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Tag: coronavirus response

Far-Right Republicans Introduce Fringe Bill To Fire Fauci

Washington (AFP) - Several Republican lawmakers, eager to blame a US government official for the response to the coronavirus pandemic, introduced a bill Tuesday to fire Anthony Fauci, the face of American efforts to combat Covid-19. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene led a handful of colleagues in announcing the so-called Fire Fauci Act, which would reduce the famed infectious disease expert's government salary to zero and require the Senate to confirm someone to fill his position. Fauci, who has advised seven US presidents, had become a trusted figure in the government's Covid-19 response, ...

Keep Hope Up As Pandemic Ebbs — But Don’t Let Guard Down

Are we at the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning? Let's call it the middle.

The COVID-19 numbers are going decisively lower, both infections and deaths. Millions, meanwhile, are getting the vaccine and becoming mostly immune to the disease.

Still, the seven-day average of American deaths from this virus continues in the thousands. And it would be much higher if more of us let our guard down by ignoring calls to wear masks, socially distance, and sanitize hands.

We each make our own policy for how far to go. There are the absolutists, who take no chances. They see no friends and never enter a restaurant, much less step on a plane.

Then there are moderates, like yours truly, who always wear a mask in public but do gather with their "pod" of careful friends. We eat in establishments that take precautions.

Finally, there are those who don't care at all and do nothing protective. They risk their own life and the lives of others.

As we move into a somewhat less scary phase of this disease, we moderates probably have the most to think about. That's because we were always open to weighing more options.

Consideration No. 1: mask-wearing. Of course we'll continue wearing masks. But two masks with one of tight-fitting cloth, as Dr. Anthony Fauci advises? On public transportation, OK. But as the risk of infection heads down, perhaps we can lighten up and wear just a lightweight mask while on a walk.

Infectious-disease experts now believe that outdoor activities rarely cause the disease to spread unless people are in close conversation. They say that with a few exceptions, we can safely jog or bike without a mask.

That said, hospitals are still rationing medical-grade N95 masks even as their stockpiles grow, according to the Associated Press. Why? They remain traumatized by the terrifying mask shortage of a year ago and don't want to be caught short-handed again. They also fear a future surge in cases. (More on that later.)

We moderates continue to frown on the mask-less multitudes who crowd at super-spreader events. A recent example would be the bar parties following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl win. Health officials in Florida warn of a possible coronavirus spike as a result. For people like me, the difference now is we take all that reckless behavior less personally.

Consideration No. 2: traveling. Early in the pandemic, I flew across the country on a JetBlue flight with few passengers and distanced seating. I would not go on a crowded jet. Now that I've had my first shot, I worry less about flying. When I get the second one, I'll hop right on.

Consideration No. 3: guilt. As frontline workers, the elderly and other vulnerable people get their protective vaccinations, less stigma is attached to easing up a bit on the restrictions.

However, unsettling thoughts remain. New coronavirus variants are reportedly more infectious and not as easily tamed by some of the vaccines. Variants are reportedly reinfecting people who survived the early version of the disease. And, undoubtedly, more variants are coming at us.

To reach herd immunity, 60 to 90 percent of the population must be vaccinated or protected by prior infection, according to medical experts. If the 15 percent of Americans who say they'll never get the vaccine follow through on that vow, that goal could be hard to reach.

The hope in this country is that the pandemic will end around summer. As the scourge shows more definite signs of weakening, we who tried to do the right things may be able to relax — if just a little. This will be a strange time.

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.

In Light Of COVID-19 Pandemic, U.S. Opioid Crisis Worsens

There's no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the way in which most Americans go about their daily lives. We're working and learning from home, dealing with social isolation, and turning to technology for just about everything. Despite the fact that digital ordering and delivery had already grown 300 percent faster than dine-in traffic since 2014, our current health crisis has perpetuated a number of trends that were already on the rise.

Sadly, that doesn't merely apply to online restaurant orders and other deliveries. It's now clear that the opioid epidemic, which was already a major problem, has only gotten worse thanks to issues related to the novel coronavirus.

California is the world's fourth-largest producer of wine -- and alcoholism is the most widespread substance abuse disorder nationwide. Arguably, those struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol may have had an even tougher time during the pandemic, as is evidenced by skyrocketing sales, widespread job loss, and a number of other factors. But while alcohol consumption may be an issue for many, opioid misuse can often be even more devastating.

Even before the pandemic, the opioid-related health crisis was spiraling out of control. By 2017, healthcare providers in Ohio were writing 63.5 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people. And while Ohio historically had some of the highest rates of opioid abuse and opioid-related fatalities, it's far from the only state with an opioid problem.

In 2019, more than 70,000 Americans died as a result of drug overdoses. And while not every overdose is fatal or connected to opioids, it's clear that COVID-19 hasn't helped matters. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry earlier this month found that there were significantly higher rates of opioid overdose ED visits during the period March 2020 to October 2020 than the same period the year before. What's more, from mid-April 2020, the weekly rates of drug overdose ED visits had increased by up to 45 percent year-over-year. Overall emergency department visits for opioid overdoses increased by 28.8 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to the analysis. That data is even more substantive when it's made clear that emergency department visits, overall, saw major decreases in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns.

These findings echo reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which reported that overdose deaths increased by 38.4 percent during the year leading up to June 2020. Overall, more than 83,000 Americans died as a result during that period -- a sobering statistic during a year that was already filled with so much loss. The CDC maintains that the pandemic has accelerated those deaths, though the growing popularity of synthetic opioids has also played a role.

That's not surprising, according to experts. Health concerns, job loss, social isolation, increased sources of stress and fear, and other routine disruptions can make a society more susceptible to increased drug misuse. And since the pandemic forced many 12-step programs to suspend their operations for some time, that has left little support for those with addiction issues.

Addiction is clearly an issue that hits close to home for President Biden, as his son Hunter has been quite open about his struggles with substance abuse. But juxtaposed next to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it's clear that the virus will likely take precedent. That said, if the nation is able to finally get the coronavirus under control, the opioid epidemic would be that much easier to tackle. Until that happens, however, it's unclear as to how bad both health concerns might become before they get better.

Historians: Coronavirus Failure And Capitol Riot Will Define Trump’s Presidency

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

On Saturday, February 13, former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial ended when seven Republican senators and all 50 Democratic senators voted to convict him for "incitement to insurrection" — which was a majority of senators voting "guilty" but was still ten votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for a conviction in an impeachment trial. A talking point coming from some far-right pundits is that Trump has once again been exonerated, but in an article published by USA Today on February 15, journalist David Jackson stresses that history is likely to judge Trump quite unfavorably.

During Trump's second impeachment trial, Democratic impeachment managers — including Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland — presented a mountain of damning evidence showing that Trump encouraged the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol Building by a mob of far-right insurrectionists, including members of the Proud Boys, militia extremists and supporters of the QAnon conspiracy cult.

Author and historian Brenda Wineapple, author of The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation, told USA Today, "[Trump] knew exactly what he was doing and why he was doing it. Trump moved from demagoguery to tyranny."

Johnson, during the 1860s, was the first president in U.S. history to be impeached. But like President Bill Clinton in 1999 and Trump in both 2020 and 2021, Johnson was acquitted during his impeachment trial.

The January 6 insurrection is only one of the reasons why historians will view Trump unfavorably, according to Jackson.

Jackson explains, "Many historians had already said Trump would rank low for a tumultuous single term that included the COVID-19 pandemic, a previous impeachment, lies about his actions and those of others, business conflicts of interest and alienation of global allies."

Historian Chris Whipple, author of The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency, told USA Today that Trump will be best remembered for two tragedies: "his fumbling of a lethal pandemic that cost half a million American lives, and his incitement of a bloody insurrection against a free and fair election."

"Weighed against those twin legacies," Whipple said, "nothing else will matter."

According to historian Jennifer Mercieca — author of Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump — Trump "will be remembered as the president who prevented the peaceful transition of power." Mercieca told USA Today that Trump "refused to accept that he lost. He spread conspiracy theory, threatened officials and called his loyal followers to Washington and incited insurrection."

Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian who teachers at New York University, slammed Trump as "the worst president in history" and stressed that he was "grossly derelict" during the COVID-19 pandemic. But Alvin S. Felzenberg, author of The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game, believes that Trump at least deserves credit for addressing the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and trade deals that didn't benefit the American working class.

Nonetheless, Felzenberg also believes that Trump "spent four years creating carnage, or at least allowing it" and told USA Today that Trump's reputation is "certainly in the bottom tier" and "maybe at the bottom."

How Spanish Can Help Us Survive These Viral Times

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch

"Una nación bajo Diós, indivisible, con libertad y justicia para todos."

When Jennifer López shouted out that last line of the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish during Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony, like so many Spanish-speaking Latinos in the United States I felt a sense of pride, a sense of arrival. It was a joy to hear my native language given a prominent place at a moment when the need to pursue the promise of "liberty and justice for all" couldn't be more pressing.

A sense of arrival, I say, and yet Spanish arrived on these shores more than a century before English. In that language, the first Europeans explorers described what they called "el Nuevo Mundo," the New World — new for them, even if not for the indigenous peoples who had inhabited those lands for millennia, only to be despoiled by the invaders from abroad. The conquistadors lost no time in claiming their territories as possessions of the Spanish crown and, simultaneously, began naming them.

Much as we may now deplore those colonial depredations, we still regularly use the words they left behind without considering their origins. Florida, which derives from flor, flower in Spanish, because Ponce de León first alighted in Tampa Bay on an Easter Sunday (Pascua Florida) in 1513. And then there is Santa Fe (Holy Faith) and Los Angeles (the Angels), founded in 1610 and 1782 respectively, and so many other names that we now take for granted: Montana (from montañas), Nevada (from nieve, or snow), Agua Dulce, El Paso, and Colorado, to name just a few. And my favorite place name of all, California, which comes from a legendary island featured in one of the books of chivalry that drove Don Quixote, the character created by Miguel de Cervantes, mad and set him on the road to seek justice for all.

It was not justice, not justicia para todos, however, that the millions who kept Spanish alive over the centuries were to encounter in the United States. On the contrary, what started here as an imperial language ended up vilified and marginalized as vast swaths of the lands inhabited by Spanish speakers came under the sway of Washington. As Greg Grandin has documented in his seminal book, The End of a Myth, the expansion of the United States, mainly into a West and a Southwest once governed by Mexico, led to unremitting discrimination and atrocities.

It was in Spanish that the victims experienced those crimes: the girls and women who were raped, the men who were lynched by vigilantes, the families that were separated, the workers who were deported, the children who were forbidden to speak their native tongue, the millions discriminated against, mocked, and despised, all suffering such abuses in Spanish, while holding onto the language tenaciously, and passing it on to new generations, constantly renewed by migrants from Latin America.

Through it all, the language evolved with the people who used it to love and remember, fight and dream. In the process, they created a rich literature and a vibrant tradition of perseverance and struggle. As a result, from that suppressed dimension of American history and resistance, Spanish is today able to offer up words that can help us survive this time of pandemic.

That's what I've discovered as I navigated the many pestilences ravaging our lives in the last year: the Spanish I've carried with me since my birth has lessons of hope and inspiration, even for my fellow citizens who are not among the 53 million who speak it.

Words Of Aliento For Our Current Struggle

Aliento tops the list of Spanish words that have recently mattered most to me. It means breath, but also encouragement. Alentar is to give someone the chance to breathe, to hearten them. (Think, in English, of the word encourage, which comes from the same root as corazón, heart, in Spanish.)

It's worth remembering this connection today, when so many are dying because they lack breath and not even a ventilator can save them. Because they don't have aliento, their heart stops. Perhaps they can't breathe because others didn't have the courage, el coraje, to help them survive, didn't rage against the conditions that allowed them to die unnecessarily. Recall as well that so many of us in this country felt suffocated in another sense, breathless with the fear that we wouldn't survive as a republic, not as a democracy, however imperfect it might have been.

Maybe that's why, last year, so many Americans felt represented by the next to last words of George Floyd, repeated more than 20 times before he died: "I can't breathe." If he had cried out those words in Spanish, he would not have gasped, "No tengo aliento," though that would have been true. He would undoubtedly have said: "No puedo respirar."

Respirar. English speakers use the verb "to breathe," but can certainly appreciate the various echoes respirar has in English, since it's derived from the same word in Latin, "spirare," that has bequeathed us spirit, inspire, and aspire. When we inhale and exhale in Spanish, I like to think that we're simultaneously in communion with the sort of spirit that keeps us alive when the going is rough.

In normal times, the sharing of air is a reminder that we're all brothers and sisters, part of the same humanity, invariably inhaling and exhaling one another, letting so many others into our lungs and vice versa. But these times are far from normal and the air sent our way by strangers or even loved ones can be toxic, can lead to us expiring. So rather than respirar together in 2021, we need to inspirar each other, to aspirar together for something better. We need to band together in a conspiracy of hope so that every one of us on the planet will be granted the right to breathe, so that good things can transpire.

As so many of the initial measures of the Biden-Harris presidency suggest, to begin to undo the venomous divisiveness of the Trump era, we all need to tomar aliento or breathe in new ways to survive. We need to have more vida juntos or life with one another in order to go beyond the masked solitude of this moment, este momento de soledad.

Here Comes The Sun, For All

As soledad originates from that same word, solitude, it undoubtedly will sound familiar to English speakers. But the Spanish syllables of soledad radiate with the word sol, the sun, that antidote to loneliness and separation, which rises for all or will rise for none, which warms us all or fries us all or heals us all. And soledad also contains the suffix dad (from the verb dar, to give), telling us again that the way out of isolation is to be as generous as sunlight to one another, especially to those who have more edad; who, that is, are older and therefore at greater risk. To be that generoso is not easy. It may take a lot of work to care for those in need when one is also facing grief and hardship oneself — a labor that is frequently difficult and painful, as the Spanish word for work, trabajo, reminds us.

Trabajo is not just physical labor or exertion. It brings to mind something more distressing. The last novel that Cervantes wrote after finishing Don Quixote was called Los Trabajos de Persiles y Segismunda and there trabajos refers to the torments and trials that two lovers go through before they can be unidos, united.

Think of trabajos as akin to travails in English and, indeed, many who toil among us right now during this pandemic are going through special travails and trouble to keep us fed and sheltered and safe. Called "essential workers," trabajadores esenciales, many of them have journeyed here from foreign lands after terrible travails and travels of their own (two words that derive from the same tortuous linguistic roots). As in the era of Cervantes, so in our perilous times, to leave home, to wander in search of a secure haven in a merciless world is an ordeal beyond words in any language.

It gives me solace, though, that when so many of those migrants crossed the border into the United States where I now live, they brought their Spanish with them, their throats and lives full of aliento, inspiración, trabajo, sol, and solidaridad. Now may be the time to record them — or rather recordarlos — in the deepest meaning of that word, which is to restore them to our hearts, to open those hearts to them at a moment when we are all subject to such travails and plagues.

In concrete policy terms, this would mean creating a true path to citizenship, ciudadanía, for so many millions lacking documentos. It would mean reuniting (re-unir) the families that Donald Trump and his crew separated at our southern border and finding the missing children, los niños desaparecidos. It would mean building less disruptive walls and more roads, caminos, that connect us all.

No Unidad Without Struggle

Not all words in Spanish, of course, need to be translated for us to understand them. Pandemia, corrupción, crueldad, violencia, discriminación, muerte are sadly recognizable, wretchedly similar in languages across the globe as are the more hopeful, justicia, paz, rebelión, compasión. The same is true of President Biden's favorite word of the moment, unidad, to which we should add a verb whose indispensability he and the Democratic Party should never forget, at least if there is to be real progress: luchar or to struggle.

Equally indispensable is a more primeval word that we can all immediately identify and make ours: mamá. Who has not called out to his or her mother in an hour of need, as George Floyd did at the very end of his existence? But the Spanish version of that word contains, I believe, a special resonance, related as it is to mamar — to suckle, to drink milk from the maternal breast as all mammals do — and so to that first act of human beings after we take that initial breath and cry.

For those of us who are grown up, an additional kind of sustenance is required to face an ominous future: "esperanza," or hope, a word that fittingly stems from the same origin as respirar.

Many decades ago, Spanish welcomed me into the world and I am grateful that it continues to give me aliento in a land I've now made my own. It reminds me and my fellow citizens, my fellow humans, that to breathe and help others draw breath is the foundation of esperanza. The native language that I first heard from my mamá — even though she is long dead — still whispers the certainty that there is no other way for the spirit to prevail in these times of rage and solidarity and struggle, full of light and luz and lucha, so we may indeed someday fulfill the promise of "libertad y justicia para todos," of liberty and justice for all.

Newly Released Emails Show Trump Appointees Tried To Slow Virus Testing

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Newly released emails written by a former Trump administration official show just how deep the effort to slow down the testing of Americans for the coronavirus went, as political appointees sought to meet Donald Trump's demand to make the number of cases look smaller in an effort to bolster his reelection chances.

The emails were released by the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which has been investigating Trump's failed pandemic response. The Washington Post first reported on the emails, which the committee says prove there was political interference in the Trump administration's virus response efforts.

The emails were sent by Paul Alexander, a Trump political appointee who was behind an effort to get the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stop testing asymptomatic people who had been exposed to the coronavirus. Alexander was the same official who Politico reported in December was behind the push for a "herd immunity" strategy, in which Alexander wanted millions of people to be infected with the coronavirus to build community resistance to it and end the pandemic — a strategy public health officials said was dangerous and could have led to many more deaths.

The committee wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden's chief of staff that "recently obtained evidence shows that political appointees were involved in the decision to change CDC's guidance, and that the Trump Administration changed the guidance for the explicit purpose of reducing testing and allowing the virus to spread while quickly reopening the economy."

In an Aug. 27, 2020, email obtained by the committee, Alexander wrote, "Testing asymptomatic people to seek asymptomatic cases is not the point of testing, for in the end, all this accomplishes is we end up quarantining asymptomatic, low risk people and preventing the workforce from working. In this light, it would be unreasonable based on the prevailing data to have widespread testing of schools and colleges/universities. This will not allow them to optimally re-open."

The email was sent one day after the CDC changed its guidance to say that asymptomatic people who had been exposed to the virus did not need to get tested, against the advice of public health experts who said finding asymptomatic infected people before they could unwittingly infect others was an important tool for stopping the pandemic from getting out of control.

The decision to change testing recommendations led to a barrage of criticism, and the CDC reversed the guidance a month later.

Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), chair of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, said that the investigation into the Trump administration's failures in handling the pandemic will continue, and requested more documents sent by political appointees and career civil servants in the health department related to Trump's coronavirus response, including the rollout of vaccines.

Trump left office with the COVID-19 pandemic raging out of control. More than 463,000 people have died of complications related to the virus to date in the United States.

Biden is now working to stem the spread of the virus. Jeff Zients, the co-coordinator of Biden's COVID-19 task force, told reporters after Biden took office, "What we're inheriting from the Trump administration is so much worse than we could have imagined."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Biden Now Delivering Vaccines At Ten Times Rate Promised By Trump

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

More than two million coronavirus vaccine doses were administered each day over the past weekend, as the Biden administration ramped up the inoculation process. That is more than 10 times the pace Donald Trump promised during his unsuccessful 2020 presidential campaign.

According to the New York Times tracker, 2,218,752 doses of the vaccine were given out on Saturday and 2,172,973 on Sunday. This has raised the daily average to about 1.4 million a day.

This increased pace has been a priority for President Joe Biden and his team — and puts them well ahead of his stated promise of "100 million Covid-19 shots in the arms of the American people" in his first 100 days in office. He has since upped his goal to 150 million doses in that time.

Trump made a big deal of his administration's "Operation Warp Speed" effort to help some pharmaceutical companies develop coronavirus vaccines. He lavished praise on himself, predicting in December that, "Years from now, they'll be talking about it, they'll be talking about this great, great thing that we did with the vaccines. A truly unprecedented, amazing medical miracle."

But his administration did little to prepare to actually distribute the vaccinations. "The process to distribute the vaccine, particularly outside of nursing homes and hospitals out into the community as a whole, did not really exist when we came into the White House," Biden White House chief of staff Ron Klain told NBC News last month.

In fact, during his first debate against Biden, Trump set a goal that was actually less than one-tenth of the weekend's pace.

"Well, we're going to deliver it right away. We have the military all set up. Logistically, they're all set up. We have our military that delivers soldiers and they can do 200,000 a day," he boasted. "They're going to be delivering. It's all set up."

At that rate, vaccinating 330 million Americans with the two-dose regimen would have taken about nine years.

Trump's administration later upped its goal to 20 million doses in 2020 — a goal they did not come close to meeting.

So far, more than 31.5 million Americans have received the first dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 9.1 million of those have already received the second dose as well.

A previous version of this story said President Joe Biden's new goal for vaccinations in his first 100 days of office is 1.5 million. It is actually 150 million vaccinations, up from 100 million.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Chaotic Trump White House ‘Lost’ Millions Of Vaccine Doses

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

President Joe Biden has been in office for ten days and, already, his administration has uncovered a number of chaotic issues inherited from the Trump administration.

According to Politico, Biden's team had a prioritized focus on combatting the raging coronavirus pandemic, but instead of completely focusing on their 200-page pandemic response plan, this week has been largely dedicated to "trying to wrap their hands around the mushrooming crisis — a process officials acknowledge has been humbling, and triggered a concerted effort to temper expectations about how quickly they might get the nation back to normal."

While the Biden administration's work should be well underway, they are still trying to locate more than 20 million doses of coronavirus vaccines that have already been shipped to states. According to Biden aides, they inherited a deeply flawed system for maintaining proper records and inventory of vaccine distribution.

Julie Morita, a member of Biden's transition team, explained how detrimental the flawed transfer of power was and how it, subsequently, hindered the progression of efforts to mitigate the virus and effectively carry out vaccine distribution.

"Nobody had a complete picture," said Morita. "The plans that were being made were being made with the assumption that more information would be available and be revealed once they got into the White House."

One individual described as a person "with knowledge of the vaccine effort who's not authorized to discuss the work" also weighed in with an analogy of the Biden administration's uphill battle despite having a solid plan to move forward.

"It's the Mike Tyson quote: 'Everybody's got a plan until they get punched in the mouth,'" that person said, adding, "They are planning. They are competent. It's just the weight of everything when you sit down in that chair. It's heavy."

The latest news comes as the Biden administration works to locate the 8,700 ventilators that Trump's White House donated to other nations. According to The Washington Post, a new report published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) indicates that there is very little information to explain the roll-out of ventilators. The United States reportedly spent more than $200 million on the distribution process.

"These ventilators were not in State or AID's strategic plan," said David Gootnick, GAO director of international affairs. "They could not articulate for us the criteria they used for what ventilators went to what countries."

But despite the hurdles the Biden administration is facing, political leaders and lawmakers have lauded the work they are doing to improve pandemic response. George Helmy, chief of staff for New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy recently commended the new administration on its efforts to maintain transparency. "There is no doubt they are doing a better job," said Helmy. "We have a true partner who is being transparent and collaborative."