- Dr. Deborah Birx has warned that the U.S. is entering a deadly phase of the pandemic and says aggressive intervention, including limitations on gatherings, universal mask-wearing, and physical distancing needs to be implemented.
- This contrasts President Trump’s messaging on the virus, as he has claimed the country is on the other side of it and that increased cases are a result of increased testing. In reality, Dr. Birx says testing is actually falling flat in places where cases are going up.
- The U.S. is seeing its third dramatic surge in cases, with an average of 85,563 new cases per day,. This is a 44% increase from the average two weeks ago.
- Hospitalizations are also ticking upwards and medical centers are overwhelmed in states like Utah, Texas, and Wisconsin. There is also an urgent need for PPE and other equipment as cases go up and hospital resources are strained.
Dr. Birx Sounds the Alarm
As cases surge across the United States, White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx is warning that the country is heading into a deadly phase of the pandemic.
The message starkly contradicts the picture President Donald Trump is trying to paint about the coronavirus as the country heads to the polls for Election Day. Dr. Birx’s words of concern were laid out in a memo reported by the Washington Post on Monday.
“We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic…leading to increasing mortality,” that memo said. “This is not about lockdowns — It hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April. It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented.”
The country has now seen a total of 9.3 million cases and 231,477 people have lost their lives to this virus. On Monday over 93,000 new cases were reported. Over the past week there has been an average of 85,563 cases per day, which is a 44% increase from the average two weeks ago, according to data from the New York Times.
Trump has been trying to suggest that the country is coming out on the other side of the pandemic and that increased case counts are merely a result of increased testing. However, Dr. Birx said that in areas where cases are going up, testing is actually “flat or declining.” Cases on the whole are rapidly rising in 30% of the country, according to Birx’s report, marking the highest number of hotspots since the start of the pandemic.
According to the Post, Dr. Birx called for “much more aggressive action from messaging, to testing, to surging personnel around the country before the crisis point.” She claimed the most essential thing for leaders to focus on right now is clearly and consistently communicating with the public about the necessity of uniform mask use, physical distancing, hand washing, and profound limitation of indoor gatherings.
Dr. Birx is also not the only public health official trying to warn the public about the consequences of the staggering increase in coronavirus cases. In a Friday interview with the Post, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the country needs to make abrupt changes to its public health practices to curb the rampant spread.
“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation,” Dr. Fauci said. “All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”
Hospitalizations in the country are on a steady and steep increase. In Wisconsin, field hospitals have been set up to accommodate the overflow of patients. Hospitals in El Paso, Texas are so overwhelmed that last week, residents were asked to stay home for a two week period. The county has seen a 300% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations in under a three week span.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah has been reporting record numbers of hospitalizations. The state reported a record 348 patients are currently hospitalized due to the coronavirus on Monday. The previous record had just been broken Sunday with 342 patients.
“These are unprecedented hospital volumes. They are far in excess of what we saw during the last peak in July,” Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious disease physician at Intermountain Healthcare telling the Tribune:
These unsettling numbers come just one week after health officials warned Utah’s governor that if the number of patients do not go down, hospitals will have to move to “crisis standards of care,” meaning that patients in ICUs that are not getting better might just get moved out to make room for others.
Dr. Webb told the tribune that the potential for ICUs to be overwhelmed or hit capacity is “an inevitability, unless we do something at the community level to interrupt the cycle of transmission.”
Preparing for More Surges
Health experts and officials across the country are doing their best to prepare for what is to come, but it is easier said than done. Nurses, doctors, hospital staff are understandably tired and resources are strained.
“More and more facilities are requesting [personal protective equipment],” Dr. Shikha Gupta, executive director of Get Us PPE, a non-profit giving supplies to healthcare facilities told The Guardian. “We are deeply unprepared for what that’s going to bring as hospitals reach capacity across the US with surging caseloads.”
She is not the only one concerned. David C Grabowski, a health policy professor at Harvard Medical School also told the Guardian that the nation is not equipped for what is to come.
“We lack personal protective equipment, we lack comprehensive surveillance and testing, and, to be honest, a number of nursing homes still struggle with infection control,” he said. “We’ve seen this play out now twice.”
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Salt Lake Tribune) (The Guardian)
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.