COVID-19 news, 24-30 May 2020

This week, the US passed 100,000 reported deaths from COVID-19 in three different data sets. Newspapers commemorated the milestone. Global cases passed 6 million (Johns Hopkins).

The week’s biggest COVID-19 political news: President Trump’s statement that he plans to defund WHO.

States continue to plan “re-opening” (reduced physical distancing) with Nevada casinos taking center stage next week. Research released this week showed how stay-at-home orders worked: the doubling rate for COVID-19 dropped from every 5 or 6 days to every 14 days. That collective effort kept the entire health care system from falling to its knees, although that did happen in hot spots, both rural and urban.

Citizens in the both the US and Brazil live with mixed messages about the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 due to political leaders taking a position contrary to that of scientists and public health officials.

What do Mongolia and Vietnam have in common? Coordinated political and public health actions; zero deaths. Mongolia has zero cases of community spread as well.

It’s been difficult to focus on COVID-19 as the week came to a close, because of the death of George Floyd.

Details follow from this week’s COVID-19 newsletters. Also see, around the country in charts (25 May).

📝 Subscribe to Kathy’s COVID-19 Memo :: COVID-19 Memo archives

30 May, Saturday

It’s day 131 since the first case of coronavirus disease was announced in the United States. The World Health Organization reported more than 100,000 deaths today.

100000 deaths

🔬 Research and medical news

The precise herd immunity threshold for the novel coronavirus is not yet clear; but several experts said they believed it would be higher than 60 percent… Even in some of the hardest-hit cities in the world, the studies suggest, the vast majority of people still remain vulnerable to the virus.

The World Is Still Far From Herd Immunity for CoronavirusNew York Times, 28 May 2020.

 

🛑 What happens when the nurse recommends you go to ER to get assessed for COVID-19 … and your ER bill is in the stratosphere? A case study.

Insurers’ moves to waive costs associated with COVID testing and related treatment is vital to stemming the outbreak — but it works only if patients can trust they won’t get stuck with a large bill.

 

‼️Nevada casinos are reopening on 04 June 2020 after having been closed for more than two months.

Nevada gaming authorities released a set of rules Wednesday before Las Vegas Strip properties open, including temperature checks, mask requirements for employees (and encouraged for guests), occupancy limits in gaming areas and social distancing. Clubs remain shuttered until further notice.

🏥 On Saturday, Johns Hopkins reported 6,064,778 cases of COVID-19, marking another milestone. Those reported case data suggest that 42% have recovered and 6.1% have died. Because “recovered cases” is not a universally reported data point, we cannot assume that more than half remain sick.

 

Politics, economics and COVID-19

As in the US, citizens in Brazil live with mixed messages about the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. Despite the lack of scientific research to support their use, both President Trump and President Jair Bolsonaro have touted these drugs (modern use is for autoimmune disease; historical, malaria as a cure), with Trump calling it a “game changer” in March.

Brazil has the world’s second-largest number of casts of COVID-19.

When Brazilian infectologist Marcus Lacerda published research questioning the efficacy of the antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine on patients infected with the novel coronavirus, he received death threats from alleged followersof President Jair Bolsonaro…

The chloroquine issue is a justification for not adopting important measures of social distancing,” said Júlio Croda, a [Brazilian] epidemiologist who stepped down as head of the health ministry’s department of immunisation and transmissible diseases because he opposed the president’s stance.

Earlier this week, WHO temporarily suspended a large-scale trial involving hydroxychloroquine. Belgium, France and Italy subsequently banned the use of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment.

These actions were in response to a study published in The Lancet, 22 May 2020. This analysis of data from 671 hospitals in six continents focused on 96,032 patients (mean age 53·8 years, 46·3% women). Researchers compared these cases with a control group not treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine.

We were unable to confirm a benefit of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, when used alone or with a macrolide, on in-hospital outcomes for COVID-19. Each of these drug regimens was associated with decreased in-hospital survival and an increased frequency of ventricular arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats) when used for treatment of COVID-19 (emphasis added).

Hospital staff and researchers have questioned the source of the data for the study, Surgisphere, a private firm. One error identified in The Guardian that has been corrected; a hospital had been placed in the incorrect geographic category, an error which did not affect study conclusions.

Dr Allen Cheng, an Australian epidemiologist and infectious disease doctor, “stressed that even if the paper proved to be problematic, it did not mean hydroxychloroquine was safe or effective in treating Covid-19. No strong studies to date have shown the drug is effective.”

 

 

29 May, Friday

It’s day 130 since the first case of coronavirus disease was announced in the United States.

It’s been difficult to focus on COVID-19 as the week came to a close, because of the death of George Floyd.

🤓 Recommended reading

This op-ed in the Washington Post stitches together COVID-19 and the current outrage about the death of George Floyd. It is well-written satire. This is my only recommended reading for the day. Please give it your time.

If we talked about what is happening in Minneapolis the same way we talk about events in a foreign country, here’s how the Western media would cover it. The quotes and those “quoted” in the piece below are fictional…

Now, as the country marks 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, the former British colony finds itself in a downward spiral of ethnic violence. The fatigue and paralysis of the international community are evident in its silence, America experts say.

How Western media would cover Minneapolis if it happened in another country. Washington Post, 29 May 2020.

 

Mongolia joins Vietnam as an example of a country that took this disease seriously in January and, consequently, protected both their citizens and their economies. Mongolia had “zero deaths … zero local transmissions” as of 18 May 2020

With a population of approximately 3,278,000, as of 29 May, Mongolia had zero deaths and 179 cases, according to the Johns Hopkins database.

Vietnam, with a population of approximately 97,339,000 had zero deaths and 328 cases, according to the Johns Hopkins database.

✅ For the sixth day in a row, the seven-day average has been fewer than 1,000 deaths per day (Johns Hopkins). It has only been three days for the COVID-tracking project.

 

Politics, economics and COVID-19

❌ The biggest COVID-19 political news on Friday, both domestically and globally, was President Trump’s announcement that he would cut the US ties with the World Health Organization.

In a speech in the White House Rose Garden which was chiefly devoted to castigating China, and threatening new sanctions over its actions in Hong Kong, the president claimed that “China has total control over” the WHO.

Like this news story from The Guardian, most reporting was “this is what he said” not “does he have this authority” or “what does this mean.”

Foreign Policy follows the traditional “he said / she said” format, with predictable quotes from public health officials who served in the Obama Administration. [No wonder there is a sizable number of people who don’t trust news media.] I label this the “easy to write” story: just phone or email your contacts on “the other side” and you’ve written a “balanced” story that an editor can rubberstamp.

Partial and misleading context from the LA Times (emphasis and commentary added):

The U.S. is the largest source of financial support to the WHO and its exit is expected to significantly weaken the organization (what’s the source? who said? this is “trust me” reporting).

There is no source for either claim, and both are claims not fact.

Here are the numbers. The WHO assessment is based on a country’s wealth and population. We are the third largest country in the world.

Assessed contributions have declined as an overall percentage of the Programme Budget and have, for several years, accounted for less than one quarter of the Organization’s financing… WHO assessed contributions are due and payable as of 1 January each year.

WHO Biennial Assessment (2020 USD & 2020 CHF)

  • Total assessment: 246,763,095 USD and 247,269,59 CHF
  • Total US assessment: 57,883,460 USD and 59,099,01 CHF which is 2020 assessment of $115,766,920 (we are six months late in this payment) and 2021 assessment of $115,766,924 (we account for approximately one-quarter of the WHO member assessment each year)
  • US balance outstanding 31 Dec 2019 (we are in arrears from 2019): 71,061,798 USD & 67,839,678 CHF

After attacking WHO and claiming it was too close to China, Trump then attacked Hong Kong.

We will take action to revoke Hong Kong’s preferential treatment as a separate customs and travel territory from the rest of China

✅ In positive news, public pressure on the Trump Administration led to a reversal of the decision to end COVID-19 related National Guard service at the 89-day mark.

28 May, Thursday

It’s day 129 since the first case of coronavirus disease was announced in the United States.

The CDC and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reported more than 100,000 deaths today.

100,000 covid 19 deaths

 

🤓 Recommended reading

“When we proposed testing everyone in a census district, it was met with enormous obstacles. Where? Everything’s shut. Who? There’s no volunteers. There’s no protocols, there’s no supplies, there’s no labs. There’s no systems to get data back to people,” Havlir recalled. “And think of the paradox of this. We’ve told people to shelter in place, to stay home, and now we’re saying, ‘Oh no, please come out and get a test.’”…

The testing project is proving to be a national model, because of the challenges the organizers overcame and what it showed about the spread of Covid-19…

Jacobo, an affordable housing advocate who lives in the census tract and served as the Latino press secretary for Bernie Sanders’ presidential run, likened the effort to political work. “This was really employing a campaigning methodology, thinking of it as if it were a ballot measure or a candidate we were pushing, but really it was the testing,” he said. “What that translates into is door knocking on all 1,400 doors of this census tract, flyering all 1,400 homes in this census tract, and phone banking.”

When hard data are ‘heartbreaking’: Testing blitz in San Francisco shows Covid-19 struck mostly low-wage workers. STAT News, 28 May 2020.

 

California. All registered voters will be able to vote-by-mail in the November election to avoid the risk of COVID-19 (contracting or spreading). California has been moving towards 100% vote-by-mail for several years, so this step is not as great as it would be for many. Colorado, Oregon and Washington vote by mail, with voting centers in each county for those who need assistance.

Massachusetts. The 124th Boston Marathon, which had been rescheduled from 20 April to 14 September, has been canceled. There will be a virtual race between 07 and 14 September; “participants who provide proof that they completed 26.2 miles within six hours during that period will receive a medal, runner’s bib and shirt.” This is the second time the race has been canceled or postponed; the first was “in 1918 when a military relay race was held during World War I.”

As of Thursday, 12,634 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Boston; 627 patients have died.

Pennsylvania. On March 24, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen distributed a memo directing DOJ officials to “consider prosecuting certain ‘purposeful exposure or infection of others with COVID-19’ under federal terrorism-related statutes.”

The same day, news organizations reported that a 57 year old man was “facing charges of terroristic threats, simple assault by physical menace, disorderly conduct and harassment” for “deliberately” coughing near a man wearing a mask at the grocery store. The man was not infected; he was merely a bully.

But what if the purposeful exposure is secret? Here’s what we learned this week.

Reportedly, the Pennsylvania Republican caucus was aware that a state House member had tested positive for COVID-19. At least one GOP House member went into quarantine.

But no one told the Democratic caucus. So House members who had been in committee meetings sitting near someone who had been infected or exposed did not know they should be in quarantine. The state attorney general, a Democrat, does not seem inclined to charge anyone with a crime.

Washington. Bloomberg Businessweek plans to track businesses in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood for “as long as” a year to gain insight into what “cities will look like on the other side of the Covid crisis.” There are currently six stories.

 

Politics, economics and COVID-19

This should make you very angry. Contact your Congressman.

Reuters has discovered that “110 publicly traded companies have each received $4 million or more in emergency aid” from the “small business” fund Congress passed. Not what most of us think of as “small business,” eh?

Of the almost 110 recipients of $4 million or more, Reuters found some 46 paid no U.S. corporate tax for the last year. There are many reasons for this, not all to do with tax avoidance.

TWELVE that received more than $104 million in loans “used offshore havens to cut their tax bills.”

One is one too many.

“This pandemic has laid bare a corporate culture in large companies to avoid paying taxes in profitable years but come to the government for handouts in a crisis,” [Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)] said in response to Reuters’ reporting.

Don’t buy Zagg phone accessories ever again.

 

This is the Washington Post front page for Thursday; commemorative front page and interactive graphic.

Washington Post home page

27 May, Wednesday

It’s day 128 since the first case of coronavirus disease was announced in the United States.

According to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard managed by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering, reported deaths exceed 100,000.

However no official government source has yet met this threshold. Inexplicably, the data upon which all sources should rest – reports from state departments of health – presents the smallest number.

COVID 100000 deaths

🔬 Research and medical news

After 42 US states and Washington, DC, issued stay-at-home orders in response to the rising death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, the overall community infection rate declined by about 58%, according to a new study in the American Journal of Infection Control.

The doubling rate dropped from every 5 or 6 days to every 14 days. That collective effort kept the entire health care system from falling to its knees, although that did happen in hot spots, both rural and. urban.

You can follow along as the researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore update their results daily at hpmcovidpolicy.org.

Politics, economics and COVID-19

Americans, as a public, generally agree about the civic virtue of wearing masks: When surveyed, pluralities have called the practice respectful to others and important for public health. The viral videos, however, suggest otherwise. They imply division. They suggest that America’s culture war will be fought even in the presence of consensus—that the war’s soldiers, indignant and defiant, will take even the most straightforward of medical advice and make a great show of refusing to comply with it. Masks serve to protect not their wearers but the people their wearers come in contact with; to put them on is to engage in a basic but highly visible act of altruism. That fact alone has led to accusations that mask-wearing is a form of virtue-signaling: a smug display of moral values. The refusal to wear masks, though, recorded and turned into shareable media, is evidence of the opposite: vice signaling (emphasis added).

I still want to believe this “vice signaling” or random acts of selfishness reflect the minority. A loud minority, perhaps, but a minority.

And yet when I talk with friends around the country, I hear tales of being one of a handful of people in a grocery store wearing a mask. Of children running through retail establishments, maskless. I recall my own outrage at a woman in Fred Meyer with five kids in tow, all maskless, in late April. Or early May. Time is squishy.

Masks are tools of public health. The nation is nearing a grim and gutting milestone: Almost 100,000 Americans have now been killed by a virus that is transmitted, in part, through human breath. But not only does the president still refuse to model the very simple behavior that could help curb transmission of the illness; he also mocks those who do as arbiters of political correctness. He implies that mask-wearing is best understood as an act of personal brand management—a show like any other. One more virtue signal. One more act of smug condescension. The logic of political correctness, as he sees it, leaves no room for good faith, no space for altruism. It’s PR, all the way down. Asked why he refused to wear a mask during a visit to a Ford plant earlier this month, the president explained: “I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”

Trump’s actions are loud, and the model he sets, selfish and antithetical to the public good. The outlook for November in the light of COVID-19, grim.

This is the USA Today front page for Wednesday.

USA Today front page

26 May, Tuesday

It’s day 127 since the first case of coronavirus disease was announced in the United States.

It is unclear whether the decline in deaths reported over the past three days is a real slowing or if it is related to reporting lags associated with a three-day holiday weekend. Weekend numbers have consistently shown a dip (cases and deaths), but this three-day drop is particularly dramatic.

🔬 Research and medical news

🦠The decline in public trust in institutions is a barrier to containing COVID-19. University of Oxford research psychologists have discovered that “a disconcertingly high number of adults in England do not agree with the scientific and governmental consensus on the coronavirus pandemic.”

One-quarter of those surveyed had either a “consistent pattern of endorsement” or “very high levels of endorsement” of conspiracy theories. This group is less likely to get tested, wear a mask or take a vaccine should one be developed.

Coronavirus Conspiracy Beliefs, Mistrust, and Compliance with Government Guidelines in England. Psychological Medicine, 20 May 2020. Pre-print; open access.

 

❌ In Missouri, videos of crowds in Lake of the Ozarks led health officials in Kansasand St. Louis to ask “partygoers to self-isolate for 14 days before returning to their jobs.”

Nevada plans to re-open the gaming industry next week (04 June). Announcement is the same day the governor reports he’s been exposed to the virus.

❌ Pennsylvania is holding its Democratic and Republican primary next week, Tuesday 02 June. It was still accepting applications for absentee ballots today, Tuesday 26 May.

“There are going to be many people who are still going to be receiving their ballots very close to election day or on election day,” Delaware County Councilwoman Christine Reuther said. “I’m very worried that people are going to be disenfranchised.”

… Absentee ballots must be received by county elections officials by 8 p.m. on election day to be counted, regardless of when they were mailed. Postmarks don’t count.

A one-week turnaround was never a good idea. It’s even less of a good idea today, when far more citizens than normal wish to avoid the polls, for good reason. Any Pennsylvania voter can request a mail-in absentee ballot.

While vote-by-mail can be secure and enfranchising (see Colorado, Oregon and Washington) it requires a different set of systems and processes from voting at polls.

❌ There are more than 11,000 coronavirus cases tied to US meat processors: JBS (the 2nd largest), Smithfield Foods (the 4th largest) and Tyson Foods (the largest). On the eastern shore of Virginia, a Tyson facility had a 20% infection rate last week. As in many rural areas, the Accomack County VA case rate of 2,194 per 100,000 population was at that time the third highest in Virginia. The US average today is 507.

❌ Fewer than one-in-five Americans say that they know someone who has died from COVID-19. That changes when you’re a person of color.

✅ Next week, Singapore plans to begin a three-phased opening which will “likely take about four to six weeks, according to officials.” This is manufacturing, insurance and finance, storage and transportation: sectors that do not have interactions with a large portion of the public.

 

25 May, Memorial day

It’s day 126 since the first case of coronavirus disease was announced in the United States.

The WHO temporarily suspends hydroxychloroquine treatment in COVID-19 solidarity trial.

In an announcement made by WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday afternoon, the global organization cited data published by The Lancet on Friday, May 22, which showed autoimmune therapies hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine—with or without a macrolide—did not conclusively show in-hospital outcome benefits.

🔬 Research and medical news

On 9 March, a patient who had recently traveled to Europe and had symptoms of COVID-19 visited the emergency department of St Augustine’s, a private hospital in Durban, South Africa. Eight weeks later, 39 patients and 80 staff linked to the hospital had been infected, and 15 patients had died—fully half the death toll in KwaZulu-Natal province at that time.

Study tells ‘remarkable story’ about COVID-19’s deadly rampage through a South African hospital. Science, 25 May 2020.

😎 Brighten your day

A 101-year-old World War II veteran and his 73-year-old daughter — who live at the same Maryland nursing home — were able to celebrate Memorial Day Weekend together after both beating the coronavirus.

101-year-old WWII vet, daughter beat coronavirus together at Maryland nursing home. New York Post, 24 May 2020.

24 May, Sunday

It’s day 125 since the first case of coronavirus disease was announced in the United States.

This Memorial Day weekend Sunday was notable for the number of states that did not update data with their per capital case rate (per 100,000 population).

  1. Alaska (55.8, reported no new cases on Saturday)
  2. Colorado (416.1, last update Saturday afternoon)
  3. District of Columbia (1,128.7 last update Saturday)
  4. Idaho (146.5 last update Saturday)
  5. Kansas (307.5 last update Saturday)
  6. Kentucky (191.9 last update Saturday)
  7. Montana (44.8 last update Saturday)

This is the New York Times home page for Sunday.

New York Times home page

And the story.

NYT Story, 100K deaths

The New York Times front page.

NY Times front page

Written by Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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