Editors’ Blog

How Deadly is COVID19? NYC Sets a Lower Bound

There’s been a lot of discussion about how deadly COVID19 is. It’s always seemed highly unlikely that the number of fatalities per lab-confirmed cases is at all representative of the true percentage of people who die from being infected with COVID19. That number was over 3% in China, about 5.4% in the US currently and has ranged as high as 10% in Italy. Far too many cases are escaping lab confirmed detection for those to be close to accurate.

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Where Things Stand: What Does Trump’s Immigration Tweet Mean?
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.

Beyond perpetuating his own political objective, President Trump’s latest Twitter announcement on temporary immigration action likely won’t bring much substantial change to policies or programs his administration has already halted in the wake of the pandemic.

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Did The Wisconsin Primary Spark New Infections?

You remember the controversy. To me it was one of the most unconscionable acts of the whole COVID19 Crisis in the US, which is saying a lot. The Wisconsin GOP forced an in-person in election in the midst of a deadly epidemic because they believed that a low turnout election would help them retain a seat on the state Supreme Court. As it happened, they lost the seat. But did forcing Wisconsinites out of their houses and to voting stations spur new infections in any documentable way?

Let me start by saying the evidence looks ambiguous to me at least. But it’s gotten some discussion online. So I put together a chart to see what happened.

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An Extinction Level Event for the News

I’ve told you a few times that the news business has been thrown into severe crisis by the COVID19 epidemic. It’s not necessarily the most hard hit industry. Hospitality, travel and related service industries have been far more drastically affected in absolute terms. But those industries were all doing well pre-crisis. They faced no structural challenges to their business models. The news business has been in an evolving and protracted crisis for years.

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Where Things Stand: Rick Gates Also Hopes To Avoid COVID-19 Spread In Jail

The pandemic and the Russia probe have collided, in more ways than one.

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Time’s Arrow, Backwards
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In the last couple years I’ve seriously upped my daily exercise game. Until about six weeks ago I spent about an hour on an elliptical machine almost every day. An elliptical was key because a few years ago I tore my ACL and in consultation with my doctor decided not to have it repaired. It didn’t hurt and I had basically full function. Jogging as a regular exercise was out. But I never liked jogging anyway. But without access to a gym that became more of an issue. Don’t get me wrong. I can run and even sprint. But I can feel in my knee that an hour of it a day over time is not a good idea. So I’ve resorted to long walks which meant I needed something to listen to.

That led me to the back catalog of our house podcast. It’s pretty good! If you haven’t checked it out definitely give it a listen. For me though it has been fascinating to retrace the last eight weeks in reverse: the slow machinery of impending crisis half a world away accelerating into a full national emergency and perhaps the greatest public crisis of our lifetimes.

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Seeing The ‘Open the Economy’ Protests In Their Proper Light

The protests we’ve seen in a handful of locations around the country have bamboozled a lot of the national press. Look closely and a lot of the turnout is heavily stocked with militia types and the kinds of groups who turned out for the Charlottesville protests a couple years ago. But the bigger thing is that for now they appear highly orchestrated. In Michigan, they appear to be in part in reaction polling showing severe declines in public support for President Trump. They’re organized by groups funded in large part by the DeVos family. These are basically Trump loyalists supporting Trump at his request and mobilized by key rightist groups. The key question, as TPM Reader TS explains, is whether what starts here as orchestrated and largely inorganic takes on a life of its own and gains political traction. They now have Fox and an incumbent President cheering them on as a demonstration of political identity.

As for the “open the economy” protests right now, I am keeping an eye on them. A modest number of places so far, and participants in the tens to hundreds to around a thousand apiece. These early events look very orchestrated by a few key national professional organizations – and more electorally aimed than early Tea P or resistance protests were in 2009 and 2017. The orchestrators are Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Works, Club for Growth, and the Trump reelect campaign, all national professional operations. The advocacy groups are all ultra-free-market operations that most certainly do not want most Americans to become reliant upon public benefits or more trusting of government.
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More on Emerging Serology Surveillance

Let me add a few more nuggets of information on this emerging topic.

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More on the California Serology Study

More on that serology study I noted below. My general point stands about how vulnerable and relatively untouched the California population remains based on these numbers. But there’s another key point to take note of. TPM Reader BR focused my attention on this. If we extrapolate the total number of infections across California, this shows just how massively the official infection numbers undercount what appears to be the actual number of California residents who’ve been infected.

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Very Important Data

We keep hearing about how we will know more once we get the first serology data to find out just how many people have been exposed, infected and thus (presumably but not certainly) immune to further COVID19 infection. We now have a preprint just released of a study from Santa Clara, California of over 3,300 people. The news is not great, though there are certainly many different ways of defining ‘good’ or ‘bad’ news in this case. The study found that 1.5% of people in the study were seropositive; adjusted for demographic weighting the number was 2.81%.

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Where Things Stand: The Special Prisoners

Michael Cohen was never going to have to endure the typical prison experience, even if a pandemic never struck the globe. Even if life as we knew it never came to a halt.

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They Can’t Help It That They’re Lucky

We have some new data on which states are getting the biggest share of the forgivable loan funds (the biggest percentage of a state’s payrolls covered) from the Payroll Protection Program, which is part of the CARES Act, the federal rescue bill. It turns out generally red and/or rural states are doing quite well while big blue states, which are among the hardest hit in the country, are doing much less well. The analysis was done by Ernie Tedeschi, a former US Treasury economist who is now with Evercore. This article from Bloomberg uses Tedeschi’s analysis to build this chart. These are the numbers the Treasury Department released.

Here’s the data.

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Good Article

TPM Reader AR flagged to me this informed, cautious and insightful overview of what we can glean about COVID19 testing data in the United States – numbers of tests, the percentage of positive tests and what if anything we can infer from these numbers about the true size of the epidemic and how pervasive it is in the United States. It’s written by two people running the COVID Tracking Project.

Very, Very Strange

I’ve mentioned before that news of US intelligence reports from November 2019 about a disease outbreak in China are extremely difficult to square with the most exacting news reporting and genomic analyses of the virus itself. And yet, according to the Times of Israel, Israel’s Channel 12 reported today that the US Intelligence Community became aware of an “emerging disease” in the second week of November. The Trump administration “did not deem it of interest” but intelligence officials shared a classified report with NATO and Israel.

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Where Things Stand: How Trump Fixes A Leaky Faucet
This is your TPM mid-morning briefing.

He brings one of his favorite TV defenders to the White House.

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More on Excess Mortality and COVID19’s Hidden Toll

I’m returning to this topic of calculating the full death toll of the COVID19 Crisis. As I noted yesterday, samplings of data from New York, Spain and Italy suggest a pattern in which the true scale of mortality tied to the COVID19 Crisis is roughly twice that recorded in the COVID19 death tolls we see each day, and sometimes much higher. Here are a few more data points which add weight to this emerging pattern.

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How We’re Doing and How To Support TPM

This is a follow up on my April 3rd post about how TPM is holding up amidst the COVID-19 economic crisis. Before I get to that, here’s an update on what I shared with you back on the 3rd. I told you that we were setting up a system to allow readers to support our work above and beyond the cost of your Prime or Prime AF membership. Well, here it is. Click here and we welcome your support at whatever level you think appropriate and whatever level you are able. We truly appreciate it.

We promise you that we will put it to good use. These contributions will all be earmarked for the TPM Journalism Fund. For every increment of $50 we receive we will create a free membership for someone who cannot afford a Prime membership or for a registered student. (More detail on this below.) As I mentioned on the 3rd, we had been workshopping and building this new system for six months to a year and had scheduled its launch for mid-March. We slightly delayed the launch and have slightly retooled it for this new reality. Prior to the COVID19 crisis, our promise was to use these additional FIN (Future is Now) funds to add new reporting capacity to TPM, to turbocharge TPM reporting. With this new COVID19 reality, we will use it either for that purpose or to cover revenue shortfalls tied to COVID19 as they arise.

If you find our work important and want to helps us remain vital and hopefully expand our ability to report news, please consider it.

Now to our status a month into this crisis.

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Why Return To Normal After COVID?

You may have heard talk of eventually redeploying the resources mobilized to fight the pandemic to tackle carbon emissions. It’s not a misplaced sentiment exactly, though I do think the parallels are generally inapt. But then TPM Reader FL wrote in a few days ago and framed it up in a way that felt more on point than other discussions I’ve seen. I yield the floor:
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Where Things Stand: A Trump Fireside Chat
This is your TPM mid-morning briefing.

We can thank Rush Limbaugh for this one.

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The Excess Mortality Question in the US Comes Into View

As you know, we’ve been focusing heavily on the ‘excess mortality’ question in the COVID19 pandemic across the world. Excess mortality is the number of deaths in a given region over a particular period of time which is in excess of the average number of deaths in previous years. We’ve looked closely at analyses from Italy and Spain which show dramatic discrepancies between the reported number of COVID19 fatalities and actual amount of excess mortality during the periods in question. In many cases, when this full excess mortality is calculated the number is two, three or even four times higher than the official COVID19 death toll.

What remains unknown in these other cases is how many of these additional deaths were ‘hidden’ COVID19 fatalities versus people who died as a result of the overall crisis but not the disease itself. This can range from an overwhelmed hospital system which creates a degraded level of care, to stress imposed by the totality of the crisis to people who do not seek medical attention for health crises they could have survived.
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Going Deep On The COVID Numbers

Important new numbers out this evening from New York City that for the first time allow us to take a preliminary look the city’s excess deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic. Josh Kovensky has pulled together the numbers.

‘Reopening the Economy’ and the Great Do-Over

Sometimes we adopt a metaphor for a big societal question that, even though we know it’s a metaphor, still significantly distorts our thinking about what we’re talking about. I’m thinking here of when we “reopen the economy”. At least in its more antic forms, President Trump himself seems to be the big driver of this catchphrase. So that may explain the confusion behind it. The economy isn’t closed and we’re not going to reopen it. Not any time soon.

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New Study of Pregnant Women and COVID19 in New York City

A small but notable collection of data was published yesterday in The New Journal of Medicine. One major New York City hospital evaluated and tested every expectant mother who was admitted to the hospital for childbirth. Almost 14% were COVID positive and almost all of lacked any symptoms. This is an early and still very small window into the kind of universal and/or random sample testing that will be necessary to get an accurate understanding of the prevalence of COVID19 in the population at large.

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Where Things Stand: Trump’s Fed Up With Democracy
This is your TPM mid-morning briefing.

His impeachment acquittal may have left him with the impression that he holds the keys to an unbound presidency. And he may be stoking secret pipe dreams that the pandemic will delay the presidential election. But President Trump is clearly getting increasingly fed up with the fact that he is leading a democratic nation and not something more totalitarian.

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Shocker in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Republicans took the unconscionable step of forcing an in-person election during a deadly pandemic last week because they were sure a low turnout election would ensure victory for the conservative candidate in a state Supreme Court race. But in a stunning development, the conservative lost. Jill Karofsky, the liberal candidate in a technically non-partisan race, is the winner.

Where Things Stand: COVID Forces Sen GOP To Chill On Judge Confirmations
This is your TPM early-afternoon briefing.

As Congress is consumed by how best to confront and combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, Senate Republicans have been forced to toss their efforts — to confirm a string of conservative judges while Republicans still hold the majority in the upper chamber — to the backseat.

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A Good OpEd on Saving the US Economy

I wanted to flag your attention to this oped in the Times, now a couple weeks old. It notes that other countries in Europe are not seeing the scale of job loss that we are in the US, even though they’re shutting down their economies just as much. It’s from March 30th. So it’s from eons ago in COVID terms. But it holds up pretty well. There are two points I want to focus on.

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More on that Alleged Intel Report, and When Did COVID-19 Really Begin?

On Friday I noted news reports that claimed US military intelligence was warning as far back as late November of a possible new virus in China with a possible global impact. The problem is that these US intelligence reports would predate by weeks our earliest understanding of when the first cases emerged and well before the Chinese themselves knew they had a new disease on their hands. That chronology of the outbreak comes from news reports from major dailies in the United States and Hong Kong. But there’s another body of evidence which points to a similar and more definitive timeline. That’s hidden in the COVID-19 genome itself.

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FEMA’s 50-50 Plan

All month we’ve been talking about Project Air Bridge, the federal government organized airlift of medical supplies which are then handed over to private sector distributors to distribute around the country. A few media reports have suggested, often on the basis of unnamed sources, that there is a 50-50 deal. The distributors agree to route 50% of the supplies to hotspots as defined by FEMA while the other 50% they can sell on an ordinary commercial basis. But we don’t have to rely on these reports. An April 8th FEMA bulletin, flagged to me by TPM Reader GG, lays it all out pretty clearly. There’s even a handy graphic.

To quote the April 8th bulletin: “Per agreements with distributors, 50 percent of supplies on each plane are for customers within the hotspot areas with most critical needs. The remaining 50 percent is fed into distributors’ normal supply chain to their customers in other areas nationwide. HHS and FEMA determine hotspot areas based on CDC data.”

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FEMA Decides, Unless Trump or Jared Does

The Washington Post has a new story out about the chaotic and overlapping efforts to acquire and distribute medical supplies across the country. We get yet more evidence that FEMA is routinely jumping into private transactions, either at the front end of overruling a purchase or seizing it when it’s being transported to whatever hospital or state purchased it. As my hospital system board member source told me a couple days ago this isn’t just happening it’s pervasive.

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