- 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)
Miami Man Gets 6 Years in Prison After Using COVID Relief Funds To Buy Lamborghini
- A Florida man was sentenced to more than six years in prison after fraudulently obtaining $3.9 million in COVID-19 relief funds and using that money for personal purchases.
- Authorities said David Tyler Hines falsified federal applications to secure loans from the Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were meant to help small businesses struggling during the pandemic.
- After receiving the funds, Hines began blowing it on jewelry, resort stays, dating websites, and even a $318,000 Lamborghini Huracan.
Hines Defrauds Government
A man in Miami, Florida, has been sentenced to more than six years in prison this week for fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars in coronavirus relief funds and using that money for personal expenses.
David Tyler Hines, 29, is accused of falsifying federal applications to secure $3.9 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were meant to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.
The Justice Department claims he actually requested $13.5 million in paycheck protection loans for various companies using false and fraudulent IRS forms last year. At the time, he stated the money would ensure his employees would continue to get paid throughout the state-mandated lockdowns.
According to a federal complaint, however, those employees either never existed or earned only a fraction of what he claimed to pay them.
“Collectively, Hines falsely claimed his companies paid millions of dollars in payroll the first quarter of 2020. State and bank records, however, show little to no payroll expense during this period,” the complaint adds.
Hines Makes Luxury Purchases With Funds
Authorities said that within days of securing the nearly $4 million from the federal government, Hines began blowing it on extravagant personal purchases, including jewelry, resort stays, and a $318,000 2020 Lamborghini Huracan. Two payments totaling $30,000 were also documented as going to “mom,” according to the criminal complaint, while some money also went to dating websites.
Investigators became aware of the scam after the Lamborgini was involved in a hit-and-run incident back in July. The vehicle was ultimately linked back to Hines, which kick-started the investigation.
In February, Hines pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with the scheme. As part of the sentencing, he was ordered to forfeit the $3.4 million, as well as the Lamborghini
See what others are saying: (Orlando Sentinel) (Complex) (HuffPost)
Trial for 3 Ex-Officers Charged in George Floyd Murder Pushed To March
- A Minnesota judge ruled Thursday that the August trial for three officers charged with aiding and abetting the murder of George Floyd will be postponed until March 2022 so a recently filed federal case can proceed first.
- Ex-officers Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were indicted on federal civil rights charges shortly after Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter by a state jury last month.
- In Thursday’s announcement, the judge also argued the postponement was necessary to create “some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer” regarding Chavuin’s case and upcoming sentencing.
- No date has been scheduled for the federal trial yet, and experts have said it is unclear if it will happen before March 7, the new date set for the state case.
Judge Cahill Postpones Trial
The trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged for their involvement in the murder of George Floyd will be pushed from August to March 2022, a judge ruled Thursday.
Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were previously facing state charges of aiding and abetting manslaughter and murder, but last week, they were indicted on additional federal civil rights charges.
The federal indictment charges Kueng and Thao with willfully failing to intervene in unreasonable use of force deployed by their fellow former colleague Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder and manslaughter last month for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes.
All four ex-officers face charges for failing to provide medical care to Floyd, “thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm to Floyd,” according to the indictment.
In his decision, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said he moved the Minnesota trial so the federal case could proceed first. Notably, Cahill also cited his desire to create more distance between the state trial and the widely publicized legal proceedings against Chauvin.
“What this trial needs is some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer,” he said in court on Thursday.
A date for the federal trial has not yet been scheduled, it is uncertain if it would happen before March 7, the new date set by Cahill for the state trial.
The decision to file the civil rights charges against Lane, Kueng, and Thao came as surprise to many legal experts as federal indictments are not usually brought until after state cases are concluded.
The move is also unusual because Chauvin had already been convicted of murder in Minnesota. By contrast, the federal government normally only files charges in cases where they believe justice was not served at the state level.
For example, the four officers who were accused of beating Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991 were only indicted on federal charges after they were acquitted in California.
Uncertainty Around Sentencing
Defense attorneys for Kueng, Lane, and Thao agreed with the judge’s decision, but state prosecutors did not support the delay, a fact that experts said could mean the three former officers are seeking a plea deal.
“One can infer that the defense attorneys are hoping that the federal case will offer lower penalties for their clients and a dismissal of the state charges,” Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor told the Associated Press.
Under Minnesota law, aiding and abetting is treated the same as the underlying crime. If the ex-officers are convicted, the state’s sentencing guidelines for people without previous criminal histories would recommend prison sentences of 12 and a half years for the murder counts and four years for the manslaughter counts.
Cahill, however, has the flexibility to increase the sentences if he finds aggravating factors, as he did with Chauvin in a ruling Wednesday.
In the decision, Cahill agreed with prosecutors that Chauvin abused his power, acted “particularly cruel” to Floyd, and committed the crime in front of children with at least three other people.
Experts say the judge is likely to give Chauvin a 30-year sentence for the second-degree murder charge, which carries a maximum of 40 years.
See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Ohio Will Give 5 People $1 Million for Getting Vaccinated
- Ohio is launching a lottery program that will give five people ages 18 or older $1 million each if they receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will win full four-year scholarships to one of the state’s public universities under a similar giveaway program.
- Some have criticized the move as a waste and misuse of federal coronavirus relief funds, but others applauded it as a strong effort to boost slumping vaccination rates.
- Gov. Mike DeWine (R) addressed critics on Twitter, writing, “The real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”
Ohio Announces Vaccine Lottery
Several states and cities across the country have been rolling out different incentives to help boost COVID-19 vaccination rates. Some are offering $100 savings bonds, $50 prepaid cards, and even free alcohol, but Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine took it a step further Wednesday, saying that five people in his state will each win $1 million for getting vaccinated.
DeWine said that the lottery program, named “Ohio Vax-a-Million,” will be open to residents 18 and older who receive at least one dose. Drawings start May 26 and winners will be pulled from the state’s voter registration database.
The Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings, but the money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds.
Younger people will also have a chance to win something. That’s because DeWine said five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will be eligible to win a full four-year scholarship to one of the state’s public universities under a similar lottery program. The portal to sign up for that opens May 18.
DeWine Defends Lottery
Reactions to the giveaway have been mixed. Some echoed statements from State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, who said, “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis.”
DeWine, however, seems to have anticipated pushback like this.
“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,'” he tweeted. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”
Despite some backlash, a ton of other people have applauded the plan as a smart way to encourage vaccinations across all age groups. So far, about 36%of Ohio’s population has been fully vaccinated — compared with 35% nationally.
Still, the number of people seeking vaccines has dropped in recent weeks, with an average of about 16,500 starting the process last week, which is down from figures above 80,000 in April.