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The U.S. Is Entering a Deadly Phase of the Pandemic, Dr. Birx Warns

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  • 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.”

U.S. Hospitalizations

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)

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Nearly 9 Million Are Without Water in Texas, Some Face Electric Bills up To $17,000

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  • More than 8.8 million people in Texas remained under boil water notices Monday, and over 120,000 had no water service at all. 
  • Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Sunday that the state has distributed around 3.5 million bottles of water, though many of the lines to receive that water were plagued with hours-long waits.
  • Meanwhile, power outages in the state have fallen below 20,000, but many Texans are also beginning to receive astronomical electric bills of as much as $17,000.
  • Both Abbott and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said those prices are not the fault of customers. While some form of forgiveness is likely, no immediate plan has been outlined yet. 

Millions Without Water

As of Monday morning, nearly 8.8 million people in Texas are still under boil water notices following last week’s snowstorm. That’s about one out of every three Texans.

Despite being a giant chunk of the state’s population, that figure is actually an improvement from 10 million people on Sunday. 

Another 120,000 Texans are still without water service at all.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Sunday almost 3.5 million bottles of water have been distributed across Texas by helicopter, airplane, and truck.

The need for water has been extremely visible. An Austin City Council member shared a video on Twitter Sunday showing a massive line of vehicles waiting for clean water. Some waited for more than an hour before the distribution event began. At another site, she said cars began lining up more than five hours before the event. 

Abbott said the state is bringing in more plumbers to increase repair efforts for damaged water systems. Additionally, Abbott said homeowners without insurance could qualify for emergency reimbursement from FEMA.

Meanwhile, one large-scale effort from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY.) has now raised more than $5 million since first being launched on Thursday. That money will go to several organizations, including the Houston Food Bank, Family Eldercare, Feeding Texas, and the Bridge Homeless Recovery Center.

Texas Electric Bills Soar as High as $17K

All but just under 20,000 Texas homes and businesses have now had their power restored as of Monday morning.

That’s a stark contrast from the more than 4 million that were out of power at one point last week. 

While that’s largely good news, many Texans are now beginning to receive sky-high electric bills. That’s especially evident for those whose power stayed on during the storm. In fact, some people have now told multiple media outlets they’re facing bills as high as $17,000.

One 63-year-old Army vet, who was charged $16,752, told The New York Times that his bill was about 70 times higher than normal.

“My savings is gone,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it, but it’s broken me.”

As far as why his and others’ eclectic bills are so high, many people in Texas have plans that are directly tied to the wholesale price of electricity. Usually, that helps keep their costs low, but as demand for power surged during last week’s snowstorm, those prices hit astronomical highs. 

In a statement on Saturday, Abbott said Texas lawmakers “have a responsibility to protect Texans from spikes in their energy bills that are a result of the severe winter weather and power outages,” 

He added that the state Legislature is working “on solutions to help Texas families and ensure they do not get stuck with skyrocketing energy bills.”

In a similar tone, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) said in an interview with CBS on Sunday, “It’s not the consumers who should assume [these] costs. They are not at fault for what happened this week.”

That said, Turner also laid blame at the feet of the Legislature, calling the current crisis “foreseeable” on the part of lawmakers because a similar snowstorm and outages struck Texas in 2011.

Turner added that, at the time, he was part of the Texas legislature and had filed a bill that would have required the agency overseeing Texas’ grid to “ensure that there was an adequate reserve to prevent blackouts.”

“The leadership in Austin did not give it a hearing,” he said. 

While no aid has been fully guaranteed yet, Texas has prevented electric companies from being able to shut off power for people who don’t pay their bills on time. 

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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Texans Still Face Broken Pipes, Flooding, and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning as Million Regain Power

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  • The number of Texans without power fell from 3.3 million on Wednesday to below 500,000 by Thursday.
  • Still, millions are currently under a boil advisory, pipes have burst as they begin to thaw, and some individuals have died or been hospitalized because of carbon monoxide poisoning. 
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday that it has sent generators, water, and blankets to Texas, adding that it’s working to send additional diesel for generators.
  • Gov. Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden have also reportedly discussed the possibility of extra funding for people’s electricity bills, as well as for burst pipes.

Power May Be Back but Problems Persist

Power outages in Texas Thursday morning fell to under 500,000 — down from 3.3 million Wednesday morning. 

According to the state’s main grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the remaining outages are largely weather-related and not connected to problems related to forced outages. 

While that return of power to millions is significant, Texans are still facing a host of other problems.

For example, there have been numerous reports of carbon monoxide poisoning as people still without power try to keep warm in their cars or through other means. An adult and a child were found dead Tuesday after running their car inside of a garage, prompting Houston police to issue a statement warning that “cars, grills and generators should not be used in or near a building.”

Six children and four adults were rushed to the hospital Wednesday night for carbon monoxide poisoning after setting up grills inside their homes. 

Even for those now with power, water has become a major issue. On Wednesday, 7 million Texans were placed on a boil advisory and about 263,000 were without functioning water providers. 

One reporter tweeted out a video of people lining up at a park to fill up buckets of water.

“This is not a third world country,” she said. “This is Houston, Texas.”

The Food and Drug Administration and the National Weather Service have even cited melting and boiling snow as an emergency option if people can’t find water elsewhere, an option many have already turned to. 

For some, all these problems only seemed to compound in the form of burst pipes. One viral video shows water gushing out of a third-story apartment. Others posted images of their broken pipes and the damage they have caused. 

As a result, a number of local media outlets have begun to outline steps people can take once their pipes start to thaw or if they break. 

Amid Problems, Aid is Being Distributed

Alongside the overwhelming amount of problems, there has also been a large aid response.

A FEMA spokesperson said Wednesday that the agency has sent 60 “very large” generators to help keep hospitals and other critical infrastructure open. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki added that FEMA is preparing to move diesel into Texas to keep that backup power going.

So far, FEMA said it has sent “millions of liters of water” and “tens of thousands” of blankets.

Governor Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden have also reportedly discussed the possibility of extra funding for people’s electricity bills, as well as for burst pipes. That’s because as the storm first hit, electrical demand surged. Since many Texans have plans connected to the wholesale price of electricity, they’re potentially set to be hit with sky-high bills.

Among other issues plaguing Texans is food spoilage; however, that can potentially be reimbursed through renters’ and homeowners’ insurance.

According to an official from the Insurance Council of Texas, “Food coverage is often related to personal property.”

Notably, there are some stipulations depending on individual circumstances and policy. To learn more about how insurance providers accept food spoilage claims, click here.

See what others are saying: (KTRK) (The New York Times) (Houston Chronicle)

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Texas Mayor Tells “Lazy” Residents “No One Owes You” Anything Amid Power Outages

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  • When residents in Colorado City, Texas turned to a local Facebook group to ask if the city or county had emergency shelter plans in place to keep people warm amid power outages, Mayor Tim Boyd shared a Facebook message that sparked outrage.
  • “Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!” he wrote before suggesting that those struggling are “lazy.”
  • “Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish,” he added. “Get off your ass and take care of your own family!”
  • Hours later, Boyd said he was speaking as a citizen since he had already turned in his resignation and had not signed up to run for mayor again ahead of the deadline a few days ago. It’s unclear when he actually resigned and he is still listed as mayor on the city’s website.

Mayor Under Fire

The mayor of Colorado City, Texas is facing intense backlash for comments he made on Facebook Tuesday claiming the local government has no responsibility to assist residents struggling amid historic winter temperatures.

The remarks came after community members turned to a local Facebook page asking if the city or county had emergency shelters in place to keep people warm amid widespread power outages.

In response, Mayor Tim Boyd wrote, “No one owes you [or] your family anything; nor is it the local government’s government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this!”

“Sink or swim it’s your choice!” He continued. “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!”

Boyd argued that residents should come up with their own plans to keep their families safe. Those that are sitting at home in the cold waiting for assistance, he said, are “lazy” as a direct result of their raising.

“Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish,” he continued, likely meaning perish in his statement.

He blamed the calls for basic services like heat and electricity a product of a “socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts.”

He closed by telling locals to “quit crying,” adding, “Get off your ass and take care of your own family!”

Source: KTXS

Mayor Doubles Down, Says He Already Resigned

That now-deleted post drew immediate backlash as Texans continue to slam the government for not delivering adequate support amid the storm.

The outrage eventually prompted Boyd to write a follow-up post, which he also later deleted.

In it, he claimed that his comments “were taken out of context” and did not apply to the elderly; however, he continued to double down.

“I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout. I apologize for the wording and some of the phrases that were used!”

Boyd said he already turned in his resignation and had not signed up to run for mayor again ahead of the deadline a few days ago. He also said he wished he would’ve kept his words to himself or been more descriptive, and he added that all the anger and harassment since his post has caused his wife to lose her job.

Source: KTXS

Ultimately, he said he was speaking as a citizen since he is no longer mayor and called for the harassment of his family to stop.

According to The Washington Post, it isn’t immediately clear if he resigned before or after writing his controversial Facebook post. As of early Wednesday morning, the paper noted that he was still listed as mayor on Colorado City’s website, and city council agendas showed that he had served in that role as recently as last week.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (KTXS) (People)

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