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Trump May Scale Back on Virus Briefings After Disinfectant Debacle

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  • President Trump seemed to suggest Thursday that medical experts should explore the possibility of using disinfectant to treat the coronavirus, “by injection inside or almost a cleaning.”
  • Afterward, the CDC, the maker of Lysol, and other medical professionals warned against injecting or consuming household cleaners and disinfectants.
  • The White House said Trump’s comments were taken out of context by media and Trump later argued that he was being sarcastic. 
  • His advisors have allegedly been warning that his frequent appearances at virus briefings are not helping him in polls against Joe Biden, and this latest debacle might have finally made him agree, according to an Axios report.

Trump Under Fire 

President Donald Trump is reportedly planning to scale back on his appearances at coronavirus task force press briefings, according to a new Axios report published Friday. 

The news comes amid heavy backlash Trump is facing after suggesting medical experts look into the possibility of injecting disinfectant as a treatment for COVID-19. 

If you’re not already caught up on what the president, the White House, and medical experts have said, here’s a breakdown.

What Happened Thursday? 

As part of Thursday’s coronavirus press briefing, the public heard from William Bryan, the acting undersecretary of homeland security for science and technology. Bryan updated the public on preliminary government research about the coronavirus that can be used to inform responses to the pandemic. 

He shared a few trends and observations emerging in current research: that the virus has a much harder time surviving in hot or humid conditions, or when exposed to the ultraviolet rays of direct sunlight.

Now, these experiments aren’t entirely definitive in terms of implications for human-to-human transition in real-world conditions. For instance, we know that humid places like Singapore and Ecuador have seen significant outbreaks. Still, the point is that looking at this information can help inform best practices for policies and personal conduct.

Bryan also briefly mentioned that the department has confirmed the already-known fact that isopropyl alcohol and bleach kill the virus. He said isopropyl alcohol, an ingredient in most hand sanitizers, can kill the virus in 30 seconds. Bleach, which is commonly used in disinfectant products, can kill the virus in five minutes, Bryan explained.  

This is where things started to take a turn. At this point in the briefing, Trump appeared to suggest scientists should explore the possibility of bringing “light inside the body” and injecting patients with disinfectants. 

Here’s exactly what the President said:

TRUMP: ‘Thank you very much. So I asked Bill a question that probably some of you are thinking of, if you’re totally into that world, which I find to be very interesting. So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you’re going to test that too. It sounds interesting.”

BRYAN: “We’ll get to the right folks who could.”

TRUMP: “Right. And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds — it sounds interesting to me. So we’ll see. But the whole concept of the light, the way it kills it in one minute, that’s — that’s pretty powerful.”

Later in the briefing, a reporter asked Bryan about the possibility of injecting people with those cleaners, saying: “There’s no scenario that that could be injected into a person, is there?”

Bryan responded, “No, I’m here to talk about the findings that we had in the study.  We won’t do that within that lab and our lab.”

The president then jumped and seemingly walked back on his previous suggestion, saying, “It wouldn’t be through injection. We’re talking about through almost a cleaning, sterilization of an area. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t work.  But it certainly has a big effect if it’s on a stationary object.”

And then even later in the briefing, Trump again suggested applying light to cure the virus, asking Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the task force, if she’s ever heard of using that as a treatment.

Trump: “I would like you to speak to the medical doctors to see if there’s any way that you can apply light and heat to cure. You know — if you could. And maybe you can, maybe you can’t. Again, I say, maybe you can, maybe you can’t. I’m not a doctor. But I’m like a person that has a good you know what. Deborah, have you ever heard of that? The heat and the light, relative to certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?”

Birx: “Not as a treatment. I mean, certainly fever is a good thing. When you have a fever, it helps your body respond. But not as — I’ve not seen heat or light …”

Trump: “I think it’s a great thing to look at. I mean, you know. Okay?”

Backlash and Warnings 

Clips of the president’s comments spread quickly online. His initial remarks about injecting disinfectants, in particular, were met with widespread ridicule and concern. 

Some even began sharing videos of Dr. Birx’s facial reactions as the president spoke.

Many pointed out that there is a ton of extensive research about the impact household cleaners have on human health. That’s why the items all have warning labels on their packaging and why the Consumer Product Safety Commission warns that they should be kept out of children’s reach. That recommendation, of course, relies on the belief that most adults already know better than to ingest bleach and household cleaners. 

After Trump’s Thursday briefing, different agencies, doctors, and even the company that makes Lysol and Dettol warned that injecting or ingesting disinfectants is dangerous. 

“Household cleaners and disinfectants can cause health problems when not used properly. Follow the instructions on the product label to ensure safe and effective use,” the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tweeted Friday.

Maryland’s Emergency Management Agency also said, “This is a reminder that under no circumstances should any disinfectant product be administered into the body through injection, ingestion or any other route.”

“As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route),” Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of Lysol and Dettol said.

Clorox, the maker of bleach, soon followed, calling it critical for consumers to understand the facts. “Bleach and other disinfectants are not suitable for consumption or injection under any circumstances,” it said.

Trump and White House Respond 

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany issued a statement Friday claiming that the media had taken the President’s comments out of context.

“President Trump has repeatedly said that Americans should consult with medical doctors regarding coronavirus treatment, a point that he emphasized again during yesterday’s briefing,” McEnany said. “Leave it to the media to irresponsibly take President Trump out of context and run with negative headlines.”

But when Trump was asked about his comments during a bill signing Friday, he said he was being sarcastic.

“I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” Trump told a reporter. 

He then suggested he was talking about disinfectants that can safely be rubbed on people’s hands, but afterward, he returned to the sarcasm explanation.

Trump: “Now, disinfectant, or doing this, maybe on the hands, would work. And I was asking the question of the gentleman who was there yesterday — Bill — because when they say that something will last three or four hours or six hours, but if the sun is out or if they use disinfectant, it goes away in less than a minute. Did you hear about this yesterday? But I was asking a sarcastic — and a very sarcastic question — to the reporters in the room about disinfectant on the inside. But it does kill it and it would kill it on the hands and that would make things much better. That was done in the form of a sarcastic question to the reporters. Okay.”

When a reporter noted that he had asked his medical experts to look into it. Trump responded: “No, no, no, no — to look into whether or not sun and disinfectant on the hands, but whether or not sun can help us.”

When claiming again that his comments were said sarcastically to “a group of extraordinary hostile people, namely the fake news media,” the president suggested that he was looking at reporters when he spoke.

A reporter pushed back and said he was looking at Dr. Bix, which he was in fact doing for nearly the entirety of his comments about disinfectant. 

However, Trump claims he was actually looking at Bryan, Birx, and also “some of the reporters.”

Despite his claims, many agree that there was no indication the president was being sarcastic. Video also shows that Trump didn’t mention anything about disinfectant on the hands specifically. 

Dr. Birx also appeared on Fox News Friday where she seemed to defend Trump by explaining how he likes to process information.

“When he gets new information, he likes to talk that through out loud and really have that dialogue — and so that’s what dialogue he was having. I think he just saw the information at the time immediately before the press conference and he was still digesting that information,” Dr. Birx told host Jesse Watters

Plans to Pare Back Briefings 

According to a new report by Axios, four sources familiar with internal deliberations say the president is planning to “pare back” his coronavirus press conference.

The sources said he may stop appearing daily and may make shorter appearances when he does. This practice might have started with Friday’s presser, which was lasted under 25 minutes and included no questions from reporters. For comparison, last Friday’s briefing ran for about one hour and 45 minutes. 

The report says that a number of Trump’s most trusted advisers have urged him to stop doing so many briefings, but he has argued that they get good ratings. His advisors allegedly say he’s overexposed and that his appearances are part of the reason he’s struggling in polls against Joe Biden. 

“I told him it’s not helping him,” said one adviser to the president, according to Axios. “Seniors are scared. And the spectacle of him fighting with the press isn’t what people want to see.”

A senior administration official involved in the discussions said: “He should keep everyone guessing as to whether he appears day by day. And leave the technical briefings to others. Be there to announce victories.”

Another source argued that their just isn’t enough new material to justify his presence at every briefing. “I mean, you wonder how we got to the point where you’re talking about injecting disinfectant?” one source said. 

The report notes that while these conversations were underway before the disinfectant debacle, the recent incident might have helped Trump realize that the briefings aren’t helping him.

However, one of Axio’s sources cautioned that nothing is official until it’s official.

See what others are saying: (Axios) (FactCheck.org) (Vox

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Coronavirus Cases Surge in the US, Shattering Records

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  • The United States hit its highest seven day average of coronavirus cases on Sunday, reaching a 68,787 case average, according to Johns Hopkins. This is over 1,000 cases higher than the previous record which was hit in July.
  • Also this weekend, over 83,000 cases were reported on Friday and Saturday, marking the two highest single day case counts in the country.
  • Some state and local governments are issuing curfews or other restrictions to slow the spread of the virus. Federal health leaders, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb are calling for a mask mandate throughout the country.

Cases in the U.S. Surge

As coronavirus cases surge across the United States, the country hit its highest seven-day average of cases reported since the start of the deadly pandemic. 

According to Johns Hopkins, that average hit 68,787 cases on Sunday. The previous high was a 67,293 average at the end of July. This follows a weekend of record-breaking reports. The two highest single day case counts were reached on Friday and Saturday, with over 83,000 new cases reported each day.

As cases spike, it is unlikely that the entire country will face full lockdowns similar to the ones ordered in March, but some local leaders are taking smaller steps to curb the spread. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced new COVID-19 restrictions on Friday that include curfews for certain businesses and safety rules for dining. 

“Please be extremely conservative in deciding how much time to spend outside of the home,” Grisham wrote when announcing the new mitigation strategies. “The visit to friends or family can wait – it’s not worth your life, or theirs.”

Some local leaders are taking stronger approaches. In South Dakota, the Ogala Sioux Tribe mandated a seven-day lockdown that started Friday as a result of a spike on their reservation. In El Paso, Texas, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego ordered a 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. curfew throughout the county as hospitalizations trend upwards. 

Federal Leaders Call For Mask Mandate

Some believe that in addition to local restrictions, more should be done on a federal level to curb the spread of the virus. Specifically, many think the country should mandate mask-wearing in public.

On Sunday, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal arguing that as winter approaches, a mask mandate could save lives. 

“It will be essential to use standard interventions, including limits on crowded settings such as bars and continuing to test and trace contacts,” Gottlieb wrote. “But on the current trajectory these measures won’t be enough to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed in some areas.”

“Masks would help,” he added. “As a practical matter, it’s easier to wear a mask in the winter than the summer. A mandate can be expressly limited to the next two months. The inconvenience would allow the country to preserve health-care capacity and keep more schools and businesses open.”

While President Donald Trump has repeatedly mocked the use of masks in the past, his opponent former Vice President Joe Biden has advocated for a mandate. On Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases echoed his support for a mandate on CNN

“If everyone agrees that this is something that’s important and they mandated it, and everyone pulls together and says ‘you know we’re going to mandate it, but let’s just do it,’ I think that would be a great idea to have everyone do it uniformly,” he said.

“Though I get the issue of, if you mandate a mask then you’re going to have to enforce it, which will create more of a problem. Well, if people are not wearing masks, then maybe we should be mandating it.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (USA TODAY) (NBC)

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At Least 130,000 Covid-19 Deaths Were Avoidable, Columbia Study Finds

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  • A report from the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University estimates that between 130,000 and 210,000 coronavirus deaths were avoidable in the United States.
  • While the U.S. accounts for just 4% of the global population, the country makes up 20% of the world’s coronavirus cases and fatalities. The country’s proportional death rate is twice as high as Canada’s and 50 times higher than Japan’s.
  • The report largely blamed the Trump administration for ignoring warning signs and scientists, arguing that he has been downplaying the issue, peddling misinformation, and turning the pandemic into a political game.
  • It also criticized the Trump administration and other federal leaders for not responding quickly enough in terms of testing and social distancing measures, which could have saved lives if implemented sooner.

Preventable Deaths in the U.S. 

The National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University released a report on Wednesday estimating that at somewhere between 130,000 and 210,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States were avoidable. 

At the time the report was made, the county had lost 217,000 thousand lives to the virus. As of Thursday morning, the U.S. death toll stands at 222,000. While the U.S. accounts for just 4% of the global population, the country makes up 20% of the world’s coronavirus cases and fatalities. 

According to the report, the U.S. has the ninth highest proportional death rate in the world behind Peru, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Spain, and Mexico. The country’s proportional death rate is twice as high as Canada’s and 50 times higher than Japan’s.

The report estimated how many deaths may have been preventable by seeing what the U.S. death toll may have been if it had mirrored the strategies of more proactive and high-income countries.

For example, it says that if the U.S. had followed policies similar to those in Canada, the country may have seen just 85,192 fatalities, making more than 132,500 American deaths “avoidable.” If the States had mirrored Germany the death toll may have been 38,457, leaving 179,260 avoidable losses. If the U.S. modeled after South Korea’s robust intervention, Americans may have seen around 2,799 deaths, leaving nearly 215,000 deaths avoidable.

The researchers do acknowledge that other various factors could contribute to a country having a higher mortality rate, including demographics, distribution of population, health risk factors like obesity, and health care access in general. Still they do not believe this would explain the magnitude of the COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. According to the report, even if the U.S. had implemented an “averaged” response, the virus may have only claimed between 38,000 to 85,000 lives, meaning that at least 130,000 COVID-19 deaths might have been avoidable.

Failures of the Trump Administration

Many, including the researchers behind this report, largely blamed state and federal governments as well as President Donald Trump’s Administration for the catastrophic death toll in the nation. Criticism has come from leaders all over, including former president Barack Obama. During a speech on Thursday, Obama said that he handed Trump’s White House a “pandemic playbook” that got thrown out the window.

“Other countries are still struggling with the pandemic but they’re not doing as bad as we are because they’ve got a government that’s actually been paying attention,” Obama added. “And that means lives lost. And that means an economy that doesn’t work. And just yesterday, when asked if he’d do anything differently, Trump said, ‘Not much.’ Really? Not much? Nothing you can think of that could have helped some people keep their loved ones alive?” 

Because the U.S. has been repeatedly condemned for its reckless mishandling of the virus, the idea that thousands of deaths could have been prevented is not surprising. Still, seeing the staggering numbers and lives that did not need to be taken is a sobering reminder of the tragedy the country is currently facing. The report said this tragedy falls on Trump’s hands and specifically criticized the president for ignoring science and instead spreading misinformation and turning the pandemic into a political game. 

“Many nations facing the pandemic crisis have put politics aside and orchestrated a response led by public health experts and global coordination,” the report stated. 

“Unfortunately, the Trump Administration has shown hostility to much of the critical guidance and recommendations put forth by its own health agencies, with the President at times misleading the public on the scope of the threat, attempting to ‘downplay’ the extent of the crisis, and advocating for unproven therapeutical or unsafe treatments.”

A Delayed Response From the U.S.

Among the many oversights, the report claimed the administration was responsible for was a lack of testing. From the start of the pandemic, the U.S. was far behind on testing efforts, which are essential in fighting a pandemic. Both the U.S. and South Korea had their first confirmed cases on the same day. South Korea began rapid widespread testing and had conducted 250,000 by March 16. At this time in the United States, Trump was still peddling the idea that the virus was like a flu and might fade away. 

The report also noted that a lack of mask mandates and delayed responses in other areas like social distancing likely contributed to the spread of the coronavirus. If major cities in the country had introduced social distancing measures just one or two weeks earlier, it is estimated that 62% of cases and 55% of deaths could have been avoided. 

Deaths and case counts are not the only things that could have been avoided. The report noted that in New York State alone 325,000 children have been pushed to poverty because of the pandemic and 4,200 children have lost a parent to COVID-19. If policies had been implemented earlier, there could be at least 1.5 million less people grieving across the country right now. 

“The U.S. should have – and could have – done better to protect the nation, and particularly its most vulnerable populations, from a threat that was identified and recognized early in 2020,” the report said in its conclusion.

“The weight of this enormous failure ultimately falls to the leadership at the White House – and among a number of state governments – which consistently undercut the efforts of top officials at the CDC and HHS…a pandemic is not a time for a decentralized and combative national response.”

See what others are saying: (Forbes) (Axios) (CNN)

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Purdue Pharma Agrees To Plead Guilty To 3 Opioid-Related Charges in $8B Settlement, But Don’t Expect Them To Pay the Full Amount

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  • As part of a more than $8 billion settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Purdue Pharma will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and two counts of violating anti-kickback, or bribery, laws.
  • Because Purdue filed for bankruptcy last year, that full figure likely won’t be collected by the government.
  • Under the settlement, which will need approval in bankruptcy court, Purdue would become a public benefit corporation that is controlled by the government, with revenue from opioid sales being used to fund treatment options and programs.
  • A number of state attorneys generals and Democratic lawmakers have said the settlement does not hold Purdue or its owners fully accountable and could derail thousands of other cases against the company.
  • They have also argued that the government should “avoid having special ties to an opioid company… that caused a national crisis.”

Purdue to Plead Guilty to 3 Criminal Charges

The Justice Department announced Wednesday that Purdue Pharma has agreed to plead guilty to three criminal charges related to fueling the country’s opioid epidemic. 

Notably, those guilty pleas come as part of a massive settlement worth more than $8 billion, though Purdue will likely only pay a fraction of that amount to the government.

Purdue is the manufacturer of oxycontin, which is a powerful and addictive painkiller that’s believed to have driven the opioid crisis. Since 2000, opioid addiction and overdoses have been linked to more than 470,000 deaths. 

As part of the settlement, Purdue will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. There, it will admit that it lied to the Drug Enforcement Administration by claiming that it had maintained an effective program to avoid opioid misuse. It will also admit to reporting misleading information to the DEA in order to increase its manufacturing quotas.

While Purdue originally told the DEA that it had “robust controls” to avoid opioid misuse, according to the Justice Department, it had “disregard[ed] red flags their own systems were sending up.”

Along with that guilty plea, Purdue will also plead guilty to two anti-kickback, or bribery, related charges. In one charge, it will admit to violating federal law by paying doctors to write more opioid prescriptions. In the other, it will admit to using electronic health records software to increase opioid prescriptions.

According to a copy of the plea deal obtained by the Associated Press, Purdue “knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with others to aid and abet” the distribution of opioids from doctors “without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice.”

The $8 billion in settlements will be split several different ways.

In one deal, the Sackler family — which owns Purdue — will pay $225 million to resolve civil fines. 

As part of the main deal, another $225 million will go directly to the federal government in a larger $2 billion criminal forfeiture; however, the government is actually expected to forego the rest of that figure.

In addition to that, $2.8 billion will go to resolving Purdue’s civil liability. Another $3.54 billion will go to criminal fines, but because Purdue filed bankruptcy last year, these figures also likely won’t be fully collected — largely because the government will now have to compete with other claims against Purdue in bankruptcy court.”

Purdue Will Become a “Public Benefit Company”

Since Purdue is in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings, a bankruptcy court will also need to approve the settlement.

“The agreed resolution, if approved by the courts, will require that the company be dissolved and no longer exist in its present form,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said. 

However, that doesn’t mean that Purdue’s fully gone or that it will even stop making oxycontin. In fact, as part of this settlement, the Sacklers would relinquish ownership of Purdue, and it would then transform into what’s known as a public benefit company.

Essentially, that means it would be run by the government. Under that setup, money from limited oxycontin sales, as well as from sales of several overdose-reversing medications, would be pumped back into treatment initiatives and other drug programs aimed at combating the opioid crisis.

For its part, the Justice Department has endorsed this model. 

Should Purdue Be Punished More?

There has been strong opposition to this deal, mainly from state attorneys general and Democratic members of Congress who say it doesn’t go far enough.

Those critics argue that the settlements don’t hold Purdue or the Sackler family fully accountable, especially the Sacklers since — unlike Purdue — they didn’t have to admit any wrongdoing.

“[W]hile our country continues to recover from the pain and destruction left by the Sacklers’ greed,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “this family has attempted to evade responsibility and lowball the millions of victims of the opioid crisis. Today’s deal doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands of deaths or millions of addictions caused by Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family.”

“If the only practical consequence of your Department’s investigation is that a handful of billionaires are made slightly less rich, we fear that the American people will lose faith in the ability of the Department to provide accountability and equal justice under the law,” A coalition of 38 Democratic members of Congress said in a statement to Attorney General Bill Barr last week.

While this settlement doesn’t include any convictions against the Sacklers specifically, as the Justice Department noted, it also doesn’t release them from criminal liability and a separate criminal investigation is ongoing. 

Still, last week, 25 state attorneys general asked Barr not to make a deal that includes converting Purdue into a public benefit company, urging the Justice Department to “avoid having special ties to an opioid company, conflicts of interest, or mixed motives in an industry that caused a national crisis.” 

Part of their concern is that the government would essentially run this new company while also holding the original one accountable. Those attorneys general instead argued that Purdue should be run privately but with government oversight. 

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (The New York Times) (Fox Business)

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