- 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)
Lawmakers Call For Action as Oil Companies Post Record Profits Amid Rising Gas Prices
A recent analysis from the Center for American Progress found that the top five oil companies earned over 300% more in profits during the first quarter of 2022 than the same period last year.
As Consumer Prices Climb, Big Oil Profits
American oil companies are facing increased scrutiny over profiteering practices as gas prices continue to surpass record highs driven by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
Last week, costs surged to above $4 per gallon in all 50 states for the first time ever, according to the auto club AAA. Prices are currently averaging over $4.59 per gallon nationwide, which is 50% higher than they were this time last year.
In addition to consumers hurting at the pump, there are also rising concerns for industries that rely on fuel and oil like trucking, freight, airlines, and plastic manufacturers.
To account for high prices, some in sectors have responded by ramping up prices further down the supply chain to account for costs, putting even more of a burden on consumers to pay for everyday items.
But as Americans struggle with sky-high gas prices at a time of record inflation, recently released earnings reports show that many of the world’s largest oil companies thrived in the first quarter of 2022.
ExxonMobil more than doubled its earnings from the same period last year, reporting a net profit of $5.5 billion. Meanwhile, Chevron logged its best quarterly earnings in almost a decade, and Shell had its highest earnings ever.
According to a new analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress, the top five oil companies — including the three mentioned above — earned over 300% more in profits this quarter than during the same time last year.
“In fact, these five companies’ first-quarter profits alone are equivalent to almost 28 percent of what Americans spent to fill up their gas tanks in the same time period,” the report noted.
Per Insider, for at least four of those companies, that growth marks a tremendous increase in profits from even before the pandemic.
Lawmakers Ramp-Up Efforts to Reduce Prices
To address these startling disparities, federal lawmakers have moved in recent weeks to increase pressure on oil companies and take steps to lower prices.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill proposed by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) that aims to reduce gas prices. The legislation, called The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, would give the president the authority to issue an Energy Emergency Declaration that would be effective for up to 30 days with the possibility of being renewed.
In that emergency period, it would be illegal for anyone to increase gas or home energy fuel prices to a level that is exploitative or “unconscionably excessive.”
The proposal would also give the Federal Trade Commission the power to investigate and manage instances of price gouging from larger companies and give state authorities the ability to enforce price-gouging violations in civil courts.
The bill, which has already seen widespread opposition from Republicans and extensive lobbying from pro-oil interest groups, faces an uphill battle in the 50-50 split Senate.
During debate on the act Thursday, Rep. Porter delivered an impassioned speech accusing oil companies of driving their record profits by using their market power to unfairly increase prices.
“The oil and gas industry currently has more than 9,000 permits to drill for oil on federal land, but they are deliberately keeping production low to please their investors and increase their short-term profits,” she said. “Even when the price of crude oil falls, oil and gas companies have refused to pass those savings on to consumers.”
“Let me be clear: price gouging is anti-capitalist,” Porter continued. “It exploits a lack of competition, which is a hallmark of capitalism. It is an effort to juice corporate profits at the expense of customers. Energy markets are reeling because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Big oil companies, however, are using this temporary chaos to cover up their abuse.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (NPR)
Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down
After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.
The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.
Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.
A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.
The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.
In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.
The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.
A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.
Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye
“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.
Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.
Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.
“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.
When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.
“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”
On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.
On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)
U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide
India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.
One Million Dead
The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.
Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.
The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.
By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.
The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.
The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.
The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.
People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.
Fifteen Million Dead
On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.
Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.
Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.
The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.
“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.
Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.