The Fed’s independence helped it save the US economy in 2008 – the CDC needs the same authority today

https://theconversation.com/the-feds-independence-helped-it-save-the-us-economy-in-2008-the-cdc-needs-the-same-authority-today-142593

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The image of scientists standing beside governors, mayors or the president has become common during the pandemic. Even the most cynical politician knows this public health emergency cannot be properly addressed without relying on the scientific knowledge possessed by these experts.

Yet, ultimately, U.S. government health experts have limited power. They work at the discretion of the White House, leaving their guidance subject to the whims of politicians and them less able to take urgent action to contain the pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines only to later revise them after the White House intervened. The administration has also undermined its top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, over his blunt warnings that the pandemic is getting worse – a view that contradicts White House talking points.

And most recently, the White House stripped the CDC of control of coronavirus data, alarming health experts who fear it will be politicized or withheld.

In the realm of monetary policy, however, there is an agency with experts trusted to make decisions on their own in the best interests of the U.S. economy: the Federal Reserve. As I describe in my recent book, “Stewards of the Market,” the Fed’s independence allowed it to take politically risky actions that helped rescue the economy during the financial crisis of 2008.

That’s why I believe we should give the CDC the same type of authority as the Fed so that it can effectively guide the public through health emergencies without fear of running afoul of politicians.

 

The paradox of expertise

There is a paradox inherent in the relationship between political leaders and technical experts in government.

Experts have the training and skill to apply scientific knowledge in complex biological and economic systems, yet democratically elected political leaders may overrule or ignore their advice for ill or good.

This happened in May when the CDC, the federal agency charged with controlling the spread of disease, removed advice regarding the dangers of singing in church choirs from its website. It did not do so because of new evidence. Rather, it was because of political pressure from the White House to water down the guidance for religious groups.

Similarly, the White House undermined the CDC’s guidance on school reopenings and has pressured it to revise them. So far, it seems the CDC has rebuffed the request.

The ability of elected leaders to ignore scientists – or the scientists’ acquiescence to policies they believe are detrimental to public welfare – is facilitated by many politicians’ penchant for confident assertion of knowledge and the scientist’s trained reluctance to do so.

Compare Fauci’s repeated comment that “there is much we don’t know about the virus” with President Donald Trump’s confident assertion that “we have it totally under control.”

 

Experts with independence

Given these constraints on technical expertise, the performance of the Fed in the financial crisis of 2008 offers an informative example that may be usefully applied to the CDC today.

The Federal Reserve is not an executive agency under the president, though it is chartered and overseen by Congress. It was created in 1913 to provide economic stability, and its powers have expanded to guard against both depression and crippling inflation.

At its founding, the structure of the Fed was a political compromise designed make it independent within the government in order to de-politicize its economic policy decisions. Today its decisions are made by a seven-member board of governors and a 12-member Federal Open Market Committee. The members, almost all Ph.D. economists, have had careers in academia, business and government. They come together to analyze economic data, develop a common understanding of what they believe is happening and create policy that matches their shared analysisThis group policymaking is optimal when circumstances are highly uncertain, such as in 2008 when the global financial system was melting down.

The Fed was the lead actor in preventing the system’s collapse and spent several trillion dollars buying risky financial assets and lending to foreign central banks – decisions that were pivotal in calming financial markets but would have been much harder or may not have happened at all without its independent authority.

The Fed’s independence is sufficiently ingrained in our political culture that its chair can have a running disagreement with the president yet keep his job and authority.

 

Putting experts at the wheel

A health crisis needs trusted experts to guide decision-making no less than an economic one does. This suggests the CDC or some re-imagined version of it should be made into an independent agency.

Like the Fed, the CDC is run by technical experts who are often among the best minds in their fields. Like the Fed, the CDC is responsible for both analysis and crisis response. Like the Fed, the domain of the CDC is prone to politicization that may interfere with rational response. And like the Fed, the CDC is responsible for decisions that affect fundamental aspects of the quality of life in the United States.

Were the CDC independent right now, we would likely see a centralized crisis management effort that relies on the best science, as opposed to the current patchwork approach that has failed to contain the outbreak nationally. We would also likely see stronger and consistent recommendations on masks, social distancing and the safest way to reopen the economy and schools.

Independence will not eliminate the paradox of technical expertise in government. The Fed itself has at times succumbed to political pressure. And Trump would likely try to undermine an independent CDC’s legitimacy if its policies conflicted with his political agenda – as he has tried to do with the central bank.

But independence provides a strong shield that would make it much more likely that when political calculations are at odds with science, science wins.

 

 

 

 

Misinformation on coronavirus is proving highly contagious

https://apnews.com/86f61f3ffb6173c29bc7db201c10f141?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Newsletter%20Weekly%20Roundup:%20Healthcare%20Dive:%20Daily%20Dive%2008-01-2020&utm_term=Healthcare%20Dive%20Weekender

Misinformation on the coronavirus is proving highly contagious ...

As the world races to find a vaccine and a treatment for COVID-19, there is seemingly no antidote in sight for the burgeoning outbreak of coronavirus conspiracy theories, hoaxes, anti-mask myths and sham cures.

The phenomenon, unfolding largely on social media, escalated this week when President Donald Trump retweeted a false video about an anti-malaria drug being a cure for the virus and it was revealed that Russian intelligence is spreading disinformation about the crisis through English-language websites.

Experts worry the torrent of bad information is dangerously undermining efforts to slow the virus, whose death toll in the U.S. hit 150,000 Wednesday, by far the highest in the world, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Over a half-million people have died in the rest of the world.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Hard-hit Florida reported 216 deaths, breaking the single-day record it set a day earlier. Texas confirmed 313 additional deaths, pushing its total to 6,190, while South Carolina’s death toll passed 1,500 this week, more than doubling over the past month. In Georgia, hospitalizations have more than doubled since July 1.

“It is a real challenge in terms of trying to get the message to the public about what they can really do to protect themselves and what the facts are behind the problem,” said Michael Osterholm, head of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

He said the fear is that “people are putting themselves in harm’s way because they don’t believe the virus is something they have to deal with.”

Rather than fade away in the face of new evidence, the claims have flourished, fed by mixed messages from officials, transmitted by social media, amplified by leaders like Trump and mutating when confronted with contradictory facts.

“You don’t need masks. There is a cure,” Dr. Stella Immanuel promised in a video that promoted hydroxychloroquine. “You don’t need people to be locked down.”

The truth: Federal regulators last month revoked their authorization of the drug as an emergency treatment amid growing evidence it doesn’t work and can have deadly side effects. Even if it were effective, it wouldn’t negate the need for masks and other measures to contain the outbreak.

None of that stopped Trump, who has repeatedly praised the drug, from retweeting the video. Twitter and Facebook began removing the video Monday for violating policies on COVID-19 misinformation, but it had already been seen more than 20 million times.

Many of the claims in Immanuel’s video are widely disputed by medical experts. She has made even more bizarre pronouncements in the past, saying that cysts, fibroids and some other conditions can be caused by having sex with demons, that McDonald’s and Pokemon promote witchcraft, that alien DNA is used in medical treatments, and that half-human “reptilians” work in the government.

Other baseless theories and hoaxes have alleged that the virus isn’t real or that it’s a bioweapon created by the U.S. or its adversaries. One hoax from the outbreak’s early months claimed new 5G towers were spreading the virus through microwaves. Another popular story held that Microsoft founder Bill Gates plans to use COVID-19 vaccines to implant microchips in all 7 billion people on the planet.

Then there are the political theories — that doctors, journalists and federal officials are conspiring to lie about the threat of the virus to hurt Trump politically.

Social media has amplified the claims and helped believers find each other. The flood of misinformation has posed a challenge for Facebook, Twitter and other platforms, which have found themselves accused of censorship for taking down virus misinformation.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was questioned about Immanuel’s video during an often-contentious congressional hearing Wednesday.

“We did take it down because it violates our policies,” Zuckerberg said.

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat leading the hearing, responded by noting that 20 million people saw the video before Facebook acted.

“Doesn’t that suggest that your platform is so big, that even with the right policies in place, you can’t contain deadly content?” Cicilline asked Zuckerberg.

It wasn’t the first video containing misinformation about the virus, and experts say it’s not likely to be the last.

A professionally made 26-minute video that alleges the government’s top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, manufactured the virus and shipped it to China was watched more than 8 million times before the platforms took action. The video, titled “Plandemic,” also warned that masks could make you sick — the false claim Facebook cited when it removed the video down from its site.

Judy Mikovits, the discredited doctor behind “Plandemic,” had been set to appear on the show “America This Week” on the Sinclair Broadcast Group. But the company, which operates TV stations in 81 U.S. markets, canned the segment, saying it was “not appropriate” to air.

This week, U.S. government officials speaking on condition of anonymity cited what they said was a clear link between Russian intelligence and websites with stories designed to spread disinformation on the coronavirus in the West. Russian officials rejected the accusations.

Of all the bizarre and myriad claims about the virus, those regarding masks are proving to be among the most stubborn.

New York City resident Carlos Lopez said he wears a mask when required to do so but doesn’t believe it is necessary.

“They’re politicizing it as a tool,” he said. “I think it’s more to try to get Trump to lose. It’s more a scare tactic.”

He is in the minority. A recent AP/NORC poll said 3 in 4 Americans — Democrats and Republicans alike — support a national mask mandate.

Still, mask skeptics are a vocal minority and have come together to create social media pages where many false claims about mask safety are shared. Facebook has removed some of the pages — such as the group Unmasking America!, which had nearly 10,000 members — but others remain.

Early in the pandemic, medical authorities themselves were the source of much confusion regarding masks. In February, officials like the U.S. surgeon general urged Americans not to stockpile masks because they were needed by medical personnel and might not be effective in everyday situations.

Public health officials changed their tune when it became apparent that the virus could spread among people showing no symptoms.

Yet Trump remained reluctant to use a mask, mocked his rival Joe Biden for wearing one and suggested people might be covering their faces just to hurt him politically. He did an abrupt about-face this month, claiming that he had always supported masks — then later retweeted Immanuel’s video against masks.

The mixed signals hurt, Fauci acknowledged in an interview with NPR this month.

“The message early on became confusing,” he said.

Many of the claims around masks allege harmful effects, such as blocked oxygen flow or even a greater chance of infection. The claims have been widely debunked by doctors.

Dr. Maitiu O Tuathail of Ireland grew so concerned about mask misinformation he posted an online video of himself comfortably wearing a mask while measuring his oxygen levels. The video has been viewed more than 20 million times.

“While face masks don’t lower your oxygen levels. COVID definitely does,” he warned.

Yet trusted medical authorities are often being dismissed by those who say requiring people to wear masks is a step toward authoritarianism.

“Unless you make a stand, you will be wearing a mask for the rest of your life,” tweeted Simon Dolan, a British businessman who has sued the government over its COVID-19 restrictions.

Trump’s reluctant, ambivalent and late embrace of masks hasn’t convinced some of his strongest supporters, who have concocted ever more elaborate theories to explain his change of heart. Some say he was actually speaking in code and doesn’t really support masks.

O Tuathail witnessed just how unshakable COVID-19 misinformation can be when, after broadcasting his video, he received emails from people who said he cheated or didn’t wear the mask long enough to feel the negative effects.

That’s not surprising, according to University of Central Florida psychology professor Chrysalis Wright, who studies misinformation. She said conspiracy theory believers often engage in mental gymnastics to make their beliefs conform with reality.

“People only want to hear what they already think they know,” she said. 

 

 

 

US coronavirus data will now go straight to the White House. Here’s what this means for the world

https://theconversation.com/us-coronavirus-data-will-now-go-straight-to-the-white-house-heres-what-this-means-for-the-world-142814?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20July%2028%202020%20-%201689316298&utm_content=Latest%20from%20The%20Conversation%20for%20July%2028%202020%20-%201689316298+Version+A+CID_abf5f3d50179e225ba3e81ad0fbb430c&utm_source=campaign_monitor_us&utm_term=US%20coronavirus%20data%20will%20now%20go%20straight%20to%20the%20White%20House%20Heres%20what%20this%20means%20for%20the%20world

US coronavirus data will now go straight to the White House ...

Led by physicians, scientists and epidemiologists, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is one of the most reliable sources of knowledge during disease outbreaks. But now, with the world in desperate need of authoritative information, one of the foremost agencies for fighting infectious disease has gone conspicuously silent.

For the first time since 1946, when the CDC came to life in a cramped Atlanta office to fight malaria, the agency is not at the front line of a public health emergency.

On April 22, CDC director Robert Redfield stood at the White House briefing room lectern and conceded that the coronavirus pandemic had “overwhelmed” the United States. Following Redfield at the podium, President Donald Trump said the CDC director had been “totally misquoted” in his warning that COVID-19 would continue to pose serious difficulties as the US moved into its winter ‘flu season in late 2020.

Invited to clarify, Redfield confirmed he had been quoted correctly in giving his opinion that there were potentially “difficult and complicated” times ahead.

Trump tried a different tack. “You may not even have corona coming back,” the president said, once again contradicting the career virologist. “Just so you understand.”

The exchange was interpreted by some pundits as confirmation that the CDC’s venerated expertise had been sidelined as the coronavirus continued to ravage the US.

In the latest development, the New York Times reported this week the CDC has even been bypassed in its data collection, with the Trump administration ordering hospitals to send COVID-19 data directly to the White House.

Diminished role

When facing previous public health emergencies the CDC was a hive of activity, holding regular press briefings and developing guidance that was followed by governments around the world. But during the greatest public health emergency in a century, it appears the CDC has been almost entirely erased by the White House as the public face of the COVID-19 pandemic response.

This diminished role is obvious to former leaders of the CDC, who say their scientific advice has never before been politicised to this extent.

As the COVID-19 crisis was unfolding, several CDC officials issued warnings, only to promptly disappear from public view. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, predicted on February 25 that the virus was not contained and would grow into a pandemic.

The stock market plunged and Messonnier was removed from future White House press briefings. Between March 9 and June 12 there was no CDC presence at White House press briefings on COVID-19.

The CDC has erred during the pandemic, most significantly in its initial efforts to develop a test for COVID-19. The testing kits proved to be faulty – a problem compounded by sluggish efforts to rectify the situation – and then by severe delays in distributing enough tests to the public.

But many public health specialists are nevertheless baffled by the CDC’s low profile as the pandemic continues to sweep the globe.

“They have been sidelined,” said Howard Koh, former US assistant secretary for health. “We need their scientific leadership right now.”

What does it mean for the world?

The CDC being bypassed in the collection of COVID-19 data is another body blow to the agency’s standing.

Hospitals have instead been ordered to send all COVID-19 patient information to a central database in Washington DC.

This will have a range of likely knock-on effects. For starters, the new database will not be available to the public, prompting inevitable questions over the accuracy and transparency of data which will now be interpreted and shared by the White House.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which issued the new order, says the change will help the White House’s coronavirus task force allocate resources. But epidemiologists and public health experts around the world fear the new system will make it harder for people outside the White House to track the pandemic or access information.

This affects all nations, because one of the CDC’s roles is to provide sound, independent public health guidance on issues such as infectious diseases, healthy living, travel health, emergency and disaster preparedness, and drug efficacy. Other jurisdictions can then adapt this information to their local context — expertise that has become even more essential during a pandemic, when uncertainty is the norm.

It is difficult to recall a previous public health emergency when political pressure led to a change in the interpretation of scientific evidence.

What happens next?

Despite the inevitable challenges that come with tackling a pandemic in real time, the CDC remains the best-positioned agency – not just in the US but the entire world – to help us manage this crisis as safely as possible.

In the absence of US leadership, nations should start thinking about developing their own national centres for disease control. In Australia’s case, these discussions have been ongoing since the 1990s, stymied by cost and lack of political will.

COVID-19, and the current sidelining of the CDC, may be the impetus needed to finally dust off those plans and make them a reality.

 

 

 

One question still dogs Administration: Why not try harder to solve the coronavirus crisis?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-not-solve-coronavirus-crisis/2020/07/26/7fca9a92-cdb0-11ea-91f1-28aca4d833a0_story.html?utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Republicans+Roll+Out+%241+Trillion+Coronavirus+Relief+Plan&utm_campaign=TFT+Newsletter+07272020

Questions to ask students in class to help them deal with the ...

Both President Trump’s advisers and operatives laboring to defeat him increasingly agree on one thing: The best way for him to regain his political footing is to wrest control of the novel coronavirus.

In the six months since the deadly contagion was first reported in the United States, Trump has demanded the economy reopen and children return to school, all while scrambling to salvage his reelection campaign.

But allies and opponents agree he has failed at the one task that could help him achieve all his goals — confronting the pandemic with a clear strategy and consistent leadership.

Trump’s shortcomings have perplexed even some of his most loyal allies, who increasingly have wondered why the president has not at least pantomimed a sense of command over the crisis or conveyed compassion for the millions of Americans hurt by it.

People close to Trump, many speaking on the condition of anonymity to share candid discussions and impressions, say the president’s inability to wholly address the crisis is due to his almost pathological unwillingness to admit error; a positive feedback loop of overly rosy assessments and data from advisers and Fox News; and a penchant for magical thinking that prevented him from fully engaging with the pandemic.

In recent weeks, with more than 145,000 Americans now dead from the virus, the White House has attempted to overhaul — or at least rejigger — its approach. The administration has revived news briefings led by Trump and presented the president with projections showing how the virus is now decimating Republican states full of his voters. Officials have also set up a separate, smaller coronavirus working group led by Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, along with Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

For many, however, the question is why Trump did not adjust sooner, realizing that the path to nearly all his goals — from an economic recovery to an electoral victory in November — runs directly through a healthy nation in control of the virus.

“The irony is that if he’d just performed with minimal competence and just mouthed words about national unity, he actually could be in a pretty strong position right now, where the economy is reopening, where jobs are coming back,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to former president Barack Obama. “And he just could not do it.”

Many public health experts agree.

“The best thing that we can do to set our economy up for success and rebounding from the last few months is making sure our outbreak is in a good place,” said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “People are not going to feel comfortable returning to activities in the community — even if it’s allowed from a policy perspective — if they don’t feel the outbreak is under control.”

Some aides and outside advisers have tried to stress to Trump and others in his orbit that before he could move on to reopening the economy and getting the country back to work — and life — he needed to grapple with the reality of the virus.

But until recently, the president was largely unreceptive to that message, they said, not fully grasping the magnitude of the pandemic — and overly preoccupied with his own sense of grievance, beginning many conversations casting himself as the blameless victim of the crisis.

In the past couple of weeks, senior advisers began presenting Trump with maps and data showing spikes in coronavirus cases among “our people” in Republican states, a senior administration official said. They also shared projections predicting that virus surges could soon hit politically important states in the Midwest — including Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, the official said.

This new approach seemed to resonate, as he hewed closely to pre-scripted remarks in a trio of coronavirus briefings last week.

“This could have been stopped. It could have been stopped quickly and easily. But for some reason, it wasn’t, and we’ll figure out what that reason was,” Trump said Thursday, seeming to simultaneously acknowledge his predicament while trying to assign blame elsewhere.

In addition to Birx and Kushner, the new coronavirus group guiding Trump includes Kushner advisers Adam Boehler and Brad Smith, according to two administration officials. Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Pence, also attends, along with Alyssa Farah, the White House director of strategic communications, and Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy adviser.

The working group’s goal is to meet every day, for no more than 30 minutes. It views its mission as half focused on the government’s response to the pandemic and half focused on the White House’s public message, the officials said.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews defended the president’s handling of the crisis, saying he acted “early and decisively.”

“The president has also led an historic, whole-of-America coronavirus response — resulting in 100,000 ventilators procured, sourcing critical PPE for our front-line heroes, and a robust testing regime resulting in more than double the number of tests than any other country in the world,” Matthews said in an email statement. “His message has been consistent and his strong leadership will continue as we safely reopen the economy, expedite vaccine and therapeutics developments, and continue to see an encouraging decline in the U.S. mortality rate.”

For some, however, the additional effort is too little and far too late.

“This is a situation where if Trump did his job and put in the work to combat the health crisis, it would solve the economic crisis, and it’s an instance where the correct governing move is also the correct political move, and Trump is doing the opposite,” said Josh Schwerin, a senior strategist for Priorities USA, a super PAC supporting former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Other anti-Trump operatives agree, saying he could make up lost ground and make his race with Biden far more competitive with a simple course correction.

“He’s staring in the mirror at night: That’s who can fix his political problem,” said John Weaver, one of the Republican strategists leading the Lincoln Project, a group known for its anti-Trump ads.

One of Trump’s biggest obstacles is his refusal to take responsibility and admit error.

In mid-March, as many of the nation’s businesses were shuttering early in the pandemic, Trump proclaimed in the Rose Garden, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Those six words have neatly summed up Trump’s approach not only to the pandemic, but also to many of the other crises he has faced during his presidency.

“His operating style is to double- and triple-down on positions and to never, ever admit he’s wrong about anything,” said Anthony Scaramucci, a longtime Trump associate who briefly served as White House communications director and is now a critic of the president. “His 50-year track record is to bulldog through whatever he’s doing, whether it’s Atlantic City, which was a failure, or the Plaza Hotel, which was a failure, or Eastern Airlines, which was a failure. He can never just say, ‘I got it wrong and let’s try over again.’ ”

Another self-imposed hurdle for Trump has been his reliance on a positive feedback loop. Rather than sit for briefings by infectious-disease director Anthony S. Fauci and other medical experts, the president consumes much of his information about the virus from Fox News and other conservative media sources, where his on-air boosters put a positive spin on developments.

Consider one example from last week. About 6:15 a.m. that Tuesday on “Fox & Friends,” co-host Steve Doocy told viewers, “There is a lot of good news out there regarding the development of vaccines and therapeutics.” The president appears to have been watching because, 16 minutes later, he tweeted from his iPhone, “Tremendous progress being made on Vaccines and Therapeutics!!!”

It is not just pro-Trump media figures feeding Trump positive information. White House staffers have long made upbeat assessments and projections in an effort to satisfy the president. This, in turn, makes Trump further distrustful of the presentations of scientists and reports in the mainstream news media, according to his advisers and other people familiar with the president’s approach.

This dynamic was on display during an in-depth interview with “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace that aired July 19. After the president claimed the United States had one of the lowest coronavirus mortality rates in the world, Wallace interjected to fact-check him: “It’s not true, sir.”

Agitated by Wallace’s persistence, Trump turned off-camera to call for White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. “Can you please get me the mortality rates?” he asked. Turning to Wallace, he said, “Kayleigh’s right here. I heard we have one of the lowest, maybe the lowest mortality rate anywhere in the world.”

Trump, relying on cherry-picked White House data, insisted that the United States was “number one low mortality fatality rates.”

Fox then interrupted the taped interview to air a voice-over from Wallace explaining that the White House chart showed Italy and Spain doing worse than the United States but countries like Brazil and South Korea doing better — and other countries that are doing better, including Russia, were not included on the White House chart. By contrast, worldwide data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows the U.S. mortality rate is far from the lowest.

Trump is also predisposed to magical thinking — an unerring belief, at an almost elemental level, that he can will his goals into existence, through sheer force of personality, according to outside advisers and former White House officials.

The trait is one he shares with his late father and family patriarch, Fred Trump. In her best-selling memoir, “Too Much and Never Enough,” the president’s niece, Mary L. Trump, writes that Fred Trump was instantly taken by the “shallow message of self-sufficiency” he encountered in Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 bestseller, “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

Some close to the president say that when Trump claims, as he did twice last week, that the virus will simply “disappear,” there is a part of him that actually believes the assessment, making him more reluctant to take the practical steps required to combat the pandemic.

Until recently, Trump also refused to fully engage with the magnitude of the crisis. After appointing Pence head of the coronavirus task force, the president gradually stopped attending task force briefings and was lulled into a false sense of assurance that the group had the virus under control, according to one person familiar with the dynamic.

Trump also maintained such a sense of grievance — about how the virus was personally hurting him, his presidency and his reelection prospects — that aides recount spending valuable time listening to his gripes, rather than focusing on crafting a national strategy to fight the pandemic.

Nonetheless, some White House aides insist the president has always been focused on aggressively responding to the virus. And some advisers are still optimistic that if Trump — who trails Biden in national polls — can sustain at least a modicum of self-discipline and demonstrate real focus on the pandemic, he can still prevail on Election Day.

Others are less certain, including critics who say Trump squandered an obvious solution — good governance and leadership — as the simplest means of achieving his other goals.

“There is quite a high likelihood where people look back and think between February and April was when Trump burned down his own presidency, and he can’t recover from it,” Rhodes said. “The decisions he made then ensured he’d be in his endless cycle of covid spikes and economic disruption because he couldn’t exhibit any medium- or long-term thinking.”

 

 

 

Cartoon – Under Control

Coronavirus | The Manchester Journal | Manchester Breaking News ...

America has to be ready for mail voting to avert an election crisis

https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/508928-america-has-to-be-ready-for-mail-voting-to-avert-an-election-crisis

States Should Embrace Vote by Mail and Early Voting To Protect ...

Valid concerns have been raised about mail voting. In New York, the local election boards have taken weeks to count primary ballots received in the mail as a result of the coronavirus, leaving several races for Congress still unresolved. The problems have been blamed on the late decision to send out the absentee ballot applications, outdated ballot counting machines, and the sheer number of mail ballots. The New York case raises a serious alarm with the 2020 election approaching and many states considering more reliance on mail voting in the midst of the pandemic.

Adding to this sense of urgency, President Trump has declared, without evidence, that mail voting is an open invitation to fraud and will be used unfairly against him this fall. He has tweeted that mail voting would make this the “most rigged” election in history. Setting aside the fact that states have relied on absentee and mail voting to hold secure elections for many years, the stumbles in New York and the irresponsible fear mongering by Trump raise the potential of a very real crisis come this fall.

Consider the national disruption surrounding the 2000 election, which was decided for George Bush after a recount in Florida, a month of legal battles, and a controversial split Supreme Court decision. After you add the factor of a second wave of coronavirus cases in the fall and a sitting president shouting “rigged!” to the rafters, and you can understand why some analysts worry that the period following the 2020 election may be one of the most disruptive contests in our modern history.

A crisis foretold, however, can be a crisis averted. Instead of wringing our hands over the recent problems with mail voting in New York, we have to learn from them and from the multiple states that have implemented mail voting systems without problems or fraud. Then states can make common sense preparations to ensure the process goes as quickly and smoothly as possible to prevent a potential election crisis in November.

The fact that election boards were overwhelmed by an influx of absentee ballots in New York must be the rallying cry for dedicating more resources to efficiently implement mail voting systems. Reducing funds available for mail voting initiatives, as some Trump supporters have advocated, in this era when many people have to rely on these ballots or literally risk death, will only serve to suppress voting, which may be the point.

Consider the case of Ohio for a glimpse of what a proactive mail voting initiative looks like. At the urging of Governor Mike DeWine, Republican and Democratic lawmakers unanimously approved their all mail voting primary that was successfully concluded in April. Governors and state legislatures across the country have to learn from Ohio, and additional federal funds have to be made available to assist the efforts.

All those claims that mail ballots are subject to rampant tampering is not evidence that they are, and it suggests the need to educate voters on the issue. Members of the Armed Forces have relied on absentee voting with mail ballots since the Civil War. Trump himself has voted absentee by mail. Meanwhile, three states allow ounties to conduct elections completely by mail if they choose, five other states conduct elections almost entirely by mail, and more than two dozen other states permit their residents to cast absentee ballots by mail without having to provide a reason.

Over 250 million votes have been cast using mailed ballots since 2000, according to the Vote at Home Institute, and yet exhaustive analysis has identified only a tiny fraction of cases of fraud. None of those states that hold their elections almost entirely by mail has seen voter fraud scandals. The bipartisan group Vote Safe, chaired by former Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and former Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, notes that several studies have consistently proven that mail ballots are secure and do not advantage one political party over the other. The team rightly emphasizes that the goal of ensuring the safety of voters as they exercise their rights during a raging pandemic is not a partisan issue.

Whether we improve our voting systems or defund them, the use of mail ballots will inevitably be much greater in the 2020 election than in years past. We can prepare for this eventuality and find innovative ways to deal with the challenges that arise, or we can shift our gaze from another crisis foretold and suffer the major consequences come November.

Winston Churchill Quotes About Democracy. QuotesGram

Winston Churchill noted that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all other forms that have been tried. In the midst of a pandemic across the country that has already claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Americans, exercising our right to vote by mail instead of in person may also seem like the worst solution, except for all other options.

 

 

 

 

Cartoon – Pandemic Management

Reflections on an Ad Industry at War With Itself | MediaVillage

How deadly is COVID-19? A biostatistician explores the question

https://theconversation.com/how-deadly-is-covid-19-a-biostatistician-explores-the-question-142253?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=The%20Weekend%20Conversation%20-%201680716207&utm_content=The%20Weekend%20Conversation%20-%201680716207+Version+A+CID_c211e1b0b6c4b69b3a29a9d1624a2ab6&utm_source=campaign_monitor_us&utm_term=How%20deadly%20is%20COVID-19%20A%20biostatistician%20explores%20the%20question

How deadly is COVID-19? A biostatistician explores the question

The latest statistics, as of July 10, show COVID-19-related deaths in U.S. are just under 1,000 per day nationally, which is down from a peak average of about 2,000 deaths per day in April. However, cases are once again rising very substantially, which is worrisome as it may indicate that substantial increases in COVID-19 deaths could follow. How do these numbers compare to deaths of other causes? Ron Fricker, statistician and disease surveillance expert from Virginia Tech, explains how to understand the magnitude of deaths from COVID-19.

As a disease surveillance expert, what are some of the tools you have to understand the deaths caused by a disease?

Disease surveillance is the process by which we try to understand the incidence and prevalence of diseases across the country, often with the particular goal of looking for increases in disease incidence. The challenge is separating signal from noise, by which I mean trying to discern an increase in disease incidence (the signal) from the day-to-day fluctuations in that disease (the noise). The hope is to identify any increase as quickly as possible so that medical and public health professionals can intervene and try to mitigate the disease’s effects on the population.

A critical tool in this effort is data. Often disease data is collected and aggregated by local and state public health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from data that is reported by doctors and medical facilities. Surveillance systems then use this data and a variety of algorithms to attempt to find a signal amidst the noise.

Early on, many people pointed out that the flu has tens of thousands of deaths a year, and so COVID-19 didn’t seem so bad. What’s wrong with that comparison?

The CDC estimates the average number of flu-related deaths since 2010-11 is around 36,000 per year. This varies from a low of 12,000 deaths in 2011-12 to a high of 61,000 deaths in 2017-18. Thus, the number of COVID-19 deaths to date is three to four times greater than the annual average number of flu-related deaths over the past decade; it is 10 times larger when compared to the 2010-11 flu season but only about twice as large compared to 2017-18.

To make this a fair comparison, note that seasonal influenza mostly occurs over a few months, usually in late fall or early winter. So, the time periods are roughly comparable, with most of the COVID-19-related deaths occurring since late March. However, COVID-19 does not appear to be seasonal, and fatalities are a lagging measure because the time from infection to death is weeks if not months in duration, so the multiples in the previous paragraph will be greater by the end of the year.

Furthermore, while death rates have been coming down from a peak of more than 2,700 on April 21, 2020, the United States is now averaging just under 1,000 deaths per day as of July 10, and given the dramatic increase in cases of late, we should expect the fatality rate to further rise. For example, the University of Washington’s IHME model currently predicts slightly more than 208,000 COVID-19-related deaths by November 1.

So, by any comparison, the COVID-19 death rate is significantly higher than the seasonal influenza death rate.

What are some comparisons that could provide some context in understanding the scale of deaths caused by COVID-19?

As of this writing, more than 130,000 people have died of COVID-19, and that total could grow to 200,000 or more by fall. Those numbers are so big, they’re hard to grasp.

Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor is the largest football stadium in the United States. It holds 107,420 people, so no football stadium in the country is large enough to hold everyone who has died from COVID-19 thus far. By the time bowl season comes along, assuming we have a football season this year, the number of COVID-19 fatalities will likely exceed the capacity of the Rose and Cotton bowl stadiums combined.

The state of Wyoming has a population of slightly less than 600,000 people, so it’s the equivalent of one out of every five people in that state dying in the last four months. By this fall, the COVID-19 death total will be the equivalent of fully one-third of the people in Wyoming dying.

The populations of Grand Rapids, Michigan; Huntsville, Alabama; and Salt Lake City, Utah are each just over 200,000 people. Imagine if everyone in one of those cities died over the course of six months. That’s what COVID-19 may look like by fall.

How do COVID-19 deaths compare to chronic diseases like cancer or heart disease?

Today, COVID-19 ranks as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, following heart disease, cancer, accidents, lower chronic respiratory diseases and stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause, with just over 647,000 Americans dying from it each year. Alzheimer’s disease, formerly the sixth largest cause of death, kills just over 121,000 people per year. If the University of Washington IHME model’s current prediction of COVID-19-related deaths comes to pass, COVID-19 will be the third leading cause of death in the United States by the end of the year.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2020 there will be an estimated 1.8 million new cancer cases diagnosed and 606,520 cancer deaths in the United States. Lung cancer is estimated to kill about 135,000 people in the US in 2020, so the number of COVID-19 deaths is currently equivalent and will exceed it soon. Of course, it is important to note that the COVID-19 deaths have occurred in about the past four months while the number of lung cancer deaths is for a year. So, COVID-19 deaths are occurring at roughly three times the rate of lung cancer deaths.

What are some historical comparisons that you think are useful in understanding the scale of deaths from COVID-19?

The 1918 influenza pandemic was similar in some ways to the current pandemic and different in other ways. One key difference is the age distribution of deaths, where COVID-19 is concentrated among older adults while the the 1918 pandemic affected all ages. In my state of Virginia, only 8% of the people who died in the 1918 pandemic were more than 50 years old, compared to more than 97% for COVID-19.

The CDC estimates that the 1918 pandemic resulted in about 675,000 deaths in the United States, so slightly more than five times the current number of COVID-19 deaths. In October of 1918, the worst month for the influenza pandemic, about 195,000 people died – well more than all who have died so far from COVID-19.

As with any historical comparison, there are important qualifiers. In this case, the influenza pandemic started in early 1918 and continued well into 1919, whereas COVID-19 deaths are for about one-third of a year (March through June). However, today the United States’ population is about three times the size of the population in 1918. These two factors roughly “cancel out,” and so it is reasonable to think about the 1918 epidemic being about five times worse than COVID-19, at least thus far.

In comparison to past wars, the U.S. has now had more deaths from COVID-19 than all the combat-related deaths in all the wars since the Korean War, including the Vietnam War and Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In World War II there were 291,557 combat casualties. So the number of people who have died from COVID-19 thus far is about 45% of the WWII combat casualties. By the fall, it could be more than 70%.

Finally, note that the number of confirmed and probable deaths from COVID-19 in New York City (23,247 on July 10, 2020) is more than eight times the number who died in the 9/11 attack (2,753).

 

 

 

 

Covid-19 data is a public good. The US government must start treating it like one.

https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/07/17/1005391/covid-coronavirus-hospitalizations-data-access-cdc/

Data for the public good - O'Reilly Radar

The US has failed to prioritize a highly effective and economical intervention—providing quick and easy access to coronavirus data.

Earlier this week as a pandemic raged across the United States, residents were cut off from the only publicly available source of aggregated data on the nation’s intensive care and hospital bed capacity. When the Trump administration stripped the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of control over coronavirus data, it also took that information away from the public.

 

I run a nonpartisan project called covidexitstrategy.org, which tracks how well states are fighting this virus. Our team is made up of public health and crisis experts with previous experience in the Trump and Obama administrations. We grade states on such critical measures as disease spread, hospital load, and the robustness of their testing. 

 

Why does this work matter? In a crisis, data informs good decision-making. Along with businesses, federal, state, and local public health officials and other agencies rely on us to help them decide which interventions to deploy and when workplaces and public spaces can safely reopen. Almost a million people have used our dashboards, with thousands coming back more than 200 times each.

To create our dashboards, we rely on multiple sources. One is the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN), run by the CDC. Prior to July 14, hospitals reported the utilization and availability of intensive care and inpatient beds to the NHSN. This information, updated three times a week, was the only publicly available source of aggregated state-level hospital capacity data in the US.

With 31 states currently reporting increases in the number of hospitalized covid-19 patients, these utilization rates show how well their health systems will handle the surge of cases.

 

Having this information in real time is essential; the administration said the CDC’s system was insufficiently responsive and data collection needed to be streamlined. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) directed hospitals (pdf) to report their data to a new system called HHS Protect.

Unfortunately, by redirecting hospitals to a new system, it left everyone else in the dark. On July 14, the CDC removed the most recent data from its website. As we made our nightly update, we found it was missing. After significant public pressure, the existing maps and data are back—but the agency has added a disclaimer that the data will not be updated going forward.

 

This is unacceptable. This critical indicator was being shared multiple times a week, and now updates have been halted. US residents need a federal commitment that this data will continue to be refreshed and shared.

The public is being told that a lot of effort is going into the new system. An HHS spokesman told CNBC that the new database will deliver “more powerful insights” on the coronavirus. But the switch has rightly been criticized because this new data source is not yet available to the public. Our concerns are amplified by the fact that responsibility for the data has shifted from a known entity in the CDC to a new, as-yet-unnamed team within HHS.

I was part of the team that helped fix Healthcare.gov after the failed launch in 2013. One thing I learned was that the people who make their careers in the federal government—and especially those working at the center of a crisis—are almost universally well intentioned. They seek to do the right thing for the public they serve.

 

In the same spirit, and to build trust with the American people, this is an opportunity for HHS to make the same data it’s sharing with federal and state agencies available to the public. The system that HHS is using helps inform the vital work of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. From leaked documents, we know that reports for the task force are painstakingly detailed. They include county-level maps, indicators on testing robustness, and specific recommendations. All of this information belongs in the public domain.

This is also an opportunity for HHS to make this data machine readable and thereby more accessible to data scientists and data journalists. The Open Government Data Act, signed into law by President Trump, treats data as a strategic asset and makes it open by default. This act builds upon the Open Data Executive Order, which recognized that the data sets collected by the government are paid for by taxpayers and must be made available to them. 

As a country, the United States has lagged behind in so many dimensions of response to this crisis, from the availability of PPE to testing to statewide mask orders. Its treatment of data has lagged as well. On March 7, as this crisis was unfolding, there was no national testing data. Alexis Madrigal, Jeff Hammerbacher, and a group of volunteers started the COVID Tracking Project to aggregate coronavirus information from all 50 state websites into a single Google spreadsheet. For two months, until the CDC began to share data through its own dashboard, this volunteer project was the sole national public source of information on cases and testing.

With more than 150 volunteers contributing to the effort, the COVID Tracking Project sets the bar for how to treat data as an asset. I serve on the advisory board and am awed by what this group has accomplished. With daily updates, an API, and multiple download formats, they’ve made their data extraordinarily useful. Where the CDC’s data is cited 30 times in Google Scholar and approximately 10,000 times in Google search results, the COVID Tracking Project data is cited 299 times in Google Scholar and roughly 2 million times in Google search results.

 

Sharing reliable data is one of the most economical and effective interventions the United States has to confront this pandemic. With the Coronavirus Task Force daily briefings a thing of the past, it’s more necessary than ever for all covid-related data to be shared with the public. The effort required to defeat the pandemic is not just a federal response. It is a federal, state, local, and community response. Everyone needs to work from the same trusted source of facts about the situation on the ground.

Data is not a partisan affair or a bureaucratic preserve. It is a public trust—and a public resource.