Like This’: US Marks 300,000 Virus Deaths

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

On the same day the first American received a coronavirus vaccine, the U.S. pandemic death toll surpassed 300,000 on Monday, another grim milestone that comes less than four weeks after the number of Covid-19 deaths in the country reached 250,000.

The Associated Press put the staggering statistics into context: "The number of dead rivals the population of St. Louis or Pittsburgh. It is equivalent to repeating a tragedy on the scale of Hurricane Katrina every day for 5 1/2 months. It is more than five times the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. It is equal to a 9/11 attack every day for more than 100 days."

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