The Misguided Rush to Throw the School Doors Open

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With the COVID-19 pandemic raging across much of America, a return to full-scale classroom instruction poses too grave a risk to students, teachers, school staff, parents and their communities.

Across the country, many of the public schools that are scheduled to open their doors within the next few weeks are still in limbo as to whether they should open on time and how they should operate — with full-scale in-person classroom instruction, with online learning only, or with some hybrid of the two. But the right call is becoming clearer by the day: It’s too soon to bring students and teachers back into the classroom.

Most communities are not ready to reopen their schools for traditional classes because neither government leaders nor the public have done nearly enough to curb the spread of the coronavirus or make the necessary preparations that would be required to operate schools safely.

Tens of thousands of new cases of COVID-19 are being reported every day and the death toll is averaging more than a thousand daily, with Sun Belt states seeing most of the biggest surges. It’s becoming ever clearer that this grim tally will continue until an effective vaccine is available. Until then, the possibility that students, their parents, teachers and school staff could become infected with the coronavirus and spread it widely to their communities should gravely concern every public official. The danger is hardly speculative: Schools that are among the earliest to reopen are already seeing positive cases.

The arguments that students learn better in a classroom setting, that they are suffering psychologically from social isolation, and that school closures have been particularly hard on working families are all legitimate. But are we really prepared to further risk the health of our children and of our communities by putting them in an environment where most of the practices to curb the virus will be difficult, if not impossible, to consistently follow?

And the danger to school staff members if they are forced to return to work should not be underestimated. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 25 percent of teachers are at risk of serious illness if they become infected with COVID-19, either because of their age — 65 or older — or their underlying health conditions.

The rush to reopen fully for in-person instruction has been driven in part by President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose demands have been accompanied with threats of losing federal funds. Those demands appear to run afoul of guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a few weeks ago: Among other things, the CDC counseled going with small, socially distanced class sizes, emphasizing hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, and requiring cloth face coverings — common-sense precautions the president said were too strict and many school officials say will be difficult to implement.

The political pressure has been so intense that the CDC issued a new set of “resources and tools” for school reopening, with CDC Director Robert Redfield saying that “the goal line is to get the majority of these students back to face-to-face learning,” a stance that was seen by many as a capitulation after the president criticized the earlier guidelines. Clearly this is not what most Americans expect of our top health officials. The public must feel confident that decisions to reopen schools are based on the best scientific evidence available and the professional advice of educators.

Despite the threats and pressure, many school officials are still doing the right thing by listening to local health experts and deciding for themselves when and how best to reopen. I see this in my own state of Georgia, where, according to a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution article on how Georgia schools plan to start the school year, most school official are delaying opening and say that when they do open they plan to implement a hybrid approach to instruction. “Teachers will check in virtually — via some video conferencing software allowing them to see the dozens of children they would normally engage with through rows or groups of desks,” the newspaper reported.

The larger school districts in metropolitan Atlanta recently reversed themselves from offering parents an option to send their children to school traditionally or attend virtually, opting to go all-virtual because of the spikes in the virus. Other schools in the state plan to meet on campus a few days a week and do virtual learning on other days. Then there are superintendents who plan to prioritize on-campus learning but restrict it to students with special learning needs, such as those who have autism. Many of these options are complex and carry with them implications difficult to foresee, but they all prioritize the health of students.

The ultimate decider of when schools will fully reopen will undoubtedly be parents, at least those who have the freedom and budgets to stay home and monitor their children’s academic progress and assist with their homework. As a caring society, we must ensure that the option to telework is given to as many parents as possible, so that the decision to send one’s children to school and possibly expose them to the coronavirus is not based on family income and social status.

We are still in an existential fight with the coronavirus, and we do not know precisely how or when this battle will end. We do know the virus is apolitical and knows no local or state boundaries. There are no quick or easy solutions. One can only pray that public officials learned something from reopening our economy too soon. We do not want this to happen again by prematurely reopening schools.

Much of what our children lose in a semester or two of distance learning can be made up in time, but a lost life is forever.

 

 

 

 

A Mississippi town welcomed students back to school last week. Now 116 are home in quarantine.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/08/06/school-coronavirus-outbreak-mississippi/?utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR058o-kJ0UCs1SRJFdJ-bWJylbuVn1Q2QkYnhMpmWH4s6NVx9yN2CA6lNE

Over 100 students quarantined in Mississippi school district after ...

Last week, schools in Corinth, Miss., welcomed back hundreds of students. By Friday, one high-schooler tested positive for the novel coronavirus. By early this week, the count rose to six students and one staff member infected. Now, 116 students have been sent home to quarantine, a spokeswoman for the school district confirmed.

Despite the quick fallout, the district’s superintendent said he has no plans to change course.

As districts around the country debate the merits of in-person classes vs. remote learning amid an escalating novel coronavirus pandemic, the Corinth School District’s early experience shows how quickly positive tests can lead to larger quarantines.

Other districts that have welcomed teachers or students back have faced similar challenges. After teachers returned to plan lessons in Georgia’s largest district, 260 district employees were barred from reentering schools because of either testing positive for the coronavirus or being in close contact with someone who had. In southeast Kansas, six school administrators tested positive after attending a three-day retreat. And within hours of opening, a school in Greenfield, Ind., was informed by the health department that a student had the virus.

Some health officials in the Trump administration, which has pushed for schools to fully reopen, are now urging communities with high rates of the virus to rethink in-person classes. On Sunday, Deborah Birx, the White House’s top coronavirus coordinator, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that in hard-hit areas, “we are asking people to distance-learn at this moment so we can get this epidemic under control.”

Mississippi has been among the hardest-hit states in the South and could overtake Florida as the top state for cases per capita, according to researchers at Harvard University. The state has had more than 63,000 coronavirus cases and more than 1,800 deaths to date.

On Tuesday, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) said in a Facebook post that he would delay school opening for seventh to 12th grades in hot spots. The governor also mandated masks in schools and ordered a two-week mask requirement for public gatherings.

In Corinth, the school district gave families an option of either sending their children to school buildings or doing distance learning from home.

“We made the decision that even though we had seen a spike in those numbers, that schools needed to reopen and at the same time, schools need to remain open,” Childress said in the Facebook Live broadcast.

According to the district’s reopening plan, students and teachers are screened daily, with their temperatures taken upon arrival at school and checked for symptoms including coughing, difficulty breathing, and loss of taste and smell. Childress said that the district will start midday temperature checks.

When the schools learned of positive coronavirus cases, they used contact tracing and notified students who had been “within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more,” said a memo posted Wednesday on Facebook informing the community of the cases. Seating charts helped the school determine who needed to quarantine, Childress said in the Facebook Live broadcast.

Those students will have to self-quarantine for 14 days and continue school online.

Despite the positive tests and quarantines, Childress said he remained optimistic about the school district’s plans. He encouraged the families to wear masks, and he urged everyone with children in quarantine to stay home until getting their test results.

“We’ve had a good start of school,” Childress said. “We’re going to have some more positive cases. We know that. We know it will happen. We’re going to have to deal with it, and I can assure that we will deal with it and when we impose quarantines on students and staff, we are doing that for a reason.”

 

 

 

 

Consultant Rues ‘Big Mistake’ That Led to Family’s COVID Infections

California GOP Consultant Rues ‘Big Mistake’ That Led to Family’s COVID Infections

California GOP Consultant Rues 'Big Mistake' That Led to Family's ...

The tweet Richard Costigan posted July 23 was bluntly honest: “We tried our best to limit exposure to #COVID19 but we slipped up somewhere.”

Costigan tweeted while waiting anxiously in the parking lot of a hospital outside Sacramento. The veteran Republican political consultant had just dropped his wife, Gloria, off at the emergency room. He wasn’t allowed to go in with her.

His thoughts traveled back to the small family gathering they had attended in Georgia nearly two weeks before with their 23-year-old daughter, Emma, and 17-year-old son, Andrew. They had planned it so carefully. Nobody wanted to get Gloria’s 88-year-old mother sick.

But here they were, Costigan’s wife battling for breath in the ER, and Costigan sitting in his car coughing.

The family’s journey since then has been one of sleeplessness, pain and worry about the future. And it’s one that Costigan, who worked as deputy chief of staff for Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is taking to social media and his 4,400 Twitter followers.

Looking back, Costigan, 54, doesn’t think he and Gloria, 53, contracted the virus on their separate flights to Georgia, where the family owns a home. The flights were nearly empty and the passengers and crew wore masks, he said.

In Georgia, the family continued its regimen of social distancing and wore masks whenever they left the house — protocols they had followed for months at home in California. And when they gathered with their relatives on that sunny Saturday in July, they were careful to space the chairs 6 feet apart in the backyard.

But they didn’t wear masks, he said, and family members went in and out of the house to grab drinks and use the restroom. “We thought we’d done everything right, and we screwed up,” Costigan said in a July 29 phone interview. “We made a big mistake.”

Now seven of the 10 family members who attended that backyard gathering are sick. Emma and Andrew don’t have any symptoms but haven’t been tested. Exactly who introduced COVID-19 to the group is unclear. No one showed signs of sickness at the time. The first person to become sick was Gloria’s sister, then her niece — then her mom.

Gloria Costigan became sick after they returned to Sacramento, spent a night in the hospital, needed an oxygen machine at home and developed COVID-related pneumonia. By Saturday, however, she no longer needed supplemental oxygen.

Costigan’s reputation as a straight shooter, respected and liked by both Democrats and Republicans, could help change minds about the virus, said Barbara O’Connor, emeritus director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University-Sacramento.

“I think that Richard is being very honest about what’s going on,” said O’Connor, who has known Costigan for decades. “It’s not political. It’s really human.”

Lawmakers who have responded on Twitter with messages of support include state Controller Betty Yee, and state Sens. Richard Bloom and Steve Glazer, all Democrats. Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a physician who chairs the Senate Health Committee, has texted well wishes to Costigan.

For his followers, Costigan’s chronicles of the virus remain grim.

“I can’t go very far without needing to lay down,” he wrote in a July 25 tweet. “Been sleeping constantly last two days and the joint pain is intense.”

In another tweet two days later, the symptoms were the same:

Gloria’s 88-year-old mom is at home with a cough, he said.

Costigan talked to California Healthline about his family’s disease odyssey and what he hopes people will take away from his COVID-19 Twitter chronicles. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You have tweeted in such detail about the horrible symptoms you experienced. How do you feel now?

My ribs just hurt with the coughing and the fatigue, and my joints hurt. I have the sweats and vivid dreams. I sleep on the floor because it’s more comfortable than the bed.

This thing just hits like a ton of bricks. It’s also the nervousness of it. How long is it going to last? Who are we going to expose to it? I just don’t know what the end game is.

Q: What is it like at your house now?

I wear a mask inside, Gloria wears a mask inside, and Andrew wears a mask. Gloria is sleeping in Emma’s old bedroom, I’m in our bedroom, and Andrew stays upstairs. When I’m hacking, you can see the spit come out. I’m worried about getting pneumonia. That’s something I’m worried about giving to my kid. It’s not just COVID.

Our daughter can only stand on our front porch. She delivers food to us. She puts it by the door, rings the bell and stands 6 feet back.

Q: You suspect you got COVID from the family gathering in Georgia. How do you trace it to that event?

When we looked at everybody that was at the gathering, we were trying to figure it out. It started with my sister-in-law getting sick. Out of 10 of us, seven of us are sick.

We never thought of our family being the one to harm us. Sometimes, you can’t control your anger. You want to be mad at someone. Gloria and I just decided we’re not going to blame anyone. We just don’t know who had it.

Q: How has this experience been so far for you and your family?

It’s been a bizarre week. I went to Kaiser Thursday night. You drop your significant other off. You can’t go in. Off they go to the tented area and I wait in the parking lot. She is admitted. Her oxygen levels are low. She gets a CT, she gets a shot in her stomach for possible blood clots. She gets out Friday and they send oxygen tanks to your house. … She’s in her early 50s and doesn’t have any health issues [otherwise].

Saturday, my son is doubling over in pain. I end up in the ER with my son, and I start coughing. I’m getting the side eye from everyone. Thankfully, he had a kidney stone.

Q: What kind of precautions have you and your family taken these past few months?

We hadn’t been anywhere for months. It was: Stay home. Work from home. No school.

Going to the store was extremely stressful. You go to the store, mask up, glove up, you bleach your shoes when you come home, spray down your car, wash your hands, use a towel to dry your hands, the towel goes straight into the washing machine.

Our son got frustrated with us because we wouldn’t let him see his friends. He saw photos of friends of his partying at Folsom Lake. We were the hardcore parents.

Q: In posts on social media, you are asking people to wear a mask. Why do you think it’s become a political issue?

I’ve been taking flak from friends of mine because I’ve been posting “wear a mask.” Wearing a mask — somehow it has become a freedom issue. It’s not a grand conspiracy. Wearing a mask is a simple thing to do to prevent someone else from getting sick. I do not understand how this has turned into a political issue. The government has a role to play. This is a health care crisis.

Q: How do you move forward in this pandemic?

We’re locking down. Nobody is coming into our circle. I don’t want it again. To see my wife this way is hard.

I want folks to realize this thing is non-discriminatory. It doesn’t matter who you are.

 

 

 

 

Admininstration believes Coronavirus is “under control”

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Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases, rolling 3-day average - Our World ...

President Trump said in an interview with “Axios on HBO” that he thinks the coronavirus is as well-controlled in the U.S. as it can be, despite dramatic surges in new infections over the course of the summer and more than 150,000 American deaths.

  • “They are dying, that’s true. And you have — it is what it is. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it. This is a horrible plague,” he told Axios’ Jonathan Swan.

Reality check: The U.S. is averaging roughly 65,000 new cases and 1,000 deaths per day, Axios’ Sam Baker writes. The virus has already killed nearly 150,000 Americans, and it spread largely unchecked through almost the entire country throughout June and July.

The big picture: In the interview, which took place last Tuesday, Trump returned to familiar themes and areas where the U.S. really has made significant progress. He cited the dramatic increase in ventilator production, the ramp-up in testing and treatment that has reduced the overall fatality rate from the virus.

  • Yes, but: He painted a far rosier picture of the pandemic than most data would support.

On testing, Trump said, “You know there are those that say you can test too much” — a view that no experts have advocated.

  • The U.S. is experiencing long turnaround times for coronavirus testing, as Trump acknowledged, because of the high demand for testing. But that is largely a function of the country’s high caseload and the number of people at risk of infection.

He also returned to his mantra that “because we’ve done more tests, we have more cases.”

  • The cases the U.S. has, we would have had with or without testing. We know we have them because of testing, but the massive outbreak here would be a massive outbreak whether we chose to know about it (through testing) or ignore it by not testing.

 

 

 

 

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.'

‘I’m fighting a war against COVID-19 and a war against stupidity,’ says CMO of Houston hospital

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-physician-relationships/i-m-fighting-a-war-against-covid-19-and-a-war-against-stupidity-says-cmo-of-houston-hospital.html?utm_medium=email

 

After two hours of sleep a night for four months and seeing a member of his team contract the virus, Joseph Varon, MD, is growing exasperated.

“I’m pretty much fighting two wars: A war against COVID and a war against stupidity,” Dr. Varon, MD, CMO and chief of critical care at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, told NBC News. “And the problem is the first one, I have some hope about winning. But the second one is becoming more and more difficult.”

Dr. Varon noted that whether it’s information backed by science or common sense, people throughout the U.S. are not listening. “The thing that annoys me the most is that we keep on doing our best to save all these people, and then you get another batch of people that are doing exactly the opposite of what you’re telling them to do.”

In an interview with NPR, Dr. Varon said he has woken up at dawn every day for the past four months and has headed to the hospital. There, he spends six to 12 hours on rounds before seeing new admissions. He then returns home to sleep two hours, at most.

He said his staff is physically and emotionally drained. 

UMMC nurse Christina Mathers spoke with NBC News from a hospital bed in the segment, noting that she had recently tested positive for COVID-19 after not feeling well during one of her shifts. “All the fighting, all the screaming, all the finger pointing — enough is enough,” Ms. Mathers told NBC. “People just need to listen to us. We’re not going to lie. Why would we lie?” 

Ms. Mathers has worked every other day since April 29, according to The Atlantic, which created a photo essay of Dr. Varon and the UMMC team at work.

 

 

Administration keeps promising an overhaul of the nation’s health-care system that never arrives

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-obamacare-promise/2020/08/01/856ce250-d348-11ea-8d32-1ebf4e9d8e0d_story.html

Conversations About Health Reform - Dr. Susan Mazer Blog

It was a bold claim when President Trump said that he was about to produce an overhaul of the nation’s health-care system, at last doing away with the Affordable Care Act, which he has long promised to abolish.

“We’re signing a health-care plan within two weeks, a full and complete health-care plan,” Trump pledged in a July 19 interview with “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace.

Now, with the two weeks expiring Sunday, there is no evidence that the administration has designed a replacement for the 2010 health-care law. Instead, there is a sense of familiarity.

Repeatedly and starting before he took office, Trump has vowed that he is on the cusp of delivering a full-fledged plan to reshape the health-care system along conservative lines and replace the central domestic achievement of Barack Obama’s presidency.

No total revamp has ever emerged.

Trump’s latest promise comes amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which has infected millions, caused more than 150,000 deaths and cost Americans their work and the health benefits that often come with jobs. His vow comes three months before the presidential election and at a time when Trump’s Republican allies in Congress may least want to revisit an issue that was a political loser for the party in the 2018 midterm elections.

Yet Trump has returned to the theme in recent days.

“We’re going to be doing a health-care plan. We’re going to be doing a very inclusive health-care plan. I’ll be signing it sometime very soon,” Trump said during an exchange with reporters at an event in Belleair, Fla., on Friday. When a reporter noted that he told Fox’s Wallace that he would sign it in two weeks, Trump added: “Might be Sunday. But it’s going to be very soon.”

Trump’s decision to revive a health-care promise that he has failed to deliver on — this time with less than 100 days before Election Day — carries political risks. Although it may appeal to voters who don’t like the ACA, it also highlights his party’s inability to come up with an alternative, despite spending almost a decade promising one.

It also raises questions about what exactly his plan would look like and whether it would cover fewer Americans than the current system as the pandemic ravages the country.

Nonetheless, some of Trump’s allies said floating health-care ideas is a smart move by the president.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who regularly meets and golfs with the president, said the health-care plan that Trump has referred to would come in the form of an executive order that Graham called “fairly comprehensive.” However broad, an executive order would fall short of a full legislative overhaul.

Graham said what Trump has in mind now would ensure that consumers do not risk losing their health plans if they get sick, but he did not give details.

“He’s pretty excited about it,” Graham said of the president. The ACA’s consumer protections for people with preexisting medical conditions is one its most popular facets with the public, and it is the one part of the law Trump consistently says he would preserve if he could get rid of the rest. How he could do that while containing costs after he and congressional Republicans remove the law’s requirement that everyone has to purchase health insurance remains the question.

Graham said it is politically astute for the White House to present an alternative to Democratic proposals close to the election, including the idea of Joe Biden, the party’s presumptive nominee, to build on the ACA so that more people could get coverage.

Still, senior Republican aides on Capitol Hill who are steeped in health care said they had little knowledge of any White House planning for a comprehensive replacement of the ACA.

The White House did not offer details or parse the president’s terminology, which has included saying that the forthcoming plan would be a bill. That implied legislation rather than an executive order.

“President Trump continues to act in delivering better and cheaper health care, protecting Americans with preexisting conditions, lowering prescription drug costs, and defending the right of Americans to keep their doctors and plans of their choice,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement to The Washington Post.

McEnany pointed out that Trump issued four executive orders in late July intended to lower prescription drug prices. “There will be more action to come in the coming weeks,” she said without identifying any.

On Capitol Hill, the president’s promises of health plans and legal efforts by the administration to scrap the ACA have created dilemmas for some Republicans. Of the GOP senators facing competitive races this fall, only Susan Collins (Maine) has said that she opposes the Justice Department’s decision to back an effort to gut the law in the courts. Other Republicans have struggled to answer directly, walking a tightrope between embracing a position that would go against popular provisions in the health-care law and risking the wrath of conservatives who want Obamacare repealed.

And the pandemic has also only sharpened the relevance of health care in the eyes of voters — increasing Republican anxiety about doing anything that could limit coverage ahead of the election. Republican Sens. John Cornyn (Tex.), Dan Sullivan (Alaska), Steve Daines (Mont.) and Martha McSally (Ariz.) — all on the ballot this November — this past week drafted legislation that would provide assistance through COBRA for people who lose their employer-sponsored health care as jobs continue to vanish during the pandemic.

“I think there’s definitely things we need to do,” Cornyn said. “But I think our focus ought to be on giving people more choices.”

The ACA — politically polarizing throughout the decade it has existed — is favored by a slim majority of Americans. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey in July found that 51 percent support the law while 36 percent oppose it. A Fox News survey in June showed 56 percent support and 38 percent opposition.

For Trump, saying that he is about to produce a health-care plan to replace the ACA has become a recurrent mantra of his presidency.

During his 2016 campaign, condemning the law was central to Trump’s candidacy. During that campaign’s final days, Trump said he was so eager to repeal and replace the 2010 law that he might ask Congress to convene a special session to do it.

“It will be such an honor for me, for you and for everybody in this country,” the then-Republican nominee said, “because Obamacare has to be replaced. And we will do it, and we will do it very, very quickly.”

The ACA was a significant theme of the president’s joint address to Congress just over a month into his tenure. “Tonight I am calling on this Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare,” he said, calling for measures that would “expand choice, increase access, lower costs and, at the same time, provide better health care.”

With GOP majorities in both the House and the Senate, Congress devoted much of 2017 to trying to get rid of substantial parts of the law. But a succession of repeal bills ultimately faltered in the Senate. When the last one did, Trump said nothing.

Near the end of the year, Congress took one big whack at the health law. As part of a major change in tax law, it eliminated the penalty the ACA levied on most Americans if they failed to carry health insurance. The penalty’s end neutralized the law’s insurance mandate.

With little appetite after that among Senate Republicans to continue trying to gut the law, and a Democratic House majority a year later, the momentum for replacing the ACA fell back to the Trump administration. Cabinet departments have, by turns, undercut specific parts of the law and tried to have it invalidated in the courts, while emphasizing that their concern for the nation’s health-care system and America’s patients reaches beyond the ACA.

And the president? He has continued to periodically vow that he would come up with a better health plan.

In the fall of 2017, Trump took a major swipe at the law by ending payments to insurance companies that had helped them afford to offer lower-income customers discounts on their deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs, as the ACA requires.

During 2018, health officials sought to shrink the law in several other ways. They wrote rules that gave states greater latitude in defining a set of 10 “essential health benefits” that the ACA requires many health plans to cover. They widened the availability of short-term health plans — originally intended as bridge coverage when someone was, say, between jobs — that do not meet consumer protections or benefits that the law otherwise requires.

The administration has joined with a group of Republican attorneys general who are pursuing a lawsuit, now before the Supreme Court, that contends the entire ACA is unconstitutional. At first, the Justice Department argued that only part of the law is invalid, but the administration hardened its position to argue that the entire law should be thrown out.

As these and other administration health-care actions have played out, the drumbeat has continued that the president was about to reveal an ACA replacement plan.

In June 2019, Trump said in an interview with ABC News that he would announce a “phenomenal” new health-care plan “in about two months, maybe less.”

Two months later, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters that the president was preparing to introduce an elaborate plan to redesign the nation’s health-care system in a speech the following month. “We’re working every single day here,” Conway said last August. “I’ve already been in meetings this morning on the president’s health-care plan. It’s pretty impressive.”

No speech or plan came.

In June, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar suggested that the administration would develop a health-care plan only if the nation’s highest court, which has upheld the law in two earlier cases over the past eight years, overturns it this time. “We’ll work with Congress on a plan if the ACA is struck down,” Azar said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We’ll see what the Supreme Court rules.”

That was three weeks before the president told Fox that he was about to issue a plan.

The administration’s antipathy toward the law has not produced much real-world change for the approximately 20 million people who have coverage through the insurance marketplaces the ACA created for those who cannot get affordable health benefits through a job and those insured through Medicaid expansions.

Early on, HHS slashed federal funding for advertising and other outreach efforts to encourage people to buy ACA health plans during the annual enrollment period. Critics of the administration predicted that sign-ups would ebb. They have not.

The most recent enrollment figures document the number of people choosing an ACA health plan who had followed up by paying insurance premiums last winter so their coverage was in place as of February. The figures, released last week, show that 10.7 million consumers have such plans, slightly more than the 10.6 million a year earlier.

Despite the administration’s steps to undercut parts of the law, and the elimination of the penalty for not having insurance, some of the ACA’s main features remain in place. They include federal subsidies for more than 8 in 10 people who buy health plans in the marketplaces created under the law, the expansion of Medicaid in most states, many consumer insurance protections, and a rule that young adults can stay on their parents’ insurance until they turn 26.

Against existing evidence, Trump says that will soon change.

“We’re getting rid of it because we’re going to replace it with something much better,” Trump told Wallace two weeks ago.

 

 

 

 

Cartoon – Our National Coronavirus Strategy

Cartoon – What do you get when you combine cognitive bias with ...

Misinformation on coronavirus is proving highly contagious

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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. 

 

 

 

Coronavirus update: July marked the worst month on record for new infections. In excess of 1,000 died per day which represents greater than 50% of those who died during the entire Vietnam War (this in just 1 month).

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U.S. Hits Another Record for New Coronavirus Cases - The New York ...

The United States saw a devastating surge in coronavirus infections during July, with more than 1.9 million new cases in total reported — by far the most tallied in a single month and a grim sign that the country had lost its grip on the pandemic.

The month’s infection total reported by states was more than double that of June and represents about 42 percent of the 4.5 million cases the country has logged since the outbreak started, according to tracking by The Washington Post. Nationwide, testing has steadily increased — in July, it rose from about 600,000 to 820,000 tests per day — but soaring positivity rates and hospitalizations made clear that virus transmission was accelerating.

Coronavirus-related deaths also rose after declining during April and May: The country saw 25,259 fatalities in July, up more than 3,700 from the previous month, according to The Post’s data. Health experts predicted daily deaths would continue to trend upward in August, trailing spikes in infections by a few weeks. To date, more than 150,000 people in the United States have died of covid-19, the disease the novel coronavirus causes.

Here are some significant developments:

  • Over the past week, 24 states surpassed a case increase of more than 100 cases per 100,000 people — a metric the White House and Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator, have defined as “red zone” states, where the spread of the virus is serious enough to warrant stricter public health precautions.
  • The United States tallied 1,315 coronavirus deaths Friday, the fifth day in a row the country has reached a four-digit death toll, according to data analysis by The Post.
  • Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading expert on infectious diseases, told Congress on Friday that a “diversity of response” from states had hampered efforts to bring down the number of new infections. In contrast, he said, many European nations went into near-total lockdowns.
  • Students can return to college safely if they are tested for the coronavirus every two days, according to a JAMA study by researchers from the Yale School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Amid the rise in infections and deaths, the country’s virus response remains fractured and halting. Officials at all levels of government spent July sparring over whether to roll back reopening plans and institute mask mandates and other public health requirements recommended by leading health experts.

The pandemic has also had a harsh impact on the economy, with the nation’s gross domestic product shrinking at an annual rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter. At midnight Friday, tens of millions of American workers lost $600 weekly unemployment payments after congressional leaders failed to reach an agreement on how to extend the benefit, which has helped keep many households afloat the past four months.