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Pence Tells Governors to Push False Narratives About Testing as Explanations for Coronavirus Spikes

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Photo by Andrew Harnik for AP

  • During a private call on Monday, Vice President Pence reportedly told governors to peddle the false narrative that coronavirus spikes all over the U.S. were due to increased testing capabilities.
  • Pence’s call followed similar remarks made by President Trump, who also claimed that, “If we stop testing right now, we would have very few cases, if any.”
  • Experts have said the increased numbers are not just due to more tests being conducted, and the high number of tests coming back positive in numerous states indicate that cases are, in fact, on the rise.
  • Pence also falsely claimed that there is only a “marginal rise” in new cases, despite reports that new cases are increasing in more than half the states.

Pence’s Tells Governors to Push Misleading Claims

Vice President Mike Pence reportedly directed governors to push the misleading claim that the spike in coronavirus cases the U.S. is currently experiencing is due to increased testing capabilities during a private call with the state leaders on Monday.

“I would just encourage you all, as we talk about these things, to make sure and continue to explain to your citizens the magnitude of increase in testing,” Pence said, according to audio obtained by the New York Times. 

“And that in most of the cases where we are seeing some marginal rise in number, that’s more a result of the extraordinary work you’re doing,” he continued. “But also encourage people with the news that we are safely reopening the country.” 

Pence’s directions echoed similar remarks given by President Donald Trump at an event earlier in the day.

“If we stop testing right now, we would have very few cases, if any,” Trump said. “We will show more cases when other countries have far more cases than we do, they just don’t talk about it.” 

That, however, is not a new argument for the president. Trump has repeatedly claimed that the U.S. has a high number of coronavirus cases because it does so much testing.

But experts have said that claim is misleading for a number of reasons. During an interview with ABC News on Friday, Dr. Athony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, explained that it is crucial to look at the percentage of positive tests when discussing the relationship between increased testing and cases.

“If you test more, you will likely pick up more infections,” he said. “Once you see that the percentage is higher, then you’ve really got to be careful, because then you really are seeing additional infections that you weren’t seeing before.”

In other words, the number of people who test positive is a better indicator of whether or not cases are rising than the number of tests being administered. 

If a state increases its testing and a high percentage of the tests come back negative, it means cases are going down, or at least staying low. But if a state increases its testing and a high percentage come back positive, it means that cases are growing, or at least higher than previously believed.

According to data collected by the COVID Tracking Project and the Times, the rate of positive cases is increasing faster than the average number of tests being given in at least 14 states. In at least six states, the seven-day average of new cases has increased since the end of last month, while the average number of daily tests being given has gone down.

Both metrics indicate that the rising cases in those states are not just due to increased testing capabilities.

Coronavirus Spikes in U.S.

The vice president’s claim that the U.S. is only seeing a “marginal” increase in new COVID-19 cases is also misleading.

According to data collected by NPR, new daily cases are now rising in more than half of the states, and at least 7 states have reported more than 100% increases in the number of reported cases compared to two weeks ago.

The largest spikes are in states that had early re-openings, according to the Times, which found that, “Most of the 10 hardest-hit states that have seen rising case levels started reopening on or before May 8.”

For example, right now, Arizona, Texas, and Florida⁠— all states that had some of the broadest early reopenings⁠— are all reporting their highest case numbers so far in the pandemic.

Arizona, specifically, has become a major hotspot, with the weekly average of daily cases almost tripling from what they were two weeks ago.

The number of people being hospitalized for coronavirus is also increasing in all three states.

In Arizona, hospitalization rates have also nearly doubled, prompting the state’s health director to tell hospitals to activate coronavirus emergency plans for the first time since March. On Monday, Texas recorded its highest daily number of patients hospitalized from coronavirus for the fourth day in a row.

Those numbers are significant, because experts have said that increased hospitalization rates are another sign that cases are increasing, and that those increases are not due to testing alone. 

Despite the fact that multiple health officials and experts in Arizona, Florida, and Texas have explicitly said that the increase in testing is not the sole cause for the spikes, the governors of all three states have repeatedly claimed that cases are high because of increased testing.

In Arizona, which is the most extreme example of both increases in positive test rates and hospitalizations, public health experts have agreed that the timing of the spike is specifically a reflection of the state’s reopening.

But despite the alarming numbers and warnings from public health experts, the governors of all three hot-spot states have said they will not reimpose lockdown restrictions, and instead are continuing to push forward with their planned reopenings.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Hill)

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Texas AG Ken Paxton Allegedly Flees Official Serving Subpoenas in Truck

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Following the news, a judge granted the attorney general’s request to quash the subpoenas.


Paxton on the Run

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fled his own home in a truck Monday morning to evade an official trying to serve him a subpoena, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

Last month, several nonprofits filed a lawsuit seeking to block Texas from charging individuals under the state’s abortion ban in cases that happened out of state or prior to Roe v. Wade being overturned.

Two subpoenas were issued summoning Paxton to a Tuesday court hearing, one for his professional title and the other addressed to him personally.

Early on Monday Ernesto Martin Herrera, a process server, knocked on the front door of Paxton’s home in McKinney and was greeted by Texas state senator Angela Paxton, who is the Attorney General’s wife.

According to the affidavit, Herrera identified himself and informed her that he was delivering court documents to Mr. Paxton. She responded that her husband was on the phone and in a hurry to leave, so Herrera returned to his vehicle and waited for Ken to emerge.

Nearly an hour later, the affidavit states, a black Chevrolet Tahoe pulled into the driveway, and 20 minutes after that, the attorney general stepped out.

“I walked up the driveway approaching Mr. Paxton and called him by his name,” Herrera wrote in the affidavit. “As soon as he saw me and heard me call his name out, he turned around and RAN back inside the house through the same door in the garage.”

Shortly afterward, Angela exited the house and climbed into a truck in the driveway, leaving a rear driver-side door open.

“A few minutes later I saw Mr. Paxton RAN from the door inside the garage towards the rear door behind the driver side,” Herrera wrote. “I approached the truck, and loudly called him by his name and stated that I had court documents for him.”

“Mr. Paxton ignored me and kept heading for the truck,” he continued.

The affidavit adds that Herrera placed the documents on the ground by the vehicle and stated that he was serving a subpoena, but the Paxtons drove away.

Process Server or Lingering Stranger?

Following the publication of the affidavit in The Texas Tribune, Ken attacked the news outlet on Twitter and claimed to fear for his safety.

“This is a ridiculous waste of time and the media should be ashamed of themselves,” he wrote. “All across the country, conservatives have faced threats to their safety – many threats that received scant coverage or condemnation from the mainstream media.”

“It’s clear that the media wants to drum up another controversy involving my work as Attorney General, so they’re attacking me for having the audacity to avoid a stranger lingering outside my home and showing concern about the safety and well-being of my family,” he continued.

On Monday, the attorney general filed two requests: a motion to quash the subpoena and another to seal the certificates of service, which included the affidavit.

His lawyers argued that Herrera “loitered at the Attorney General’s home for over an hour, repeatedly shouted at him, and accosted” him and his wife.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman granted both requests on Tuesday.

In a statement, the attorney general said that Herrera is “lucky this situation did not escalate further or necessitate force.”

See what others are saying: (The Texas Tribune) (CNN) (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

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Ron DeSantis Faces Lawsuit, Investigation for “Human Trafficking” of Migrants

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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)

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Is The Pandemic Really Over? Experts Bristle at Biden’s Declaration

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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)

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