To reduce the chaos of multiple stories, we offer you an overview of all things coronavirus, from the impact on the economy to the strains that are circulating, to the likely impact on elections. We also alert you to what kinds of machinations are going on in the name of coronavirus defense.
Apropos of which, are you mystified by Trump’s approval ratings during the coronavirus outbreak? Heather Cox Richardson explains.
Now more than ever, it’s hard to get fact-checked news. We suggest some lesser-known but notable sources:
- Specializing in in-depth, freshly reported stories from around the world, the Daylighter now has been running illuminating coronavirus updates.
- We also recommend Cold Type, which has news, features, analysis, history–from everywhere. Don’t miss it.
- The Center for Public Integrity always has reliable, unexpected investigative pieces.
- We count on Crysostom’s election round-ups (and a little election gossip). He’ll let you know where Mitch McConnell’s super-pak is putting its money and measures the effect on the re-election prospects of those senators who dumped stocks rather than warning the public about the coronavirus.
1. Under cover of COVID-19
The administration has been slow and disorganized in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s been quick to capitalize on the chaos created by coronavirus to roll back regulations and take other actions that would face a much more critical response in ordinary times. A few of these changes and proposed changes:
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced, retroactive to March 13, that it will allow corporations to monitor themselves for compliance with environmental regulations and will not issue fines for many kinds of reporting violations, according to the Hill. The EPA has also announced a suspension of its enforcement of environmental laws, including those around pollution, according to the New York Times.
- The administration has announced plans to use pandemic protections to justify immediately turning away asylum seekers and would-be immigrants crossing the U.S.’s southern border, reported CBS News.
- The New York Times reports that a rollback of automobile fuel efficiency standards is expected next week.
- The Federal Labor Relations Authority has made it easier for federal employees to stop withholding of their union dues.
- Workers at the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department have been told not to relax deadlines for public comment despite ways the coronavirus pandemic might slow individuals’ and organizations’ ability to file such comments. Many comment periods are being limited to thirty days, the bare minimum required under law.
- Under a supposed move for “transparency,” an EPA rules change would essentially bar a significant proportion of scientific research from consideration in policymaking because these studies do not release the personal health information of the participants—a standard ethical practice in such research (see our 2nd story on March 15 for more detail. This proposal is particularly salient at the moment because it may prohibit research into the coronavirus and its treatment from consideration in policymaking.
- The Department of Justice has requested Congressional authorization to hold individuals indefinitely during federal emergencies without following rules of habeus corpus, Rolling Stone noted.. This proposal is unlikely to receive Congressional approval, but shows the kind of moves the administration is currently attempting. S-HP.
You may want to tell the EPA that self-monitoring and eliminated fines for corporations are an invitation to wreak environmental havoc and that “transparency” should not be used as an excuse to ignore the best available scientific research. You could also tell Homeland Security that the U.S. continue to follow international law regarding the processing of asylum seekers. Addresses here.
2. Children, adults in detention dealing with coronavirus
With four children having tested positive for coronavirus in a federal shelter in New York, a federal judge has ordered the U.S. to release the 3,600 asylum-seeking children separated from their parents to sponsors as soon as possible. As the New York Times reported on March 29, Judge Dolly M. Gee of the United States District Court ordered authorities to report by April 6 on their efforts to release the children. Last year, PBS reported on how being institutionalized has long-term psychological effects on children and NBC News has a piece on the terror of children in detention as the pandemic spreads.
In addition, the Southern Poverty Law Center, along with others, filed a petition over this past weekend, insisting that ICE either release asylum-seekers in detention centers or find some way to protect them. Detainees and staff are beginning to test positive, but ICE has not intensified its medical response. As things stand, those detained cannot possibly maintain physical distancing and have limited access to soap and washing facilities. A district judge set a date of April 13 for an expedited hearing. The SPLC quotes one plaintiff from California, at high risk from coronavirus due to age and other factors, as saying, “I am scared for my life.” RLS
Youth justice advocates in 30 states have called for the release of youth in detention centers and juvenile justice facilities. Access the state-level campaigns here. Raices has filed suit for the release of families in detention, given the conditions they live in and the risks of the virus; find out about their work here.
3. Coronavirus legislation overlooks needs of those with disabilities
Disability rights advocates are raising concerns that the conronavirus response legislation passed thus far omits funding for services essential to the disabled community. The Arc outlines those shortcomings. Autistic Advocacy and the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network suggest contacting Congress to ask for legislation that provides the following
- Extra funding so Medicaid can still provide home and community-based services during the crisis.
- Making sure family caregivers for adults with disabilities are covered by paid leave.
- Making sure that people on SSI or SSDI are able to receive cash payments like everyone else, without worrying about income or asset limits.
- Making sure that people with disabilities can get medications refilled.
- Making sure people with disabilities don’t face discrimination in health care.
- Protecting the rights of students with disabilities.
- Permanently reauthorizing Money Follows the Person, to make sure that people who are institutionalized during the crisis can return to their homes and communities.
ProPublica has also reported that as states prepare triage procedures (the way care is assigned when there isn’t enough to go around), it appears that those with intellectual disabilities may be among those denied care. ProPublica cites the following language from Alabama’s proposed procedures: “‘Persons with severe mental retardation, advanced dementia or severe traumatic brain injury may be poor candidates for ventilator support”; [and] “persons with severe or profound mental retardation, moderate to severe dementia, or catastrophic neurological complications such as persistent vegetative state are unlikely candidates for ventilator support.’” The suggestion that intellectual disabilities are equivalent to being in a vegetative state are both disturbing and dehumanizing. Other states with potentially problematic triage priorities include Washington, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. As a result, disability rights groups have filed multiple complaints and queries with the Department of Health and Human Services regarding the decision-making being done on the state level. According to the New York Times, the U.S Office of Civil Rights has opened in investigation to make sure that state-level rationing plans “are fully compliant with civil rights law.” S-HP
We suggest that you call for coronavirus legislation that includes provisions essential for the disabled community, demand federal-level monitoring/legislation to protect people with intellectual disabilities from bigoted denial of service, and emphasize that intellectual disability is not an appropriate ground for denying limited-availability resources and care.
4. Native American communities not receiving promised funds
Vox reports that on March 6, Congress allocated $40 million in coronavirus aid to assist in the surveillance of the virus, laboratory capacity, infection control, and other initial preparedness and response activities. Congress also subsequently allocated another $64 million in aid directly to Indian Health Services. On March 20, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Indian Health Service, announced it was prepared to release $80 million in coronavirus funding to tribes, tribal organizations, and Urban Indian Organizations. However, citing sources familiar with the Indian Health Service, Vox reports that as of March 21, only 2% of tribal clinics had received this because of the lack of bureaucratic mechanisms to distribute funds from the CDC. Meanwhile, the American Indian Health Service reports that it is dangerously low on medical supplies and equipment. S-HP
You might share your concerns about the need for expedited release of these funds with the heads of Health and Human Services and the CDC, and ask your Congressmembers to intervene to see that these funds are disbursed quickly. Addresses are here.
5. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe wins legal battle against DAPL
The Dakota Access Pipeline lost its permits to run a pipeline across Standing Rock Sioux Tribal land as a result of a decision by a federal judge last week. The judge said that the company had not adequately addressed the Tribe’s concerns about the liklihood of an oil spills, and found that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it granted the pipeline permits in 2016. The judge is requiring the company to do a full environmental impact report, which the Sioux have been requesting from the beginning. As Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith told Earthjustice, “It’s humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet.” RLS
6. Coronavirus used to restrict abortion access
In preparation for a likely influx of coronavirus patients, a number of governors are calling for a halt of elective hospital procedures until the pandemic wanes. While this move makes sense generally, it is being used deliberately to restrict abortion access. As the LA Times puts it, “A ‘postponed’ abortion? Yeah, that’s called having the baby.” The Governors of Mississippi, Ohio, and Texas have all halted elective procedures and have included abortions on the list of procedures to be discontinued. However, unlike, say, cosmetic surgery, which can be safely postponed, abortions cannot be delayed for any significant length of time, particularly because the procedure becomes riskier for women as they move further along in their pregnancies. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Lawyering Project and other organizations have filed a lawsuit to stop the postponement of abortions. S-HP
Do you think that these governors should be able to decide whether an abortion is essential? If not, you can reach them at these addresses.
7. Blood shortages projected: FDA urged to lift ban on gay men donating
As schools, community centers, churches, and similar venues close because of coronavirus and as healthcare staff shortages increase, blood drives are being cancelled across the country. The Red Cross has canceled more than 5,000 blood drives in order to follow CDC guidelines regarding social distancing and other preventive measures. As a result, the available blood supplies are shrinking, and we are faced with the possibility of massive shortages, according to the Guardian. One way to increase the rate of blood donation at this crucial time would be for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lift its ban on donations from men who have had sex with other men in the past year. (Canada permits such men to donate if they have not had sex within the last three months.) A group of US senators has called on the FDA to drop the ban, saying that given increased blood screening capabilities, the ban is discriminatory and unnecessary, Time reports. S-HP
You could call on the Commissioner of Food and Drugs to end to this discriminatory rule that excludes willing blood donors at the time we need them most.
8. Trump eviscerating union rights
Trump has been using executive orders to weaken union and collective bargaining rights for federal employees. These rollbacks include three 2018 orders shortening performance improvement plans to thirty days, exempting adverse personnel actions from grievance proceeding, placing time limits on collective bargaining, and severely restricting the time federal employees can spend on union-related work. Unions challenged these moves in court, but were told that they can only challenge the provisions of these executive orders through concrete disputes with agencies before the Federal Labor Relations Authority, meaning the changes will have to be fought piecemeal over an extended period of time. More recently, Trump signed off on a memo giving Defense Secretary Mark Esper the right to exempt any of the units he oversees from federal labor law. Now a bipartisan group of Representatives has introduced H.R.6246: To Provide that Certain Executive Orders with Respect to Federal Employee Collective Bargaining Shall Have No Force or Effect. H.R.6246 is currently with the House Oversight and Reform Committee. S-HP
You can ask your representatives for quick, positive action on H.R. 6246. Contact information is here.
9. Trump packing courts
One of the major “accomplishments” of the current administration has been the ongoing warp-speed confirmation of federal judges, including two Supreme Court Justices who are young enough to continue serving on the court for decades. The New York Times now reports Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans have also been systematically identifying judges appointed by Republican presidents who are eligible for retirement or senior status and encouraging them to make the transition now, so that their replacements can be appointed by Trump before the possible election of a Democratic President or Senate in November’s elections. More than ninety Republic-appointed judges are or will be eligible for “senior status” before the end of the year. Senior status judges can continue to hear cases, hire clerks, and receive pay, but their seats become officially vacant, allowing the president to appoint new judges, even if the senior status judges continue to work. Many of these potential appointments are on appeals courts—and appeal court rulings can become binding precedent, affecting future rulings. The New York Times quotes Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer explaining, “Senator McConnell knows he can’t achieve any of his extreme goals legislatively, so he continues to attempt to pull America to the far right by packing the courts.” S-HP
If you are so inclined, you could tell your senators that you are object to this deliberate attempt to warp the nation’s judicial processes and urge them to resist the continuing rapid pace of judicial appointments.
10. Elections at risk during COVID-19 pandemic
U.S. election security and functions were at risk before the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, which has significantly worsened these problems. The Resilient Elections During Quarantines and Natural Disasters Act, (S.3440 in the Senate; H.R.6202 in the House) would address these problems by requiring states and jurisdictions to develop plans to facilitate elections during disaster, including the coronavirus pandemic, by making vote-by-mail ballots easy to request and readily available, including the options of requesting these ballots online and printing ballots at home, the Hill explains. It would also allow absentee ballot requests to be submitted up to five days before an election if requested via mail and one day if requested online. Finally, it requires that states and jurisdictions provide pre-paid envelopes for voters casting mail ballot. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and other signers have sent a letter to Congress urging Congressmembers to act quickly. S-HP
If you want to advise your Congressmembers to support the Resilient Elections During Quarantines and Natural Disasters Act and similar legislation, addresses are here.
11. Why Italy was hit so hard
Given that Italy had a thriving economy, a higher life-expectancy than most Western countries and more health-care beds per person than the U.S., why has the coronavirus hit it so hard? Foreign policy writer Conn Hallinan thinks it has to do with the country’s anti-immigration policy. Because birthrates are low among Italians and immigration has been restricted, 23 per cent of Italians are over 65–and the death rate of coronavirus jumps to 8 per cent at age 70. Austerity measures following the economic crisis of 2008 also targeted health care, so that the country had insufficient margin. (He describes for-profit health care and managed care as the culpits in the U.S.) In Dispatches from the Edge, Hallinan explains that countries which keep out immigrants and allow their population to age will be at similar risk, exacerbated by the lack of working-age adults to fund social spending. RLS
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
12. COVID-19: One month update
Readers may recall the snapshot overview we provided on March 1st. It is now four weeks later and we have some better clarity on where the United States stands confronting this pandemic. As before, data is changing hourly in this rapidly evolving world catastrophe.
Currently there are 199 countries and territories reporting at least one infection, for a total of about 722,000 infections recorded and about 34,000 deaths. You may have heard the word “exponential” used regarding this virus and if you compare these numbers to the numbers provided just four weeks ago you will see why: They have doubled roughly every week with that period shortening as we move further from the brief flattening in the curve China managed to produce. It has become clear that the most important single factor in preserving life during this crisis is to have adequate hospital care available for patients in severe respiratory distress, meaning ventilators and ECMO machines, as well as healthcare workers well enough to operate them. As it currently stands, no country in the world is adequately prepared for the numbers we will be seeing in coming weeks and so heartbreaking decisions are facing medical staff, as has already been the case in Italy, regarding who will get life-saving care and who will not.
The virus itself is not remaining idle either, with eight distinct strains of the virus recorded around the world. As far as can be determined, the differences in the strains are not causing either less or more severe illness but they do allow for opportunities for forensic tracking via the evolution of the genome, USA Today reports. Evidence based on this tracking suggests that strategies of social distancing are effective in slowing or even halting the spread of the disease. The entire genome has been available for awhile now and it is apparent to experts that it is not of human design, instead almost certainly originating from an animal host and crossing to humans in China.
Speculation that the impact to the world economy would be severe has proven correct as the New York Stock Exchange recorded the largest drop ever and the second largest by percentage since the ‘Black Friday’ event of 1987, with other less severe but substantial drops occurring–as well as modest rallies in response to positive news. A record three million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks. Trillions of dollars have evaporated, negating years of positive growth which has prompted some, mostly on the political right, to posit that the costs of social distancing might be more than the cost of simply allowing the virus to rapidly spread. Health experts are broadly unified in their recommendation that social activities be limited to the bare essential, regardless of economic cost, since the consequences of an even more rapid spread would be horrific, the Connecticut Mirror points out. Repeated models of more limited measures, such as isolating only the sick, family of the ill and the most high-risk show that they are inadequate to prevent the collapse of our healthcare system, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths.
It is puzzling as to how billionaire investors, President Trump and others who support an early cessation of social distancing measures think that a completely overwhelmed medical system throughout the entire nation with commensurate mass casualties will not result in devastating economic losses as well. Already there has been backtracking on the ideas being floated, withTrump apparently giving up on his Easter date and aiming for the end of April (which is also insufficient) and suggesting that 100,000 American deaths would be “a very good job,” essentially a concession that there will be a massive loss of life as a result of this pandemic. As a basis for comparison, the worst flu season in the last forty years was in 2018; it claimed 80,000 lives.
While the economic and human cost of the pandemic have been getting much attention, social costs are beginning to show, highlighting long standing cracks in societies. Southern Italy has been dealing with a growing rise of discontent in the face of their country’s relatively severe restrictions of movement. Southern Italy has long been poorer and more discontented than the northern areas where the virus has hit hardest: Now there are people going hungry and altercations over food and cash. Meanwhile, here in the United States, domestic terrorists do not seem to be hesitant in using the disorder caused by the virus to identify weak areas to attack. A white supremacist was arrested after plotting to bomb a hospital, the front line of the fight, ABC News reported.
Finally, while China was aggressive in its response to the outbreak and enacted sweeping suppressive measures, evidence is emerging that the peak of their infection was far worse than official numbers record, Newsweek suggests, estimating from numbers of cremations and the shipments of urns. In addition, due to the official Chinese narrative that the enormous government response was successful in stamping down the infection, foreigners are now blamed for every new case of infection within the country, Foreign Policy notes. President Trump’s branding of COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” is adding fuel to the xenophobia and nationalism brewing.
Current CDC recommendations are that all persons able to stay home and/or work from home should do so. If ill, you are advised to wear a mask and continue using effective hand washing and disinfection of regularly contacted surfaces. Only go to the hospital if you or a loved one are seriously ill, such as experiencing significant shortness of breath and chest pain, having blue lips or being unresponsive. The three major symptoms of the illness are fever, cough and shortness of breath with fatigue. Most people who fall ill do recover at home and it is important that if you can self treat, you should do so–as the strain on medical resources will be acute. JC
- The Americas of Conscience Checklist is tracking its impact. See what your calls and letters have accomplished!
- Sarah-Hope’s action items follow the news summaries above, but if you want the whole group of summaries and items for postcarding, it is here.
- Martha tells us that regulations.gov, which receives public comment, is a moving target because of the coronavirus emergency. She sees echoed the issue we raise above about what is being done in the name of COVID. In the “recent” section at the following link, there are numerous changes across agencies enacted/proclaimed because of the pandemic. Here are the opportunities to comment through all this that she has collected.
- Rogan’s list has a link to surgical mask-making instructions, a site where you can donate undocumented workers, a way to advocate against water-shutoffs–and more.