The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: coronavirus deaths

Is The Pandemic Over? That May Depend On Who You Are

As even Democratic governors race to ease face mask and vaccination requirements, and the number of new COVID-19 cases plummets, one might reasonably ask: Is it over?

Public health officials offer a variety of answers. But on the personal level, each of us is fashioning our own private policy.

I'm truly done with the coronavirus. But is the virus done with those I care about, to which I'll add me?

I am triple vaccinated and circulate among mostly vaccinated people, so I don't worry much anymore. If I have a breakthrough infection, especially from the omicron variant, it is almost certain to be mild, if noticed at all.

I will continue to wear masks without complaint on airplanes, buses and trains. And I'll do so voluntarily in crowds of people. It has come to my attention that ever since this masking business began, I haven't caught a cold, much less the flu.

At the same time, I am very tired of having to wear masks in uncrowded stores. That said, even when I disagree with these policies, I follow them to make life easier for the workers tasked with enforcing them. People who harass these stressed employees are jerks.

Some health officials say, wait a minute. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 remain high, and about 2,000 Americans still die from it every day. But the vast majority are unvaccinated, which makes their illness and death self-inflicted. This is not early 2020, when vaccinations were harder to come by.

Peter Hotez, head of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College in Houston, is not as relaxed. He warns that another wave may hit the South and Texas this summer. "It could be just like 2020 and 2021," Hotez told The Houston Chronicle. (It can't be a coincidence that the South and Texas have relatively low rates of vaccination.)

"I'm hearing the messaging, 'It's starting to look like the flu,'" Hotez said. "To me that all becomes an excuse for inaction." The action he prescribes is vaccinating the world.

Is the massive wave of omicron infections creating some kind of herd immunity? Hotez is not sure. How long any protection afforded by the weaker variant will last remains an open question. Also, the low vaccination rates in poorer Asian and African countries create opportunity for other variants to arise.

The politics of this matter, because Democratic leaders are more aggressive about getting their population vaccinated. That is the best way out of this. But the groans provoked by such White House pronouncements as, "The president's goal is to defeat the virus" (press secretary Jen Psaki last month) are going to hurt Democrats.

A Cygnal poll of swing states found their voters are more worried about how COVID-19 might hurt the economy than how it might hurt their health. Another poll, from Monmouth University, has half the respondents saying they fear catching the virus but 70% thinking it's time to accept its presence and move on.

The Democratic governors of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and New York are backing exit strategies for bringing daily life back to normal. Requiring masks in schools stopped making sense some time ago. The coronavirus causes very little serious illness among young children.

Look, the threat posed by the coronavirus is currently low among people who've gotten their shots and high among those who haven't. Today, each of us may decide whether we obtain protection from a vaccine and how we approach crowds, masked or unmasked.

We may not "defeat" the virus anytime soon, but the vaccinated majority can feel they've "contained" it. For them, the pandemic may be over. For the others, maybe not.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Prominent QAnon Anti-Vaxxer Who Called For Fauci 'To Be Hung' Dies Of Covid

QAnon supporter Cirsten Weldon was among the far-right anti-vaxxers and coronavirus truthers who railed against COVID-19 vaccines in 2021 — and on Thursday, January 6, according to The Daily Beast, she died of COVID-19.

Weldon, who called for Dr. Anthony Fauci — President Joe Biden’s top White House medical adviser — to be executed, was known for posting videos of herself berating people who were waiting in line to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Weldon falsely claimed that COVID-19 vaccines were dangerous, and she said that Fauci “needs to be hung from a rope.”

The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer reports, “Cirsten Weldon had amassed tens of thousands of followers across right-wing social media networks by promoting the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy under the screenname CirstenW.’ She was prominent enough to become a sort of QAnon interpreter for comedian conspiracy theorist Roseanne Barr and started recording videos about QAnon with her.”

In one of her videos, Sommer notes, Weldon can be seen yelling at people who were waiting to get vaccinated for COVID-19 — saying, “The vaccines kill, don’t get it! This is how gullible these idiots are. They’re all getting (the) vaccine!”

Weldon became ill in December, describing her symptoms in her videos and saying that she had “bacterial pneumonia.” But she continued to oppose COVID-19 vaccines.

In a December 27, 2021 video posted on Facebook, Weldon told viewers, “I didn't think I was going to make it. I'm sorry. I'm exhausted, and I have no — I'm very, very weak. I have no strength. I haven't eaten in four days.” Weldon described having “fever, chills, sweats.”

According to Sommer, Weldon posted her final video on December 28, 2021 and was “hospitalized in Camarillo, California” three days later.

Sommer points out that Weldon is “just the latest instance of a far-right personality who opposed vaccination being killed by the virus.” Others have included radio host Douglas Kuzma, who died on January 3 — only three days before Weldon — and QAnon supporter Robert David Steele, who described COVID-19 as a “hoax” before dying from it in August 2021. QAnon supporter Veronica Wolski, another anti-vaxxer, died of COVID-19 the following month.

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

Many Thousands Saved, But Carlson Defames Vaccination Campaign As A 'Failure'

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

After spending the better part of a year discouraging viewers from getting vaccinated, Fox host Tucker Carlson took to the airwaves on November 29 to falsely claim that the U.S. has “achieved universal vaccination” and that continued high rates of coronavirus deaths mean the COVID-19 vaccination campaign is “the greatest public policy failure of all time.”


Carlson’s claim that the United States has “achieved universal vaccination” is categorically false. According to the Mayo Clinic Vaccine Tracker, 59.5 percent of the U.S. population was fully vaccinated as of November 28, with 70 percent of the population having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Experts and medical professionals have battled an onslaught of vaccine hesitancy that has been driven partly by Carlson and his colleagues at Fox.

Deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. continue to far outpace those of other nations, and that is largely driven by deaths among the unvaccinated. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, unvaccinated people are 14 times more likely to die from COVID-19-related complications than vaccinated people.

Carlson’s claim that the campaign to vaccinate Americans against COVID-19, and thus prevent deaths, is a “failure” is a conclusion that can be reached only if you ignore every shred of relevant information and consider instead just the fictionalized vision of the vaccine that exists on Fox News. Carlson has dedicated an extraordinary amount of airtime not just to lying about and undercutting COVID-19 vaccination efforts, but also to attacking vaccines as a whole. To name just a few recent examples:

Even though Fox has its own incredibly strict vaccination and testing policy for staff, the Murdoch family that owns the network has given Carlson’s reality-averse coverage of the pandemic its full backing. Across the network, vaccine misinformation has run rampant, with Fox throwing the health and safety of its viewers under multiple buses in exchange for imaginary culture war points.

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.

Read Now Show less