Editors’ Blog

Where Things Stand: Will We Have A Grandstander?

It appears that we will.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) pledged Friday that he will stand in the way of passage of a $2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill in the House today, a stimulus package that President Trump himself has vowed to sign once it makes it’s way through Congress. Massie said Friday that he will stop the Senate-approved bill from passing via voice vote in the House, which will force lawmakers to come back to Washington, D.C. for a recorded vote.

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National Leaders Need To Take More Personal Precautions

Boris Johnson is a relatively young man. He should be okay after two or three weeks. And we wish him the best. But I hope Johnson’s testing positive will be a wake up call to senior leaders of the US government.

Congress is still meeting largely business as usual. Yes, I know they’re taking some precautions. But watch the videos. It’s still largely business as usual. The President and key executive branch leaders continue with these daily press briefings in the fairly small confined space of the White House briefing room. There’s already a mini-revolt among reporters over the relative inattention to social distancing going on in those briefings. It’s being driven by the President’s hunger for his new version of political rallies. They could easily be done in the Rose Garden.

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Obscene

The information contained in this article is obscene. While Americans die in escalating numbers and hospitals around the country announce plans to deny care to those already seriously ill the White House is negotiating with various businesses and joint ventures over producing ventilators. Today a deal with GM and Ventec was put on hold because the White House was unsure whether it was paying too much or whether they’d be purchasing too many and left with extra ventilators there was no need for. The White House point man on this critical life and death effort is Jared Kushner. They’re trying to cut the best deal while people die. It will make you furious and it may make you cry.

A Dark Day

I think we can say with little hesitation that for the last three weeks every day has been worse than the last. Today looks especially bad. The headline is that we now have the most COVID-19 cases in the world. That is of course a symbolic milestone. Underneath that headline are very bad numbers.

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Milestone

According to the most up to date numbers (Worldometers.info), the United States now has more confirmed COVID-19 cases than any other country in the world. The Johns Hopkins data center still has the US a sliver behind. But it will move ahead this evening. It is important to bear in mind that the US has a dramatically larger population than any country in Europe. On a per capita basis, almost every major country in Europe has more cases. It is nonetheless a grim milestone.

Have You Gotten the CDC’s Trump Campaign Mailer?

Welcome to the cult of personality.

Kate Riga reported on this back on Monday after a report from TPM Reader TL. The CDC and White House have sent out a mailer trumpeting “President Trump’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America”.

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Today Was Just a Preview
A  GAP store with a Closed sign due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Farmington Hills, Michigan, on March 26, 2020. - The economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic sparked an explosion of Americans filing for unemployment benefits, surging to 3.3 million last week -- the highest number ever recorded, the Labor Department reported Thursday. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP) (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

This morning the Labor Department announced 3.28 million people filed for unemployment, the largest one-week number in United States history. This is a shocking number. It beat analyst estimates by nearly one million claims. It’s four times the previous record. 

Yet, the worst is certainly ahead of us.

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This is Very Important News from Italy. Please Read.

In a time of uncertainty and fear I’m reluctant to pass on startling information based on first pass looks at statistics. But this seems sufficiently compelling and concrete to merit our attention. Here is an article from the Italian daily Corriere Della Sera. It’s written by the mayor of Nembro, a town in the northern hot zone, and health care entrepreneur, both of whom are physicists.

Here are the relevant statistics.

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The Warning of SARS

As the US enters the full force of the COVID-19 pandemic there are multiple levels of failure we are collectively having to confront. The most obvious stem from leadership at the top, the costs of a President who has run the country as a plaything for his own uses and sees the unfolding catastrophe through the prism of his own needs. Just today we see a new report about how the federal response at all levels has been marred by inexperienced and unqualified appointees and numerous positions that remain unfilled. The NSC devised a literal ‘playbook’ for how to handle just this sort of event in 2016. You can read it here. But the administration simply ignored it and has made many of the mistakes that manual sought to avert.

But it is also clear that certain levels of unpreparedness predate anything tied to the Trump administration. Relatedly, why is it that a series of country’s on China’s borders or nearby over the sea have managed it so much better?

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Where Things Stand: A Sign Of The Times
This is your TPM mid-morning briefing.

The fact that a Senate, that just months ago held a contentious impeachment trial, was able to pass any sort of spending bill — let alone a $2 trillion one — by unanimous consent is jaw-dropping enough.

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‘Practicing Medicine Like We Are At War’

It’s just unbelievable what medical practices across the country are going through as an indirect result of the pandemic. The upheaval is extraordinary. Again, this isn’t to treat COVID per se, but to maintain existing health services despite the virus. Tierney Sneed explains.

What Can The Subways Tell Us About When NYC Locked Down?

As we track the scale of outbreaks in countries around the world and look for insights into what will happen in the United States, one key metric has been the number of days between a full lockdown and when new infections and deaths peaked. For that I’ve been trying to make sense of just when New York City – the center of the outbreak in the US – locked down. There’s no simple answer since the city slowly hunkered down in phases. During the second week of March the city government began encouraging businesses to start work from home for employees who were able to do so. On Sunday, March 15th, Mayor Bill DiBlasio announced that the public schools would close the following day. On March 20th, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered a statewide “pause”, which is New York’s version of what in other states is being called a “shelter in place”.

But how much impact did these different suggestions and orders have on reducing mobility, density and spread in the city?

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New Data Out of Italy

It’s too soon to state anything definitively. But today’s extremely grim numbers out of Italy do suggest that the outbreak is at least stabilizing. New numbers just released show that Wednesday was the fourth consecutive day when the numbers of new cases and new fatalities were below the peak on March 21st. I stress: this is not enough data to say the trend is down or even stabilizing. But they point in the direction of stabilization.

Graph after the jump.

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Dipping Into the Grim Numbers

I’ve been swimming in numbers over the last couple days. I find numbers, create charts, all to try to make sense of the emerging story. One thing that is very clear in all of this is that there is as yet no US outbreak; even the nationwide numbers are misleading. What you have is a New York state and especially New York City outbreak and then a series of much smaller regional ones, most of which are running significantly behind what is happening in New York. One way to capture this: 68% of the hospitalizations in the country are in New York State.

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Where Things Stand: Trump Tries To Have It Both Ways With ‘China Virus’ Rhetoric
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.

Earlier this week, President Trump attempted to make up for his use of the term “China virus” to describe COVID-19 by defending the Asian American community, which has faced xenophobia and racist attacks in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

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Absorb These Words

In his Fox News town hall this afternoon President Trump said he needs good treatment or favors in return if states want the federal governments assistance as hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Read the words and then watch them.

“Usually we’ll have 50 governors that will call it the same time. I think we are doing very well. But it’s a two-way street. They have to treat us well, also. They can’t say, “Oh, gee, we should get this, we should get that.” We’re doing a great job. Like in New York where we’re building, as I said, four hospitals, four medical centers. We’re literally building hospitals and medical centers. And then I hear that there’s a problem with ventilators. Well we sent them ventilators. And they could have had 15,000 or 16,000 – all they had to do was order them two years ago. But they decided not to do it. They can’t blame us for that.”

Here’s the video.

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What We’re Up Against

I grew up in the oil patch, so this email from TPM Reader DB resonated:

I wanted to write in with a different perspective than the one I’m seeing take hold among progressives. I work in oil and gas (yes; yes; I know. I’m sorry) and, as such, I interact with conservatives all the time. It’s interesting watching the conservative id coalesce as it does.

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Living In Fear Of The Rona

By now a significant number of us have experienced the self-imposed hardship and uncertainty of being sick but unsure if it’s the rona. TPM Reader DS writes in from Seattle:

Hi Josh. I was just reading your piece about testing, and thought to contribute a personal anecdote about what widespread testing would mean for people and families with relatively mild cases.
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Back for Easter

President Trump says he hopes to have the country back to normal operation by Easter – which is less than three weeks away. He also says his insistence on doing so is helping push up the stock market.

Not A President For When A Crisis Hits

We’re back to that familiar place: President Trump introduces a claim or argument or policy so absurd it risks crowding out an actual critical question. Here that question is how to balance the public health crisis and our efforts to contain it with damage to the economy over time. The simple reality is that the cost in human lives and the economic damage will both be vast. Nor are they a zero sum. The economy wouldn’t keep humming along amidst a public health catastrophe even if we all managed to be totally indifferent – individually and collectively – to the threat we faced by going about business as usual. It is also true that economic privation has predictable costs in human lives – unemployment, stress-driven ailments, family breakdown, suicide.

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Where Things Stand: Signs That You And Trump Might Be On The Fritz
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.

This is how it typically goes when President Trump is growing tired of you.

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Cuomo Begging

Gov. Cuomo of New York is holding his press conference this morning and is practically begging the federal government to mobilize. He seems genuinely not to understand why it’s not happening. There’s the Federal Defense Procurement Act to order companies to start making ventilators. There’s also a federal emergency stockpile of ventilators. Cuomo says there are 20,000 in that stockpile.

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Bracing for the Storm

TPM Reader RS is a physician in California …

At my hospital, it feels like the proverbial calm before the storm – we have not seen many COVID-19 cases yet, but the numbers are increasing and we are watching the news from Seattle and NYC with grim anticipation. All our effort is focused on preparation right now – sorting out testing challenges, developing diagnostic algorithms, building staffing models, and trying to calm the fears and anxieties of patients, families, staff, and colleagues.

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Looking for Patterns

I will try to graph this later. But a quick point I wanted to flag. There is some possible – I stress possible, not at all certain – that the horrific outbreak in Italy is starting to slow down. Over the last three days the number of new infections have tracked down from 6,557 > 5,660 > 4,789. The fatality numbers have tracked 794 > 651 > 601. If the 21st was the peak day, that would be 13 days after the lockdown in Lombardy on March 8th (followed by a national lockdown a day later.)

This is notable because the number days between the lockdown of Wuhan and the peak day of new infections in China was 12 days.

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What Are We Trying to Accomplish with Testing?

We’ve heard a lot of conflicting and confusing information in recent days about testing. Public officials in different areas have announced that the time for testing has passed and in some areas efforts at mass testing – drive through testing, and such – is being scaled back. This comes after a couple weeks when rapidly expanding testing was the central focus of preparedness, containment and mitigation efforts. On Sunday longtime TPM Reader BB wrote in that he “can’t quite get my head around what we think wider testing is going to accomplish” and then listed a series of critical reasons why officials in hot zones are now in some cases moving to limit testing.

Let me try to answer this by ‘answer’ here I am simply trying to synthesize as best I can the thinking and arguments of public health experts and clinicians whose reports and commentary I am following as closely as I can.

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Return from Peru

You’ve likely heard the story about how the Peace Corps has not only withdrawn its more than 7,300 volunteers from countries around the world but also fired them. All of them. Immediately. Evacuation was probably inevitable and wise – though it seems reasonable to ask whether some volunteers may have been safer remaining in country than returning to the US. The decision to fire them all summarily was callous, gratuitous and inane.

But I wanted to TPM Reader MA’s story of his son’s rushed evacuation from Peru.

So I am a long time reader and member at TPM, and I thought I would share my son’s crazy story of getting out of Peru as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

As you know Peru went on total lock down this week. Before that my son and other PCV personnel had traveled to Lima from their home sites to hold their Completion of Service (CoS) ceremonies. My son’s last day in the Peace Corp was slated to be May 22nd. So, they had their ceremony and then last Saturday night before they were to head back to their sites, they got an email from their local director that they should stand pat; no one was going to travel until further notice. Inadvertently my son also got an email of a screenshot between some higher ups that that an evacuation order was coming worldwide.

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A Reminder

Just this week’s reminder that all of our COVID-19 Crisis coverage is outside the Prime paywall. We will continue this for the duration.

Where Things Stand: Trump’s Having Second Thoughts
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.

President Trump appears to be growing tired of his own plan to combat the coronavirus.

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A Bit More on Donating PPEe

A bit more on donating personal protective equipment to local hospitals and care providers … As I noted, many of us have at least small supplies of these things in our homes. I used to have boxes of n95 masks for woodworking. Maybe you have a few boxes of latex or nitrile gloves for some home DIY project. Some readers have noted that in areas where hospitals are not yet under great stress they don’t want donations because they can’t validate the chain of custody of the materials. But in other areas with emerging locals epidemics they are desperate for really anything people have on hand. Google your local hospital or state health department. You’ll likely quickly find out what’s needed in your community.

The Demography of The Disease

We are getting more information about the demography of COVID-19. I have not yet seen detailed age and gender breakdowns nationwide. But the chair of the New York City Council’s health committee just tweeted out a breakdown of the fatality numbers so far out of New York City. The total numbers remain small in statistical terms though heartbreaking in the metric of individual people’s lives, with 99 people succumbing to the disease in the city.

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