Rely on the science and avoid the politics, Fauci says

https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/12/health/us-coronavirus-wednesday/index.html?utm_source=nl&utm_brand=wired&utm_mailing=WIR_Science_081220&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_medium=email&utm_term=WIR_Science&bxid=5db707423f92a422eaeaf234&cndid=54318659&esrc=bounceX&source=EDT_WIR_NEWSLETTER_0_SCIENCE_ZZ

Science Day

Although practices like wearing face coverings have been politicized, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday he has learned that in order to be a good public health leader in a crisis, you have to divorce yourself from politics, rely on science and be as transparent as possible.

“Completely divorce yourself from the kind of political undertones that sometimes go into an important outbreak like this,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said as he was honored with a 2020 Citizen Leadership Award on Tuesday night by the Aspen Institute.
“You’ve got to stay away from that, lead by example, be perfectly honest and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something when you don’t know it. I find that to be a very good formula when you’re dealing in a crisis.”
Even with the polarization, every state in the US passed at least one physical distancing measure in March to slow the spread, researchers from Harvard University and University College London said. Those measures worked, a new study found.
Physical distancing resulted in a reduction of more than 600,000 cases within just three weeks, according to the study, published Tuesday in the journal PLOS. Had there not been preventative interventions, the models suggest up to 80% of Americans would have been infected with Covid-19.
“In short, these measures work, and policy makers should use them as an arrow in their quivers to get on top of local epidemics where they are not responding to containment measures,” said the study’s co-author Dr. Mark J. Siedner in a news release.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Fauci says family has faced threats, harassment amid pandemic

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/510709-fauci-says-family-has-faced-threats-harassment-amid-pandemic

Fauci says family has faced threats, harassment amid pandemic ...

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said he and his family are getting death threats because people don’t like what he says about COVID-19.

“Getting death threats for me, and my family, and harassing my daughters, to the point where I have to get security is just — I mean, it’s amazing,” Fauci said during an interview with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta on Wednesday.

“I wouldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams that people who object to things that are pure public health principles, are so set against it and don’t like what you and I say, namely in the world of science, that they actually threaten you.”

He noted that crises like COVID-19 has brought out the best of people but also the worst of people.

Fauci’s notoriety has been elevated by COVID-19, as he is often on TV offering a blunt portrayal of the state of the pandemic in the U.S.

Fauci, 79, is one of the world’s most respected infectious disease experts, having advised six presidents on HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Zika and other health crises. He has earned a reputation for being blunt and willing to correct the president.

Fauci has had a security detail since at least April.

Fauci also reflected on what he says is a degree of “anti-science” sentiment in the U.S. that is making it difficult to get people to do things to slow the spread of COVID-19 like wearing masks.

“There is a degree of anti-science feeling in this country, and I think it is not just related to science. It’s almost related to authority and a mistrust in authority that spills over,” he told Gupta.

“Because in some respects, scientists, because they’re trying to present data, may be looked upon as being an authoritative figure, and the pushing back on authority, the pushing back on government is the same as pushing back on science.”

He said the scientific community should be more transparent and reach out to people to underscore the importance of science and evidence-based policy.

“I know when I say that if we follow these five or six principles, we can open up we don’t have to stay shut…There are some people that just don’t believe me or don’t pay attention to that. And that’s unfortunate because that is the way out of this,” he said.

President Trump has repeatedly undermined Fauci, questioning the White House coronavirus task force member on Twitter and in interviews with the media.

Over the weekend, Trump tweeted out a video of a portion of Fauci’s testimony explaining why the U.S. has recorded more cases than European cases and called it “wrong.” Trump has falsely claimed several times that the U.S. has more cases because it is doing more testing.

Trump has also retweeted multiple messages that question Fauci’s expertise, including one last week that said he had “misled the American public.”

 

State of the Union: by Paul Field

Image may contain: text that says 'Whoever Paul Field is he hit the nail on the head. Field PM own opinion, but you post Everyone entitled silly "Welcome Socialism... You Socialism. the wealthiest, geographically advantaged, productive people. about This failure our, "Booming economy," modest challenges. tis the market dissonance stores, farmers/producers and crisis about corporations needing emergency bailout longest history ending interest with being unable equipped provide healthcare, time post profits. crisis response depending antiquated systems nobody remembers operate. But all, politicization the for the benefit of education, science, natural lifestyles, lifestyles, charity, compassion, virtually else for brief gain gutted our society.'

Cartoon – Importance of Transparency

Government Transparency Cartoons and Comics - funny pictures from ...

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.

 

 

 

U.S. passes 4 million coronavirus cases as pace of new infections roughly doubles

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/us-passes-4-million-coronavirus-cases-as-pace-of-new-infections-roughly-doubles/2020/07/23/d0125192-cd02-11ea-b0e3-d55bda07d66a_story.html?utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR3Ve5MnHiStJnPO_mzkc1c2sHE2EM6QOG-2HochFPBmJe6hnyvcmqEVQ4U

The United States on Thursday passed the grim milestone of 4 million confirmed coronavirus infections, and President Trump announced he was canceling the public celebration of his nomination for a second term, as institutions from schools to airlines to Major League Baseball wrestled with the consequences of a pandemic still far from under control.

The rapid spread of the virus this summer is striking, taking just 15 days to go from 3 million confirmed cases to 4 million. By comparison, the increase from 1 million cases to 2 million spanned 45 days from April 28 to June 11, and the leap to 3 million then took 27 days.

Trump’s cancellation of the in-person portion of the Republican National Convention planned for next month in Jacksonville, Fla., represented a remarkable reversal. He had insisted for months on a made-for-television spectacle that would have packed people close together in a state that is now an epicenter of the resurgent pandemic.

On Thursday, he conceded that was not going to work. “The timing for this event is not right,” Trump said during the latest of somber, solo White House briefings this week. “It’s just not right with what’s been happening.”

Florida reported 173 deaths on Thursday, its highest single-day count of new deaths, and also reported more than 10,200 new coronavirus cases.

In a scathing statement blaming the surge of new cases on Trump’s “failure to care,” presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden said the president “quit on this country and waved the white flag of surrender.”

Meanwhile, nearly every public health metric suggests America is badly losing its fight against the virus.

Positivity rates have reached alarming levels in numerous states, hospitalizations are soaring, and more than 1,100 new coronavirus deaths were reported across the United States on Wednesday, marking the first time since May 29 that the daily count exceeded that number, according to Washington Post tracking.

The rolling seven-day average of infections has doubled in less than a month, reaching more than 66,000 new cases per day Wednesday. The U.S. death toll now exceeds 141,000.

As a result, many businesses appear to be pulling back after their attempts to resume more normal operations proved premature, and an additional 1.4 million American workers filed for unemployment benefits last week. It was the first time since March that new claims rose. Another 980,000 new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims — the benefits offered to self-employed and gig workers — were also filed.

Congress, meanwhile, struggled to confront the crisis. Senate Republicans killed Trump’s payroll tax cut proposal on Thursday, widening an unusual rift with the White House over the cost and contents of the latest national coronavirus relief package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had planned to roll out a $1 trillion GOP bill Thursday morning, but that was canceled amid the intraparty conflicts.

Administration officials then floated a piecemeal approach, involving several different aid bills, but ran into opposition from lawmakers in both parties.

Trump’s briefing Thursday afternoon, his third of the week, reflected an effort to increase popular support for his management of the coronavirus outbreak, which even many of his allies have criticized. About 2 out of 3 Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, a new poll found.

Trump dismissed or played down the risk of the virus for months after it had begun spreading in the United States and has been a self-described cheerleader for rapid reopening of businesses and schools shuttered to help slow its spread.

The survey of 1,057 adults in the United States, conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, also showed that 3 out of 4 Americans, including a majority of Republicans, support mandatory face coverings when people are outside their own homes.

Democrats overwhelmingly favor mask mandates, at 89 percent. The majority of Republicans — 59 percent — also support them.

Ninety-five percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans say they wear face coverings when leaving home. Overall, more Americans — 86 percent — are wearing masks compared with in May, when 73 percent were doing so.

Trump resisted wearing a mask in public until earlier this month, despite calls to set a good example from the top. He now calls it patriotic to wear a mask, though he still does not wear one consistently and says people should decide for themselves. Trump carries a black-cloth version in his pocket, which he says is sufficient for those instances when he is close to people who have not been screened for the virus.

Trump’s shift may reflect a growing consensus in favor of masks, although it is not clear that opposition to them has ebbed among some of the president’s strongest political supporters.

The business community is struggling, too. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines posted big quarterly losses between April and July in their earnings reports released Thursday, projecting that travel demand will not rebound anytime soon.

In American’s second quarter, revenue dropped more than 86 percent, to $1.6 billion, from nearly $12 billion a year ago, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. The company posted a net loss of nearly $2.1 billion, attributing it to stay-at-home orders, border closures and travel restrictions.

“As a result, we have experienced an unprecedented decline in the demand for air travel, which has resulted in a material deterioration in our revenues,” the company said in the earnings report. “While the length and severity of the reduction in demand due to Covid-19 is uncertain, we expect our results of operations for the remainder of 2020 to be severely impacted.”

Southwest posted revenue of $1 billion in its second quarter, an almost 83 percent dip compared with a year ago. The company also posted a net loss of $915 million.

Trump also took a small step back from his insistence that schools should open on time this fall, conceding instead that some schools might need to delay in-person learning. Many school districts have already announced that decision.

Trump has been critical of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying it made it too tough for schools to reopen, and promised new guidelines would be issued. On Thursday, the CDC released several documents emphasizing the benefits of in-person school, in line with Trump’s messaging. Some of the guidance was written by White House officials rather than experts at the CDC, people familiar with the process said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal decision-making.

The new guidelines for school administrators mention precautions outlined in previous documents, but they appear to drop specific reference to keeping students six feet apart — something many schools find almost impossible to do if they are fully reopened. This document also suggests that schools consider closing only if there is “substantial, uncontrolled transmission” of the virus, and not necessarily even then.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) echoed Trump in making a case for students to return to classrooms, despite the state’s teachers union suing over an order forcing schools to fully reopen. Meanwhile, a new poll showed that most parents would prefer to delay the start of in-person school.

During an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” DeSantis said that schoolchildren are “by far at the least risk for coronavirus, thankfully.”

“We also know they play the smallest role by far in transmission of the virus, and yet they’ve really been asked to shoulder the brunt of our control measures,” said DeSantis, a close Trump ally who had volunteered his state for the Republican convention next month.

DeSantis said that the “evidence-based decision” is for all parents to have the option of in-class instruction for their children if they choose. He said those who are not comfortable with sending their children back to school could continue distance learning.

The role children play in spreading the virus is still being studied, with experts saying that results are not definitive. A South Korean study found that children over the age of 10 were as likely to transmit the virus as adults, while those under 10 were less likely to spread it.

Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Wednesday on Fox News that the United States is launching a study of its own, adding that the data “really needs to be confirmed here.”

Among the most visible American institutions searching for a path forward is the sports industry. Major League Baseball began a pandemic-shortened season on Thursday, playing in empty stadiums amid questions about whether the sport can make it through October without having to abort. It is as much a science experiment as a championship pursuit.

Players are prohibited from spitting or high-fiving. Foul balls that wind up in the stands will remain there.

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, threw out the first pitch for the Washington Nationals home opener against the New York Yankees. Nationals star outfielder Juan Soto tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday and missed the game.

Meanwhile, Japan marked a year’s delay of the Olympic Games on Thursday. Tokyo was to host the 2020 Summer Olympics starting Friday. A 15-minute ceremony in Tokyo’s newly built $1.4 billion Olympic Stadium started the countdown to the delayed games, now set to begin on July 23, 2021. The city also marked a new daily record in reported cases on Thursday, with 366.

poll this week by Japan’s Kyodo News Agency found that fewer than 1 in 4 people in Japan even want to host the games anymore. One-third of respondents said the games should be canceled, while 36 percent expressed interest in postponing them for more than a year.