- During Tuesday’s Senate hearing, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned against opening the country back up too soon.
- At the hearing, Fauci said states that reopen too early without heeding federal guidelines could risk uncontrollable outbreaks that lead to “suffering and death that could be avoided,” and undermine economic recovery.
- This is a direct contrast to what President Trump has been saying, which implies that America is starting to come out on the other side of the virus, despite the U.S. hitting 80,000 deaths.
Dr. Fauci Testifies
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the coronavirus task force, testified in a highly anticipated Senate hearing on Tuesday.
The hearing, dubbed “Covid-19: Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School,” was held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. It marked the first time the leading expert was publicly questioned by Congress since President Donald Trump declared a national emergency two months ago.
In addition to Dr. Fauci, senators also heard testimony from Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Stephen Hahn, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner, and Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Much of the focus of the hearing, especially the questions directed to Dr. Fauci, were centered around the widespread reopening efforts states have started to undertake.
In an email to the New York Times the night before the hearing, Dr. Fauci said that the message he wished to convey to the committee “is the danger of trying to open the country prematurely.”
“If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country,” he wrote. “This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.”
Dr. Fauci Doubles Down
Dr. Fauci hit on that point during the hearing when asked what he thinks will happen if states start to open up too soon.
“My concern is that if states or cities or regions their attempt, understandable, to get back to some form of normality, disregard to a greater sense of degree the checkpoints that we put in our guidelines about when it is safe to proceed in pulling back on mitigation,” he said.
“Because I feel if that occurs, there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control,” he continued. “Which in fact, paradoxically will set you back, not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to trying to get economic recovery. So you would almost turn the clock back rather than going forward.”
“When you are in the process of opening up and pulling back on mitigation, you really must have in place the capability of responding when you do that the inevitable uptick of cases. That will absolutely occur,” Dr. Fauci reiterated later in the hearing.
“It’s how we deal with it, and how successful we are in how we put the clamps on it, that will prevent us from getting the kind of rebound that not only from the standpoint of illness and death would be something that’s unacceptable. But it will set us back in our progress towards reopening the country.”
Dr. Fauci also pushed back against a number of claims President Trump has made in recent weeks. When asked if he thought the U.S. had the virus under control, as Trump has indicated, he responded, “If you think that we have it completely under control, we don’t.“
“If you look at the dynamics of the outbreak, we are seeing a diminution of hospitalizations and infections in some places—such as in New York City, which has plateaued and is starting to come down, New Orleans—but in other parts of the country, we are seeing spikes.”
“We run the risk of having a resurgence,” he added. “I would hope by that point in time in the fall that we have more than enough to respond adequately, but if we don’t, there will be problems.”
The doctor additionally addressed Trump’s claims that the coronavirus will go away without a vaccine.
“That is just not going to happen,” he said. “It’s a highly transmissible virus. It is likely there will be virus somewhere on this planet that will likely get back to us.”
The points made by Dr.Fauci were also echoed and supported by the other experts, like CDC director Dr. Redfield, who told the Senators “we’re not out of the woods yet.”
Contradicting Trump’s Remarks
Many of the remarks made by Dr. Fauci and the other health experts appeared to directly contract remarks made by President Trump over the last few weeks.
Two weeks ago when the federal social distancing guidelines expired, Trump announced he would not extend them.
“We think we really have crossed a big boundary, and much better days are ahead,” he said. “And I often say I see the light at the end of the tunnel, very strongly.”
Since then, the president has generally spoken about the virus as though it has largely been handled, even as the U.S. has now hit 80,000 recorded deaths. But that has not stopped Trump from claiming victory.
“We have met the moment and we have prevailed,” he boldly declared while speaking from the Rose Garden Monday.
When asked later, Trump said that he meant the country had prevailed on increasing access to testing, but even that is a questionable claim.
It is true that the U.S. has nearly doubled daily testing from 150,000 tests per day from a month ago to 300,000 per day recently, but that number is still far under the five million daily target Trump himself set last month.
Despite falling short of this self-proclaimed goal, Trump has repeatedly bragged about U.S. testing capabilities.
“We have a great testing capacity now,” he said Monday. “If somebody wants to be tested right now, they’ll be able to be tested.”
However, it is simply not true that everyone has access to testing. The U.S. only has the capacity to test everyone who is symptomatic or has been in contact with someone that tested positive.
Trump also mischaracterized the number of new cases in the U.S., claiming that they are “way down from what they were two weeks ago. The numbers are really coming down very substantially. This weekend was one of the lowest we’ve had.”
While the number of new cases reported across the country this weekend was 40,000, which is less than the 60,000 reported two weeks ago, that is still not good.
It is also not a “universal” trend, as Trump said. According to reports, new cases are actually increasing in nine states and basically unchanged in more than two dozen others.
Those facts and the remarks made by Dr. Fauci are highly relevant as more and more states begin to reopen.
The majority of states have started to implement at least a partial reopening, but according to reports, more than half of those states do not meet the Trump administration’s guidelines for doing so, which rely on increased testing capabilities and a downward trajectory of positive cases.
Many of those states have not increased their testing capabilities, and according to the Times: “In more than half of states easing restrictions last week, case counts were trending upward, the proportion of positive test results was rising, or both.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)
Ron DeSantis Faces Lawsuit, Investigation for “Human Trafficking” of Migrants
A woman only known as “Pearla” allegedly lured the desperate migrants onto planes with monetary incentives and false promises.
A Political Stunt Blows Up in the Governor’s Face
After unexpectedly flying some 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is staring down a class action lawsuit, a local investigation, and a potential probe from the Justice Department.
On Tuesday, Lawyers for Civil Rights, in conjunction with the nonprofit Alianza Americas filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of the migrants. The filing names DeSantis, the state of Florida, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue, and their accomplices as defendants.
It alleges they fraudulently induced the migrants to cross state lines to Martha’s Vineyard, where shelter and resources were not prepared.
According to several accounts, the migrants were falsely promised work, free rent, and immigration assistance in exchange for taking the trip.
The migrants are seeking unspecified damages on top of the cost of their legal fees for emotional and economic harm.
On Monday, Texas Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced that he was opening an investigation into the migrant flights and DeSantis’s role in the scheme, which he called an “abuse of human rights.”
“They feel that they were deceived in being taken from Bexar County — from San Antonio, Texas — to where they eventually ended up,” he told CNN on Tuesday. “That could be a crime here in Texas and we will handle it as such.”
Salazar also said in a statement that his office was working with private attorneys representing the victims and advocacy organizations and that he was prepared to work with “any federal agency with concurrent jurisdiction, should the need arise.”
Since making the announcement, the sheriff’s office has been bombarded by threats via phone and email, according to a statement by a spokesperson.
Dylan Fernandes, a Massachusetts state lawmaker representing Martha’s Vineyard, called on the DoJ to launch a human trafficking probe into DeSantis Sunday.
He wrote on Twitter about the “inhumane acts,” saying, “Not only is it morally criminal, there are legal implications around fraud, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty, and human trafficking.”
A Mysterious Woman Named Pearla
Several migrants have told reporters, and claimed in the class action lawsuit, that they were lured onto the planes by a tall, blonde woman calling herself Pearla.
She reportedly approached them outside the San Antonio shelter, on the street, and in a McDonald’s parking lot, talking to them in broken Spanish.
Eduardo Linares, a migrant who said he rejected Pearla’s offer, told The Boston Globe that she promised them a free trip to Massachusetts and guaranteed work.
Another migrant named Alejandro told the outlet she offered him three months of free rent, job placement, and help with his immigration case.
The San Antonio Report interviewed a migrant named Emmanuel who said Pearla paid him $200 to recruit other migrants for the flights.
Tuesday’s lawsuit filing elaborates on their claims, saying that they were enticed with $10 McDonald’s gift cards to fly to Boston or Washington.
It alleges that the migrants were rounded up in hotel rooms while the scheme’s organizers gathered enough people to fill two planes, with them sequestered so they could not discuss the plan with anyone else.
“Once the individual Plaintiffs and class members landed, it became clear that the promises made to induce them on the planes were in fact bold-faced lies,” the filing says.
DeSantis defended himself on Fox News Monday night, saying, “They all signed consent forms to go and then the vendor that is doing this for Florida provided them with a packet that had a map of Martha’s Vineyard, it has the number for different services that are on Martha’s Vineyard.”
The brochures given to the migrants, however, listed services for refugees, not asylum seekers, and some migrants have said they weren’t aware of this fact. If the migrants were misled, the participants in the scheme could be criminally liable.
Who Pearla is and who employs her is still unknown, but DeSantis has publically taken credit for chartering the flights.
The League of United Latin American Citizens is offering $5,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of Pearla.
Two days after arriving in Martha’s Vineyard, the migrants voluntarily took shelter in a Cape Cod military base, which is designed for such emergency purposes.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (Vice) (The Boston Globe)
Is The Pandemic Really Over? Experts Bristle at Biden’s Declaration
Top Republicans took the president’s words as a signal not to approve any more funds for COVID relief.
The Pandemic’s End
“The pandemic is over,” declared President Joe Biden in a “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday night.
“We still have a problem with COVID,” he said. “We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over.”
“If you notice, no one is wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape, and so I think it’s changing, and I think this is a perfect example of it,” he added, gesturing around at last week’s Detroit Auto Show, where the interview took place.
The president’s remarks turned many heads among public health experts, who have pointed out that 400 to 500 Americans continue to die from COVID-19 every day.
“We’ve had two million cases reported over the last 28 days, and we know underreporting is substantial,” Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times.
“COVID-19 continues to be the number four cause of death in the country,” he added.
Others argued that the U.S. president does not have the authority to declare a pandemic over. Only the World Health Organization, which first declared the coronavirus a global pandemic in early 2020, holds that power.
“We are not there yet,” WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week. “But the end is in sight.”
To Care or Not to Care: That is the White House’s Question
Biden’s relatively relaxed attitude toward the virus on “60 Minutes” contradicted his administration’s official policy, which aids have been quick to clarify remains the same. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the government’s declaration of a COVID-19 public health emergency, which enables it to waive or modify requirements for health-related programs like Medicare and Medicaid, remains in effect. That designation, however, will be up for renewal on October 13.
The White House has also been pushing Congress to allocate another $22 billion toward fighting the pandemic, but top Republicans said Monday that Biden’s comment declaring the pandemic over essentially shuts the door on further aid.
“If it’s over, then I wouldn’t suspect they need any more money,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx.) in response Monday.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the ranking Republican member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, added, “I don’t think they were going to get any Covid money through anyway.”
The Biden administration continues to encourage Americans to get the newly authorized “bivalent” COVID-19 booster shot, which provides protection against both the original strain and the omicron subvariants.
The booster shot could prevent as many as 10,000 deaths and 137,000 hospitalizations in the coming months, according to one estimate by Matthew Daley, a physician at Kaiser Permanente Colorado.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everybody over the age of 12, and those who are older, pregnant, immunocompromised, or have a chronic illness, in particular, get the booster as soon as possible. But while most Americans have been vaccinated at least once, less than half have gotten their first booster shot, according to CDC data.
New York Mayor Eric Adams announced Tuesday that vaccine mandates for private employers will end in November, though public employees will still be required to have a vaccine. The day prior, Starbucks also lifted some COVID policies, announcing that its workers will no longer get two weeks of sick pay for coronavirus infections starting on October 2.
In its statement, the company described the pandemic as entering the “endemic” phase.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Trump Plays QAnon Music During Conspiracy-Ridden Speech in Ohio
In recent weeks, the former president has made explicit gestures to QAnon on Truth Social.
The One-Finger Salute Becomes Trump’s Latest Rallying Symbol
In one of his clearest endorsements of the conspiracy theory yet, former president Donald Trump played a QAnon theme song during a rally in Youngstown, Ohio on Saturday.
Trump was there to support Senate candidate JD Vance ahead of November’s midterm elections. As the night’s rally came to a close, the former president delivered an eight-minute monologue while dramatic string music provided ambiance.
Experts identified the song as “WWG1WGA,” an acronym for the QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all.”
But Trump aids who spoke to The New York Times claimed it was in fact a song called “Mirrors” by film and TV composer Will Van De Crommer.
“The fake news, in a pathetic attempt to create controversy and divide America, is brewing up another conspiracy about a royalty-free song from a popular audio library platform,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich, told the outlet.
When Trump posted a video to Truth Social containing the same music last month, however, music professor David Dominique told Vice the two songs were indistinguishable.
“I have listened to both [‘Mirrors’ and ‘WWG1WGA’] closely several times now,” he said. “And I have 100% professional confidence these recordings are identical, not even a reinterpretation of a composition, but the same recording.”
Media Matters also analyzed the songs using the software Audacity and found their audio profiles to be “virtually identical.”
When the song played on Saturday, dozens of people in the audience saluted with one finger extended in the air, a gesture Trump aids told The Times they have never seen at one of the former president’s rallies before.
The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer, who has a book about QAnon coming out next year, called the salute “curious” in a Twitter thread.
“Some on Twitter are calling it a QAnon salute, with 1 finger for ‘Where we go 1,’ and Trump is playing a pro-Q song as he talks,” he wrote. “I’ve never seen this happen before, though, so if it’s a Q thing it’s new.”
He added the caveat: “The one finger thing might also be for ‘America First.’ The white nationalist groypers, for example, do a one finger salute for that reason.”
Trump Warms to QAnon
QAnon is a conspiracy theory encompassing a wide range of beliefs, but the most common iteration posits that Trump is locked in a secret struggle against a global cabal of Democratic elites and satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles.
The Trump administration generally kept its distance from the movement throughout most of his term, then the former president began to signal his sympathy for it as the 2020 election drew closer.
He congratulated Marjorie Taylor Greene, a prominent politician who has expressed belief in QAnon, for winning Georgia’s GOP primary.
When asked about QAnon a few days later, Trump told the press corps, “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.”
One reporter followed up by asking him specifically about the idea that he was serving as a warrior against a satanic cabal of pedophiles and cannibals, to which Trump replied, “If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.”
Late last month, the former president created and shared a flurry of posts on Truth Social that were explicitly related to QAnon.
In one, he reposted the slogan “Where We Go One We Go All,” and in another, he reposted a 2017 message from “Q,” the anonymous persona at the center of the conspiracy theory, criticizing the intelligence community. The string of posts came one day after he demanded to be reinstated as president, and just weeks after the FBI executed a search warrant on his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Last week, Trump posted a meme of himself wearing a Q lapel pin with the words “The storm is coming” superimposed over it. In QAnon lore, “the storm” refers to the imminent return of Trump to the White House and subsequent mass arrest of the deep-state cabal.
In May 2021, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) conducted a survey of Americans’ belief in specific QAnon-related conspiracies.
Around 15% of respondents, equivalent to nearly 50 million people if extrapolated to the general population, agreed with the statement: “The government, media and financial world in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”