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Monday, December 09, 2019

Tag: covid deaths

Bombshell Report Shows Trump Officials' Political Maneuvers Damaged COVID Response

A massive, bombshell report published Friday by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis reveals the Trump administration engaged in "unprecedented political interference" in the work of scientific experts, including at CDC, and "was responsible for a series of critical failures that undermined the nation’s ability to respond effectively to the coronavirus pandemic."

One heading from the 46-page report reads: "The Trump Administration’s Persistent Political Interference in the Pandemic Response Contributed to One of the Worst Failures of Leadership in American History."

In a devastating revelation, the report adds that "Trump Administration officials purposefully weakened" CDC's "testing guidance to reduce the amount of testing being conducted and obscure how rapidly the virus was spreading across the country.

"The Select Committee finds administration officials "championed a dangerous 'herd immunity' strategy inside the White House—including by arranging a roundtable event between then-President Trump and a fringe group of herd immunity proponents—that would have placed millions of lives at risk."

It alleges it has new evidence showing that "Trump White House officials blocked CDC briefings and media appearances, and attempted to sidestep CDC in finalizing coronavirus guidance. The Select Subcommittee also uncovered evidence showing that Trump White House officials neglected the pandemic response to focus on the 2020 presidential election and promote the Big Lie that the election results were fraudulent."

But the Trump administration's failures date back to the very beginning of the pandemic, the reports reveal, with the administration ignoring warnings from its own officials to obtain critical supplies including PPE (personal protective equipment) which ultimately led to medical professionals including doctors and nurses being forced to wear trash bags and reuse medical-grade face masks for days and weeks at a time.

The report often avoids accusing specific individuals but in one damning example it says career scientists were "instructed to destroy evidence of political interference."

A "CDC official confirmed...she was instructed to destroy evidence of political interference by a Trump Administration political appointee. The CDC official told the Select Subcommittee that she understood this instruction—which 'seemed unusual' and made her 'uncomfortable'—came from then-CDC Director [Robert] Redfield.

The report also delves into massive fraud and waste, and while not using the word "corruption " offers concerning examples of the administration's interference in coronavirus programs. Trump White House officials were involved in the approval process of the Treasury' Department's approval of a $700 million loan to one trucking company.

"Reports have raised serious doubts that [the trucking company] satisfied the criteria to be deemed 'critical' to national security and questioned its use of funds." That one loan represented 95 percent of the entire program's funding.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Poll: Atheists More Likely To Get Vaccinated Than White Evangelicals

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Although some anti-vaxxers identify as liberal or progressive, the vast majority of people who have been angrily railing against COVID-19 vaccines in the United States have been far-right white evangelical fundamentalists, Christian nationalists and MAGA Republicans. And recent Pew Research polling has found that atheists have some of the United States’ highest COVID-19 vaccination rates.

According to Pew, 90 percent of atheists in the U.S. have been vaccinated for COVID-19 compared to only 57 percent of white fundamentalist evangelicals. Among the overall adult population in the U.S., 73 percent have been vaccinated.

None of that is to say that all people of faith are anti-vaxxers or that everyone who is religious in the U.S. is far-right politically. Some African-American AME churches, for example, have done an excellent job helping people in the African-American community get vaccinated for COVID-19. And there are plenty of people of faith who hold liberal/progressive views and don’t care for the right-wing white evangelical movement.

But strident anti-vaxxers in the U.S., in many cases, do tend to follow a certain pattern: white, far-right politically, open to conspiracy theories, stridently supportive of former President Donald Trump.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation cites the Pew Research poll as evidence that “atheists are among the best neighbors an American could wish for.”In a press release, FFRF Co-President Dan Barker is quoted as saying, “Atheists believe in this life, not an afterlife, and we don’t need a god to threaten us with hell to do the right thing. We’re good for goodness sake.”

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of FFRF, is quoted as saying, “This is one of the great moral issues of today — and religion is simply failing. Religious folks are often suspicious of a tiny little shot to prevent the spread of a lethal contagion that has killed 1 in every 500 Americans and has completely overwhelmed and overworked our heroes on the health care frontlines. It takes religion to make the immoral seem moral.”

Gaylor notes that Catholics, according to Pew, fare better than white evangelicals when it comes to getting vaccinated for COVID-19.

The FFRF co-president is quoted as saying, “It seems like a rare instance of American Catholics listening to their pope — and the pope having the correct message. Now, if he would only apply himself to the scourge of rape and abuse within his church.”

Since it was first reported in Wuhan, China two years ago in December 2019, COVID-19 has, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers in Baltimore, killed more than 5.3 million people worldwide. COVID-19 vaccines, however, offer considerable protection against the dangerous coronavirus — and President Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top medical expert in the white House, have been encouraging Americans to receive widely available booster shots.

Far-Right Website Urges Christians To Welcome Death From COVID

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the MAGA movement and far-right Christian fundamentalists have downplayed its severity — inspiring critics to slam MAGA as a suicidal "death cult." Christian fundamentalist Joy Pullmann, in a shocking op-ed published by the far-right website The Federalist on the day of Gen. Colin Powell's death, argues that Christians should welcome death from COVID-19, like any other cause of death, as "a good thing." And she attacks the "pagan assumptions" of those who argue in favor of widespread vaccination.

"For Christians, death is good," Pullmann writes. "Yes, death is also an evil — its existence is a result of sin. But thanks be to God, Jesus Christ has redeemed even death. In his resurrection, Christ has transformed death into a portal to eternal life for Christians…. The Christian faith makes it very clear that death, while sad to those left behind and a tragic consequence of human sin, is now good for all who believe in Christ."

Of course, not all Christians share Pullmann's view that the deaths of the COVID-19 pandemic — which has killed more than 4.9 million people worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore — are "a good thing." Countless Catholic and Mainline Protestant churches have tried to keep their members alive by encouraging vaccination, protective face masks and social distancing. And pastors in the African Methodist Episcopal Church have gone out of their way to help people in the Black community find COVID-19 vaccines.

But as Pullmann sees it, churches that have encouraged social distancing and tried to prevent their members from dying from COVID-19 have behaved sinfully.

Pullmann writes, "To forsake assembling for worship also breaks the Third Commandment, 'Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy'…. It is time for Christians individually and corporately to repent for the way we and our institutions responded to the COVID-19 outbreak. Our refusal to preach and obey the clear teachings of the Bible amid the world's panic have betrayed Our Lord. Thanks be to God, there's a way out for us."

Pullmann argues, "Our Christian heritage also rejects the avoidance of death at any cost by venerating the millions of martyrs we honor precisely for choosing to confess Christ despite the indescribable costs to them of comfort, health and life itself."

The fact that Pullmann is essentially encouraging reckless or even suicidal behavior in her article was not lost on David Futrelle, who publishes the blog We Hunted the Mammoth. In his blog, Futrelle writes, "MAGA truly is a death cult, though it's rare for anyone on that side to admit it outright. Enter The Federalist, which today published a piece by its executive editor with the utterly un-ironic headline 'For Christians, Dying From COVID (Or Anything Else) Is A Good Thing.' And she means it."

Slamming Pullmann for attacking the motivation behind taking vaccines as "pagans," Futrelle writes, "If you're not supposed to take the vaccine because, I guess, God wants you dead, why not just go hog wild and do whatever you want whenever you want because it's all God's will? Then again, maybe Pullmann is wrong about the vaccines. Instead of being a challenge to God's omnipotence, what if the vaccines are part of God's plan? Couldn't God have created the vaccines in order for us to use them to protect ourselves and others?.... Her take on COVID is certainly as reckless as telling children to play in traffic."

‘Funerals And Funerals’: Florida Mortuaries Overwhelmed By Delta Variant Dead

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

One of the ways to gauge the severity of a COVID-19 surge in a particular state or city is how busy funeral homes become — and in Florida, according to CBS News, employees of funeral homes are absolutely swamped.

In July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one in five new COVID-19 cases in the United States was occurring in Florida. Ron DeSantis, Florida's far-right Republican governor, has been receiving a great deal of criticism for his response to the COVID-19 surge; DeSantis has opposed social distancing measures, forbidden public schools from having mask mandates, and tried to score cheap political points with his MAGA base by railing against expert immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci.

CBS News' Khristopher J. Brooks explains, "In the last week of August, Florida hospitals averaged 279 deaths per day — up from 52 in July, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The spike in fatalities, although not yet definitively linked to the coronavirus, is strongly suspected to stem from the ongoing surge in cases caused by the Delta variant. Overall, the state has reported a total over 44,000 coronavirus deaths over the course of the pandemic, according to a New York Times tracker. COVID-19 has claimed so many lives in Florida that funeral directors said there aren't enough hours in the day to schedule all the services, a local TV station reported."

The local television station that Brooks is referring to is WFLA Channel 8, the NBC affiliate in Tampa. WFLA's Melanie Mitchell, on August 25, reported that funeral directors in Tampa are "working around the clock, seven days a week."

One of the funeral directors CBS News interviewed was 48-year-old Richard Prindiville, director of the Highland Funeral Home in Apopka, Florida. Prindiville told CBS News, "There's been days I've come home, and I'm exhausted — and I'm talking to my daughter, and I'm falling asleep as I'm talking to her. Every day is funerals and funerals and funerals."

According to Brooks, Prindiville "routinely works 14-hour days booking funerals, meeting with grieving families, transporting bodies and overseeing services." John Ricco, executive director of the Florida Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, told CBS News that in recent weeks, funeral workers in Florida have been as busy as they were during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Some funeral homes in Florida, Brooks reports, are running out of space for bodies of people who have died from COVID-19. And funeral homes have so many burials to arrange that they are having to ask the families of the dead to please be patient.

Prindiville told CBS News, "What makes it difficult for us nowadays is just explaining to family members that we cannot have — and we'll have to hold off having — a funeral. In an hour, I could have six death calls, and I'm back to figuring out how to piece stuff together."

Corpses ‘Stacked To The Ceiling’ In Florida As Delta Variant Explodes

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

An NBC poll out on Tuesday tells you what Civiqs has been saying for months: Trump voters are five times less likely to get vaccinated than Biden voters. In fact, with the exception of children under 12 who have no choice, the terms "unvaccinated" and "Trump supporter" might as well be synonyms. In the latest Civiqs data, 40 percent of Republicans still say no to vaccine in spite of the Delta variant wave, and in spite of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announcing full approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The numbers from NBC's new poll match those from Civiqs almost exactly, with 91 percent of Biden voters saying they've already been vaccinated but just 50 percent of Trump voters saying the same.

Just as the unreasoning vaccine hostility of Trump supporters shouldn't be a surprise at this point, neither should this: According to WFLA in Tampa Bay, the bodies of COVID-19 victims are "stacked to the ceiling" at area funeral homes and crematories. Even though the overall fatality rate from this wave of COVID-19 has been much lower so far than in previous disease surges, Florida is something of a special case. The large population and relatively low rate of vaccination when compared to states like California or New York has left Florida once again dealing with not just a spike in cases, but a staggering amount of death. Funeral directors are having to delay burials to accommodate an overloaded schedule, and stunned families who are losing ever-younger members are finding it impossible to get assistance or secure arrangements.

As the station reports, Florida is seeing a "death care industry struggling to meet demands at a level they've never seen before, and families struggling to cope with grief at a level a community has ever seen before."

Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is still working to punish schools and fighting against federal efforts to protect students. And, as CNN notes, he's doing it because imperiling children "helps him with a narrow but politically powerful segment of the Republican Party, boosting his national prominence ahead of a 2022 reelection campaign and a widely expected 2024 presidential bid."

DeSantis is far from the only Republican courting the kill-kids-for-votes caucus. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, whose state came in second to Florida for new cases of COVID-19 again on Tuesday, is certainly in the race for the people who Hillary Clinton very accurately named "deplorables." South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has to be relieved that the unmasked, unvaxxed, unhinged Sturgis motorcycle rally has given her state a massive boost—after all, it's hard to participate in the extremist Olympics if you don't have some children to dangle over the flames.

COVID Deaths Are Falling In US, But Global Mortality Estimates Are Far Too Low

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Earlier this month, a study out of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projected the actual number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States at over 900,000—far above the official numbers listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or state agencies. While that study was based on projections and evaluation of excess mortality in 2020, it seems to be validated by numerous reports of deaths that were overlooked or never evaluated, especially those occurring outside hospitals.

The IHME study suggested that the same massive undercount was likely to be true around the world, and now the World Health Organization is saying something very similar. At this point, total global deaths from COVID-19 may be between 6 and 8 million—twice the official value of 3.4 million. That still doesn't put this pandemic on par with the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, which killed at least 17 million, but the higher number makes COVID-19 not just the worst pandemic in a century, but among the largest pandemics over a much longer period.

In other words, if the last 18 months has seemed like a truly unusual period, that's because it has been. And as better numbers appear conveying the huge scope of what has happened, it becomes more important to recognize the measures that had, so far at least, prevented COVID-19 from climbing the chart of all-time human disasters.

As The New York Times reports, at least 3 million people in the the 6-8 million death estimate are believed to have died before the end of 2020, compared to a reported total of 1.8 million. In the United States cases of COVID-19 may have peaked in the first weeks of January, but around the globe, cases reached an even larger peak in April and are only now starting to drop as case counts in beleaguered India decline.

India is one of those nations where the official totals are expected to diverge most widely from genuine losses. Total deaths there are still listed at less than 300,000—about half the official total for the United States—but each day of the shocking spike in cases that began at the end of March has produced reports of thousands of uncounted deaths. On some days, local officials reported more deaths in a single city than the official records recorded for the nation. How, or if, all of this will eventually be reconciled is an open question.

The other thing that needs to be considered is that the pandemic is not over. No matter how many stories run about Europe reopening for tourists, or mask mandates being dropped across America, the areas that have already experienced widespread COVID-19 are just a subset. Many countries in Africa had little experience of the disease through the last year. In Asia, a number of nations that appeared to have "beaten COVID-19" are now seeing record levels of cases as world travel increases and new variants are spread.

Just looking at a few relatively wealthy nations, it's easy to see that the level of vaccination around the world varies widely.

Even nations with access to COVID-19 vaccine have a huge disparity in levels of vaccination. attribution: Our World In Data

Across Africa, there are more than two dozen nations where less than 2% of the population has been vaccinated. Many of these nations either have no reserve of vaccine, or may be getting vaccines that are significantly less effective than those being passed around wealthier nations.

Regardless of how the epidemic of cases shaped up in the U.S., a chart of reported cases around the world shows why this pandemic isn't anywhere close to over.

Global daily cases of COVID-19 remain high, and the trend is still going up. attribution: WorldOMeters

New cases of COVID-19 around the world are exceeding half a million. The overall trend in cases remains an upward one. Only a tiny fraction of the world has been vaccinated, and most of that fraction is concentrated in a few wealthy nations. Not only does the potential exist for this pandemic to get much worse across the globe, the huge reservoir created by all these cases provides plenty of raw material for new, more dangerous variants.

Getting vaccine not just delivered to other nations, but into the arms of the world's population, is a national security issue for the United States.

What Do The Stunning Statistics That Emerged From 2020 Actually Mean?

We're a statistics-happy society. We obsess over the latest numbers on just about everything — birthrates, jobs and population changes — mining them for trends.

Some stats are really obscure, such as the shocking amount of electricity Bitcoin uses. The digital currency's complex computing process devours 143 terawatt-hours a year — more than the country of Norway! Can you believe?

Anyhow, the commonly quoted stats are dribbling in, but because they are being compared to those of the wildly abnormal pandemic year of 2020, what should we do with them? The answer may be to marvel at the dramatic shifts but with asterisks attached.

Take changes in state and city populations. California reported a net loss in population last year, the first time since 1900, when the state started counting. The effects of the pandemic, says Hans Johnson of the Public Policy Institute of California, should put an asterisk on last year's shrinkage.

Two big reasons for the falloff were the large number of COVID-19 deaths and a sharp decline in international immigration. But as shots in Californian arms curb the disease and more normal immigration patterns return, the state should resume growing slowly, as it has in recent years, Johnson adds.

New York state also lost people last year. Some of it resulted from COVID lockdowns sending people out of its cities to less crowded parts of the country. As with California, however, more of it reflects a decline in foreign immigration, according to the Empire Center.

The country as a whole last year grew at its slowest pace since 1918 — by only 700,000 residents, or 0.2 percent. Some of that low count reflects deaths from COVID and a lower birthrate. The number of babies born in the U.S. hit a 4 million high in 2015 and has fallen every year since.

The pandemic may have accelerated the process. Last December, when babies conceived early in the health crisis would have been born, the U.S. birthrate posted its sharpest decline in history. Was a drop-off this severe a temporary phenomenon reflecting health and economic fears of those strange times? We will see.

Cities are reporting significant spikes in shootings. Experts have offered some pandemic-related explanations for that as well. Lost jobs, closed schools and suspended after-school activities have left vulnerable young people on the streets where violent youth gangs do their recruiting.

COVID knocked the economy on its rear, so a large jump to more normal levels of consumer spending is producing price numbers that just reflect a return to normal. Gasoline prices, for example, soared 50 percent in April compared with the same month of 2020. For perspective, though, they actually decreased 1.4 percent from March 2021.

Economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal expect the economy to grow in the second quarter at an annual rate of 8.1 percent over the same time a year earlier. This would be the most torrid growth in about 40 years. Then again, consider the pathetic base we're starting at — the annus horribilis of 2020.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the number of new COVID cases — almost 350,000 a week early this month — could drop to below 10,000 by August if vaccinations continue apace. The scourge seems to be ending, and barring some other astounding turn of events, the trend lines could start becoming less dramatic.

Clearly, 2021 is turning into a whole new ballgame. Making comparisons to the sick, sick year of 2020 may offer opportunities to exclaim over the biggest year-to-year surge or drop in this or that since the nation's founding. We can have fun with that, but, hey, remember the asterisks.

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.

Fauci: We Didn’t Have To Lose 500,000 Virus Victims

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The United States has passed yet another grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic. According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 500,000 U.S. residents have died from COVID-19. ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos discussed that milestone with expert immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, who acknowledged that the death count was higher than it had to be.

Stephanopoulos asked Fauci, "Did this have to be?" — to which Fauci replied, "Well, certainly some of it. But not this bad, George. I mean, I believe that if you look back historically, we've done worse than most any other country. And we're a highly developed rich country."

Johns Hopkins, on Monday, reported that the worldwide death count from COVID-19 is more than 2.4 million and that the U.S. continues to lead the world in COVID-19 fatalities. The U.S., according to Hopkins, has more deaths from COVID-19 than two other coronavirus hotspots, Mexico and Brazil, combined.

Total deaths from COVID-19 are likely to be much higher than current official counts. Once the virus has receded, experts will be able to dig through the data and develop a more complete picture of the disease's impact, and the death toll is expected to be revised upward.