Last week seems like a decade ago. Disasters deform time, with enormous changes occurring overnight. And time is at their center; as the many graphs that have been circulating suggest, the pace at which infections proliferate will determine whether our health care systems will be overwhelmed to the point of incapacity. Meanwhile, while we may have imagined this epidemic as temporary, a secret document from the UK Public Health system suggests it will govern our lives for the next year.
Chrysostom points out that a few things outside of the coronavirus are going on–see his comprehensive election coverage. And we recommend that you keep reading Heather Cox Richardson’s column, Letters from an American; she puts the coronavirus–and everything else–in context.
1. Public Health England predicts the virus will last till spring 2021
Though Trump says that the coronavirus will “disappear” like a “miracle,” a secret document produced by Public Health England and uncovered by the Guardian predicts that the virus will last until the spring of 2021 and that four out of five Britons will contract it, with more than half a million deaths. The strain on the National Health Service–along with first responders–will be profound. One epidemiologist quoted by the Guardian expects that the virus “will dip in the summer, towards the end of June, and come back in November, in the way that usual seasonal flu does.” The Guardian article did not speculate on what these projections for the UK imply about the how the virus will affect the rest of the world. RLS
2. What you may have missed on Super Tuesday
While the media (and audiences) were distracted by primary results, the Trump administration published a rule change which would prohibit using scientific data to make decisions unless it was publicly available, according to Common Dreams. In the usual double-speak, the rule, called “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” would exclude data based on proprietary information or personal health information. An early version received over 600,000 comments, most opposed to the “secret science” proposal, according to Nation of Change.
As the New York Times pointed out in the fall, understanding the relationship between pollution and disease, for example, often depends on data obtained under circumstances when confidentiality was guaranteed; crucial information that we now depend on, such as the relationship between lead paint and behavioral issues in children, or between mercury emissions from power plants and development delay, was obtained using confidential medical data. As the head of the American Lung Association told the New York Times, “This means the E.P.A. can justify rolling back rules or failing to update rules based on the best information to protect public health and the environment, which means more dirty air and more premature deaths.” RLS
3. International adoptees could become deportees
There are thousands of international adoptees in the U.S. who never became U.S. citizens, not because they didn’t want citizenship, but because adoptive parents often didn’t know the application was necessary, didn’t know all the steps involved in the process, or received incorrect information on some point. As KGW8 describes it, the case of Rebecca Trimble in Oregon is one such example. Born in Mexico in 1989, she was adopted by an American couple in her infancy and has lived her entire life here. She voted in the 2008 Presidential election. In 2012, she applied for and was denied a REAL ID because of problems with her documentation. She subsequently filed the appropriate forms to request an adjustment of status, but was denied. Why? She is a “criminal,” having voted in a U.S. election when she wasn’t a citizen. A bill introduced by Representatives Adam Smith (D-Washington) and Rob Woodall (R-Georgia), the Hill reports, would resolve Trimble’s case and many others . Called the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2019, S.1554, this legislation is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee. S-HP
If you want to speak up about the Adoptee Citizenship Act, contact information for your senators is here.
4. Liberty, justice and sick leave for some
House Democrats have passed H.R.6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which would provide funding for sick leave for (some) workers, free coronavirus testing, expanded food assistance, and unemployment benefits, as well as new workplace protections for healthcare workers. As details about the legislation emerge, however, it becomes clear–as the New York Times reported–that its paid leave provisions will only benefit some 20% of Americans. Companies with over 500 employees (that’s 54% of all companies in the U.S.) are exempt. Employers with fewer than fifty employees can apply for a hardship exception from the rule. Those larger employers may (or may not) choose to offer paid leave, and that leave may (or may not) match the leave requirements (for those who qualify) in H.R.6201. S-HP
You may want to urge immediate Senate action on H.R.6201 and insist on an amendment that includes more than 20% of the U.S. workforce. Appropriate addresses are here. You can also sign the letter Moms Rising has produced, urging the Senate to pass a comprehensive package.
5. Coronavirus in prisons and detention centers
Incarcerated people and those in immigration detention will likely find themselves particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, given their living conditions, a story in the Washington Post explained. A group of senators led by Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has written the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and private prison operators to warn that “Given the spread of the virus in the U.S.—and the particular vulnerability of the prison population and correctional staff—it is critical that [you] have a plan to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus to incarcerated individuals and correctional staff, along with their families and loved ones, and provide treatment to incarcerated individuals and staff who become infected. According to the Hill, the senators have also requested detailed information on their coronavirus plans. The Lens reports that public defenders in one Louisiana Parish have requested the immediate release of all non-violent offenders “to limit the spread of the virus and the potential catastrophic effects on our community and clients in jail and out.” S-HP
If you want to join in these calls for aggressive planning and risk mitigation by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and private detention companies, appropriate addresses are here.
6. Protecting the November elections
Louisiana and Georgia are the first states to postpone their presidential primaries in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but other states may be forced to take similar measures—and at the moment, we don’t know what impact the pandemic will have on November’s Presidential elections. In Georgia, according to the Guardian, many poll workers are older and hence at increased risk. S.3440, A Bill to Require States to Adopt Contingency Plans to Prevent the Disruption of Federal Elections from the COVID-19 Virus, does what its title suggests. Most states no doubt will be making such plans, but S.3440 can serve as a reminder to them and as a firm nudge to any states who have not begun considering possibilities. S.3440 is currently with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. S-HP
You can urge your senators to co-sponsor S.3440 and act on it quickly.
7. In Texas, U.S. Marshals arrest people behind on student loans
In September 2019, the Department of Education created a new rule, making it more difficult for students to receive loan forgiveness if the institution they attend has engaged in misrepresentation of its programs. In a rarely used move, H.J.Res.76, which has passed through both houses of Congress and now goes to Trump, would nullify that rule. There are not enough votes to override a veto, so Trump’s signature is essential. For the record, the full title of this legislation is Providing for Congressional Disapproval under Chapter 8 of Title 5, United States Code, of the Rule Submitted by the Department of Education Relating to “Borrower Defense Institutional Accountability.” Currently debt collection agencies in Texas are having U.S. Marshals arrest individuals who fall behind on educational loan payments, according to New York Magazine. While this may be an only-in-Texas situation, student borrowers across the country struggle daily with loan payments—and certainly deserve the right to challenge loans they undertook when an institution misrepresented what it had to offer. S-HP
If you want to urge Donald Trump to sign H.J.Res.76, you can write him at the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111.
8. Cut to payroll taxes would undermine Social Security
Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has largely focused on its effect on business, rather than on providing healthcare. According to NBC News, one way he’s proposing to support the economy is by cutting payroll taxes through the end of the year, which is, quite frankly, a terrible, but not necessarily a surprising move, as the LA Times makes clear. Payroll taxes fund Social Security, and Trump has made it clear that one of his goals if reelected is to end Social Security as it currently exists. This move will not address the actual health crisis we’re in, as the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities explains. Workers (often low income) outside of the Social Security system and the unemployed will not see any financial relief at all under this proposal. S-HP
Write your elected representatives if you want to object to this attack on Social Security and explain that we have much better options for addressing this pandemic than unravelling existing safety nets (this link will take you to a petition you can sign as well).
9. Frackers lining up for coronavirus relief
Trump has promised to seek to provide help for the parts of the economy hit hardest by the coronavirus, and this cohort may include—frackers? Shale (aka fracking) companies have been having a hard time of it lately with high debt and difficulty getting lines of credit (a sign that, among other things, climate protests are having an effect). They’ve also been hurt by the current oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. And, oh yes, coronavirus. The Washington Post reports that multiple companies have been lobbying the White House to be included in coronavirus economic relief. They cite the example of Continental Resources, a company founded by Trump supporter and energy adviser Harold Hamm. Hamm, who owns a 77% stake in the company, personally lost $2 billion in value last Monday. While the Senate delays aid to working families, billionaires with their hands out are being greeted much more warmly by the administration. S-HP
You might remind the Administration and Congress that fracking is hugely destructive to our planet and recommend that shale companies not be included in and economic relief associated with the coronavirus pandemic: addresses here.
10. Disaster victims expected to pay back FEMA
Recipients of FEMA disaster relief funding are often in desperate straits, needing to rebuild quickly to have a place to live, but often lacking significant resources beyond those granted by FEMA. Recent practice has been that if FEMA makes an error in an applicant’s favor when providing disaster relief funding, that individual is required to repay FEMA any monies granted in error, even if those monies have already been spent and regardless of whether the individual has other financial resources. However, at the moment the rule allowing FEMA to collect such overpayments has expired and a rule change is proposed to reinstitute this practice. As the Mercury News explains, a bipartisan group of California legislators have proposed legislation that would prevent FEMA from demanding repayment of FEMA overpayments: H.R.5953, the Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act. This legislation has made it through committee and is now eligible for consideration on the House floor. S-HP
You can speak up on behalf of disaster victims by commenting on FEMA-2019-0004. As of March 13 only two comments had been received. Instructions are here; comments are due by April
11. Bottled water companies pay almost nothing for water
In California in 2016, Crystal Geyser bought access to a spring near the city of Weed from a timber company and began bottling at a rate that made it impossible for the city to continue using this spring as their main water source as had been the case until then. Nestlé’s Arrowhead water comes from the San Bernardino Forest, and the company takes an average of 62.2 million gallons a year. The price? Under a 1978 permit, the company paid an annual fee of just $524, and continued taking water at this rate after the permit expired. Under a new permit issued in 2018, the company now pays $2000 a year—four times the previous year, but still pretty much a literal “steal” at over 31,000 gallons for each dollar paid, according to Sunset Magazine–which published a summary of what a number of companies are making and what they are paying for water.
Across the country, groundwater on both private and public land is increasingly being “purchased” by bottling companies—almost always at rates so low that to call these “purchases” is an example of capitalist wishful thinking. This year, state-level legislation is being considered in Washington, Michigan, and Maine that would place strict limits on the type and amount of water bottling companies could have access to, the Washington Post reports. For example, the Washington legislation would allow use of tap water for bottling, but would prohibit the use of spring water. Communities in Oregon and Montana have passed similar legislation, though the Montana legislation is still being fought in court. S-HP
You might want to suggest to your elected representatives that they consider state legislation of this sort. If you are in California, you can find them here.
12. Your voice is needed on Scalia power grab
We’ve written recently about the new powers Attorney General William Barr has been granted to review and overrule and decisions made in immigration courts. Now it appears that Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia would like to have similar powers, according to Employment Law Daily. A proposed rule change would grant Scalia “discretionary secretarial review over cases pending before or decided by the Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals and to make technical changes to Departmental regulations governing the timing and finality of decisions of the Administrative Review Board and the Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals.” The Board of Alien Labor Certifications Appeals makes decisions regarding the admission of foreign workers to the U.S. Secretary Scalia would be granted the same powers over employee food safety protections and whistle-blowers. To get a sense of who Secretary Scalia is and why you might not want him to be able over-rule these boards, see Common Dreams’ scathing assessment from last fall. As of March 13, one version of this proposal has received a single comment; the other has not received any.
If you’d like to comment for the public record on the proposal to expand Secretary Scalia’s powers, instructions are here. Comments are due by April 6.
13. Food for schoolchildren during the pandemic
Thirty million schoolchildren participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) school meals program. But, as the Union of Concerned Scientists asks, what happens to those students and their food access as schools across the country close in response to the Coronavirus pandemic? As of March 12, 2,100 schools serving 1.3 million students had been closed—and those numbers are increasing rapidly. The USDA has approved proposals for California and Washington to continue providing meals through the school lunch program, with students eating in less-crowded situations than they normally would. S-HP
You can ask state and national government officials to monitor food availability for children during the pandemic and urge them to act as necessary to ensure children are well-fed. Addresses are here.
14. Bill to prohibit the death penalty frozen in the House
Unlike most developed countries, the United States continues to make use of the death penalty, despite the regular overturning of convictions based on DNA evidence and research by programs like the Innocence Project; the clear demonstration of racial bias in applying the death-penalty; and the fact that, since 1973, 165 individuals on death row have been exonerated and released before they could be executed. Ayanna Pressley’s H.R.4052, To Prohibit the Imposition of the Death Penalty for Any Violation of Federal Law, would prohibit the death penalty at the federal level and require re-sentencing of those on death row. This legislation was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee and has sat unaddressed in its Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Committee for over seven months.
If you want to recommend that the Judiciary Committee and House leadership to take strong, positive action on H.R.4052, their addresses are here.
15. Handwashing, isolation impossible in some First Nations communities
While some Canadians are sharing twenty-second songs to time their handwashing and others are debating what to watch during self-isolation, many First Nations people lack running water and live in crowded homes, according to Vice. In addition, as Daniel Morriseau, a spokesperson with Grand Council Treaty #3, explained, “Indigenous reserves are typically made up of the very demographics most at-risk of severe COVID-19 infection: the elderly, the young, and people with diabetes.” In addition, Indigenous children whose parents cannot care for them are often placed with grandparents or great-grandparents. If those relatives die from the coronavirus, children will suffer from the loss and disruption. Prime Minister Trudeau, in self-isolation himself, has made reconciling with First Nations communities central to his public persona. The Walrus had a piece last fall on the problematics of this strategy. RLS
16. Prosecution of killers in El Salvador massacre needs documents from the U.S.
In January, we reported that a Salvadoran general admitted that the US-backed Salvadoran army was responsible for the massacre at El Mozote–where in 1981, 1,000 women, children, and elderly people were killed. As one survivor who lost 24 family members in the massacre told the Washington Post “I saw the soldiers,” she said. “They had forced all the people outside their houses, they had them under a mango tree. I saw my family, I saw what happened. They shot them.”
The massacre was covered up at the time, though reporter Ray Bonner has been insisting on the truth about the massacre and the U.S. role in it for almost 40 years. Now, the killers are finally being prosecuted in El Salvador. However, the judge in case has asked the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for records from the American archives that might illuminate how it was planned, given how closely the Americans were working with the Salvadoran military. Neither the CIA nor the State Department has responded to the request. RLS
If you agree that the U.S. should provide these documents, regardless of the light they shed on our own role in the massacre, relevant committee members’ addresses are here.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
17. Black women face high odds of dying in pregnancy and childbirth
At the end of January, the National Center for Health Statistics released the first standardized maternal mortality rates from all fifty states. That data confirmed what other, less extensive studies have revealed: Black women face much higher odds of complications and death during pregnancy and birth. While the overall rate for maternal deaths in the U.S. is 17.4 deaths per 100,000 live births (the comparable overall rate for wealthy countries is 8 deaths per 100,000 live births), the rate for Black women is 37.1 deaths per 100,000 live births. There are many reasons for this huge gap in outcomes, as NBC News reports. One of the most pernicious is implicit bias: the tendency for medical professionals to offer poorer care and to listen less carefully to Black women who are pregnant, despite no deliberate intention to discriminate.
The Senate now has an opportunity to consider legislation that would address this disparity. S.1600, Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies Act (better known as the “Black Momnibus”) was introduced by Kamala Harris (D-CA) and is supported by Congress’s Black Maternal Health Caucus. This legislation would create two grant programs, one for addressing implicit bias in obstetrics and gynecology, the other for state programs that reduce maternal health-related complications and deaths and that focus on women who are uninsured or enrolled in Medicaid. S.1600 also calls for the National Academy of Medicine to recommend that medical schools incorporate bias recognition in clinical-skills tests. S.1600 is currently with the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. S-HP
To urge your senators to take swift, positive action to address Black maternal health and advance S.1600, ask your Senators to cosponsor this legislation. Addresses here.
18. Trump angles to poach COVID-19 vaccine researchers
German news sources are reporting that President Trump offered large sums of money for German researchers at the company CureVac to come to the United States with their research so that the US would benefit from any potential vaccine. CureVac is a few months from beginning clinical trials for a vaccine to treat COVID-19; additionally, the vaccine is of a kind that uses a very low dose which could theoretically make it easier to produce in the quantities needed worldwide, according to Deutsche Welle, a German news outlet. CureVac works in partnership with German state agencies and labs, so there are political and legal ramifications of such an attempt to poach talent in the middle of a crisis. JC
19. Entire nations are shutting down. Meanwhile in Oklahoma…
The governor of Oklahoma enjoyed a taco dinner with his family in a crowded restaurant on Saturday evening and took a selfie to document the fact which he then posted to Twitter, encouraging all his fellow Oklahomans to do the same, according to The Frontier. The governor has refused to close schools in the state, or cancel large public events, citing the lack of community acquired infections as yet. The problem is that the entire state of Oklahoma has administered very few tests as a percentage of their population, and the tests they have done have not been representative of the state as a whole. The most glaring example of this skewed testing situation is the fact that the Utah Jazz had all 58 members of its team tested in Oklahoma, taking over half of the entire state’s daily capacity at the time, according to Politifact. Epidemiologists universally agree that the most effective quarantine measures are put in place BEFORE community spread occurs. JC
20. Tracking the coronavirus through genetic testing
Comparing the genomes of the coronavirus strain that infected passengers on the Grand Princess cruise ship to the one that infected residents of Washington State, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco have been able to ascertain that the virus likely traveled from a passenger who got on the ship from Washington; the genomes are almost identical. Now the UCSF team is mapping viral strains elsewhere, a process that can identify the multiple strains that might be circulating, some of them undetected. The Mercury News describes this detective work vividly.
Meanwhile, the virus was isolated by two teams of Canadian scientists, who were also able to reproduce it. According to the Globe and Mail, they can now work on developing a vaccine without having to have viruses shipped over the border. The viral strains identified by the two teams were slightly different, and different still from the virus isolated so far in the United States, a variety which will help clarify whether a vaccine can work across multiple strains. RLS
21. New protections proposed for Monarch butterflies
Western monarch butterflies used to number in the millions, but have now been reduced by 99% to an unsustainable population of just 29,000. The drop in population is a result of prolonged drought, loss of milkweed and native pollinator habitat, loss of breeding and overwintering habitat, and climate change. Last month, Representative Jimmy Panetta introduced the bipartisan H.R.5920, the Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat (MONARCH) Act, which would provide additional protections and conservation for Monarchs. H.R.5920 is currently with three House Committees: Natural Resources, Appropriations, and Agriculture. The Agriculture Committee has assigned H.R.5920 to its Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry. S-HP
You can ask the appropriate committee chairs to act quickly to preserve Monarch butterflies and raise the issue with your senators as well.
- The Americas of Conscience Checklist advises us on how to avoid fear and take action.
- If you want to work through Sarah-Hope’s entire list and write comments, you can find it all in one place here.
- Martha’s list this week provides opportunities to comment on the Community Reinvestment Act and the alleged Fair Housing initiative, as well as on the Migratory Bird Act which allows for an increased “take” of migratory birds. You can also review a number of attempts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic–and much more.
- Rogan’s list tells doctors how they can get coronavirus test kits from the University of Washington and has a number of very useful links around the coronavirus.