Josh Marshall

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TPM.

One of the things that is lost in the tsunami of statistics about the COVID-19 epidemic is something as elementary as national and jurisdictional population. When we look at death tolls how does this compare to a country’s population. On this per capita basis Spain and Italy are far and away the worst hit major countries in the world. (I say major countries because some city states like San Marino or Andorra have outsized numbers with relatively few fatalities.) In Spain there have been 282 deaths per million people; in Italy it’s 263. For another hard hit country, France, it’s 124. For the UK, it’s 79. To date, for the USA it’s 29.

Here are also you get a sense of the scale of the epidemic in New York state. Here the number is 243. Two other states, New Jersey (103) and Louisiana (102), are over 100 and rest are far behind.

Two Key Stories

Two key issues we’re following are a) the question of the true death toll from COVID-19 and b) finding out more information about the federal government’s seizures of medical goods destined for states, localities and major hospital and medical systems. On the second story particularly, I want to renew my call for information. If you see local reports that we haven’t found yet, please send them in. If you know of incidents that have not been reported on yet, please contact us via email. We will zealously guard your confidentiality, as always do. Here is the main story I published over the weekend. Here’s a follow up from last night which adds in the AP report about how late the federal government began ordering masks.

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Barbados Claims US Seized Ventilators En Route to Country

The government of Barbados is charging that shipment of 20 ventilators it had ordered and already paid for were seized by US authorities and prevented from reaching Barbados. Minister of Health and Wellness Jeffrey Bostic told reporters at a press conference “They were seized in the United States. Paid for, but seized, so we are trying to see exactly what is going to transpire there.”

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Feds Only Started Ordering Masks As Lockdowns Were Starting

Here’s a very damning but also unsurprising report from the AP. The gist is that the federal government didn’t start placing orders for n95 masks and other PPE until mid-March, just as the country was heading into the COVID-19 maelstrom. To orient ourselves in time this was well after the initial outbreak in Washington state and roughly the period when New York City began to move toward lockdown.

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What’s Up with the Feds Seizing PPE Shipments to States and Hospitals?

Let’s talk about these seizures of PPE goods by federal authorities. There are a number of instances of this and as I noted in the post below a number of reasons why it might be happening. There are numerous cases where orders placed by states or hospitals have been canceled after they have been outbid by federal authorities or federal authorities have ordered vendors to sell to the federal government. According to Kaiser Health News, those compelled sales appear to be pursuant to an executive order President Trump signed on March 18th under authorities granted by the Defense Production Act.

But what I’m more interested in are reports of federal authorities confiscating physical shipments en route to states, local governments or regional hospital systems. The most publicized case of this came at some point in March when, according to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R), a shipment of 3 million masks ordered through BJ’s Wholesale was seized by federal authorities in the Port of New York. Baker did not say which agency confiscated the goods or under what authority. That incident was what led to the widely reported and successful effort to fly goods in from China using the New England Patriots jet.

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Confiscated Supplies at Ports and Airports

Here’s something I’m looking for more information about. If you see published reports or know directly about instances, please email us. There have now been a number of reports of states or large institutional buyers purchasing PPE from abroad (mainly China) and then having the shipments confiscated by customs officials at US ports or airports. Again, not large Amazon orders, big, big governmental or institutional shipments.

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A Note on TPM’s Finances and Business During the COVID Crisis

We’ve been hearing from many of you asking about TPM’s finances amidst this crisis and what’s happening with us as a company. Each time another publication shutters or announces layoffs, which has happened almost daily for the last two weeks, we hear it more. So here’s an update on our status. I will try to answer the question holistically because there are a lot of moving parts.

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German Officials Accuse US of COVID Mask Piracy

Here’s a wild story out of Germany, or maybe Bangkok. There’s enough uncertainty here that I wouldn’t take this story as necessarily accurate but rather as accusations that themselves capture the breakdown of trust and uncertainty gripping the world today.

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COVID Miscellany #1

Let me run through a number of small updates and links on the crisis.

*** We’ve discussed the IHME model out of Washington state which appears to be becoming the canonical model for governments and hospital systems for predicting the course of the epidemic. They are updating it most days by plugging in the latest new data and seeing how the model changes. From March 31st to April 1st the estimate for overall mortality nationwide rose 11,624 to a total of 93,765. Yesterday the number ticked down by a couple hundred. Today they say their next update will be tomorrow. We shouldn’t make too much of the absolute number. They are actually broad ranges of predicted possibilities. The point is that currently lack a lot of the data the models require to approach something like accuracy. As more nuggets of data – what actually happened – comes in the predicted outcomes can change rapidly.

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