with Brent D. Griffiths
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NOT SO ‘NORMAL’: There’s no national testing strategy. Few reliable antibody tests. And a new Wall Street Journal/ NBC News poll out this weekend showed 60 percent of the country is afraid of going back to work. But Trump says it’s time to start reopening the country to get things back to “normal.”
But the “new normal” isn't the normal Trump is seeking, say doctors, governors, and public health experts. And even though there are encouraging signs the novel coronavirus is plateauing in key places, covid-19 is still killing thousands of Americans each day — with the virus now careening from urban cities to rural areas.
There's a serious break between Trump's vision of the post-peak future — as painted in his daily White House press briefings — and the grim reality described by small business owners, restaurateurs, and essential workers on the front lines. Especially as hospitals in some of the cities hit the hardest are still overwhelmed.
“During my shift last week, I had four patients pass away — all from coronavirus, and my whole last year, I had three patients die,” a doctor at New York-Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center in Washington Heights, New York told Power Up. By the time he returns to his shift today, he expects three more of his patients to have passed away:
- “That's a years worth of death concentrated into a week,” added the doctor, who described having to facilitate painful FaceTime calls between families and dying patients to exchange final words.
- While things are slightly improving, he said, “for the most part, it hasn't changed,” the doctor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not have permission from his employer to speak to the media, told us Friday. “Behind my community hospital, there is a field hospital that was just built on [Columbia University’s] Baker Field with 200 beds. That's the same capacity as our hospital but staffed by former military personnel. So we are far away from being back to a normal level.”
- “Elective procedures are still canceled. We don't have the resources or staff to go back to normal life. It's far too soon.”
Some good news: New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) told reporters yesterday the state was “past the plateau” with virus hospitalizations and the daily death toll slowly dropping. But he added the state is “still not in a good position.”
- “Doctors will tell you that the emergency rooms have fewer people in them,” Cuomo said. “They were at max capacity for a long time.”
- But: “We still have a lot of patients — and all of them have coronavirus,” the doctor told us of his last seven-day shift. “We're still struggling with some of the same things. We still have patients requiring a lot of oxygen and on the border of needing to be intubated or put on morphine.”
‘A fantasy’: Trump last week said states with low or lagging virus cases should consider a phased reopening. But some experts predict that it won't be long until that prompts some kind of surge in cases, and there is still likely to be a second wave.
- “Until a vaccine or another protective measure emerges, there is no scenario, epidemiologists agreed, in which it is safe for that many people to suddenly come out of hiding. If Americans pour back out in force, all will appear quiet for perhaps three weeks,” the New York Times's Donald G. McNeil Jr. reports.
- “The scenario that Mr. Trump has been unrolling at his daily press briefings — that the lockdowns will end soon, that a protective pill is almost at hand, that football stadiums and restaurants will soon be full — is a fantasy, most experts said,” per McNeil.
15 pages of obituaries in The Boston Globe today. pic.twitter.com/DdcWiy2hvx— Nancy Palmer (@npalmerrothman) April 19, 2020
At The White House
Testing woes continue: Governors across the country yesterday dismissed the president's claims that states have sufficient equipment for widespread testing, which experts say is critical to reopening the country.
- “Every governor in America has been pushing and fighting and clawing to get more tests, not only from the federal government, but from every private lab in America and from across the world,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said on CNN's “State of the Union.” “It’s nowhere near where it needs to be.”
- “We are fighting a biological war, and we have been asked as governors to fight that war without the supplies we need,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said on the show alongside Hogan and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D).
- “Well right now, I can tell you we could double or even triple the number of tests that we’re executing daily if we have the swabs and reagents,” Whitmer said.
As the U.S. death toll topped 40,000, Trump insisted during Sunday's White House briefing that “testing is a local thing.” But he announced he might use the Defense Production Act to compel the production of millions more swabs, which are used in the tests, without detailing any specifics.
- “We’ve had a little difficulty with one so we’re calling in, as in the past you know, we’re calling in the Defense Production Act and we’ll be getting swabs very easily,” Trump said. “Swabs are easy. Ventilators are hard.”
- However: “White House officials did not respond to requests for details about how the measure would be implemented. As of Sunday evening, there was no official paperwork released showing that the Defense Production Act had been invoked for swabs,” our colleagues Shane Harris, Felicia Sonmez, and Mike DeBonis report.
To safely reopen the country, Harvard researchers estimated that between 500,000 and 700,000 tests should be performed each day, the New York Times's Keith Collins reports.
That number is significantly higher than the current rate:
- “An average of 146,000 people per day have been tested for the coronavirus nationally so far this month, according to the COVID Tracking Project, which on Friday reported 3.6 million total tests across the country,” per Collins. “To reopen the United States by mid-May, the number of daily tests performed between now and then should be 500,000 to 700,000, according to the Harvard estimates.”
- “If you have a very high positive rate, it means that there are probably a good number of people out there who have the disease who you haven’t tested,” Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told Collins. “You want to drive the positive rate down, because the fundamental element of keeping our economy open is making sure you’re identifying as many infected people as possible and isolating them.”
Not just diagnosis: The administration is now facing problems with dozens of antibody tests aimed at determining who has had the virus and could theoretically safely emerge from their homes. The antibody tests, however, are proliferating without federal review and many are unreliable.
- “The Food and Drug Administration, criticized for slowness in authorizing tests to detect coronavirus infections, has taken a strikingly different approach to antibody tests, allowing more than 90 on the market without prior review, including some marketed fraudulently and of dubious quality, according to testing experts and the agency itself,” our colleague Laurie McGinley reports.
- “ … many scientists, as well as the World Health Organization, say evidence is lacking that even high-quality antibody tests can prove someone has immunity from the novel coronavirus and is not at risk of being reinfected,” McGinley writes.
- “A test is only as good as its results,” Kelly Wroblewski, director of infectious disease programs at the Association of Public Health Laboratories, told McGinley. “Having many inaccurate tests is worse than having no tests at all. ”
NEW: NYS will undertake the most aggressive statewide antibody testing survey in the nation in the next week.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) April 19, 2020
It will tell us for the first time what percentage of the population has actually had #Coronavirus.
This will be the first true snapshot of what we’re dealing with.
Too soon: New polling suggests that Americans might not be comfortable with slowly heading out into the world and worry that Trump is moving too quickly:
- “Nearly six in 10 in the survey said they were concerned that the country would move too fast to loosen restrictions aimed at slowing the outbreak, compared with about three in 10 who said the greater worry was the economic impact of waiting too long,” the Wall Street Journal's Catherine Lucey writes.
- “Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they were very or somewhat worried about themselves or a family member catching the virus, up from about half in March,” according to the poll. “And 40% said they personally knew someone who had been infected.”
- “In a poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center, three-quarters of U.S. adults said the worst is yet to come with the coronavirus and two-thirds were worried that restrictions would be lifted too soon. And findings released Friday by the University of Michigan’s influential monthly consumer survey found that 61 percent were most concerned by the threat to their health from the virus, over isolation and financial impact,” our colleague Ashley Parker reports.
- “ … what Trump says won’t much matter if skittish elected leaders, business owners and customers don’t trust that they will be safe returning to their daily lives — and at the moment, most Americans don’t have that confidence,” Ashley writes.
On The Hill
WHITE HOUSE, DEMS NEAR DEAL ON SMALL BUSINESS FUNDING: “The Trump administration and congressional leaders closed in on an approximately $470 billion deal to renew funding for a small-business loan program that ran out of money under crushing demand during the coronavirus pandemic, aiming to pass the agreement into law within days,” Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report.
- More details: “The deal would add about $310 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, which was swamped by demand in the three weeks since Congress created it as part of a $2 trillion coronavirus rescue bill. It also would add $60 billion to a separate emergency loan program for small businesses that is out of money, too, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on CNN," our colleagues write.
The deal would also boost money for testing and hospitals by about $100 billion dollars: Trump himself expressed optimism that a deal could happen as soon as today. “We have some very good negotiations going on right now, and I think you could have a nice answer tomorrow,” he told reporters.
- House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told members to expect a possible vote on Wednesday: That would mean a large number of members may be returning to the nation's capital in the next few days.
Outside the Beltway
RESIDENTS PROTEST ORDERS IN FIVE STATES: “Opposition to covid-19 stay-at-home orders has continued to build from coast to coast, with at least five states the site of protests Sunday,” ABC News's Meredith Deliso reports.
- Trump reopening council appointee Stephen Moore compared protesters to civil rights icon Rosa Parks: “I call these people the modern-day Rosa Parks — they are protesting against injustice and a loss of liberties,” said Moore, a conservative economist who withdrew from consideration as a Federal Reserve appointment amid scrutiny of his past remarks.
- Trump has sided with protesters, tweeting that certain states should be “liberated."
- The president defended protesters again on Sunday: “There were things in the Michigan [order] I don't think were necessary or appropriate, everyone knows that … I think the governor of Michigan probably wishes that she didn't put some of them in — you can't buy paint, you can't buy seeds. I mean, where did this stuff come from?” Trump told reporters when pressed on what states he viewed as overzealous, though stressing he and Whitmer are “getting along well.”
The protests appear to be engineered by a network of conservative activists: “A trio of far-right, pro-gun provocateurs is behind some of the largest Facebook groups calling for anti-quarantine protests around the country, offering the latest illustration that some seemingly organic demonstrations are being engineered by a network of conservative activists,” Isaac Stanley-Becker and Tony Romm report.
- In fact, some of the groups look like the work of just one family: “The Facebook groups target Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, and they appear to be the work of Ben Dorr, the political director of a group called “Minnesota Gun Rights,” and his siblings, Christopher and Aaron. By Sunday, the groups had roughly 200,000 members combined, and they continued to expand quickly, days after [Trump] endorsed such protests by suggesting citizens should ‘liberate' their states,” our colleagues write.
In the Media
HEADLINES FROM THE HOT SPOTS: Power Up's continuing look at how the virus is affecting states and cities throughout the country.
“Aggressive” antibody testing will be rolled out start today: “Cuomo said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the state’s antibody test, which is designed to detect whether a person has developed the antibodies to fight covid-19 and indicates they may be immune against the disease, and said the state will conduct ‘thousands’ of tests this week,” CNBC's Noah Higgins-Dunn reports.
Cuomo says he's wearing a mask now: New York is one of handful states that now mandates wearing a a mask in public, the Times reports.
- “When I am in public and I’m walking the dog on the street and I cannot main social distancing, I am wearing a mask,” the governor reporters over the weekend. “I think this is a small inconvenience that has a tremendous benefit for people.”
Love in the time of corona: The governor issued an executive order allowing residents to obtain a marriage license remotely and allowing for clerks to perform a wedding ceremony via video conference. NY1's Pat Kiernan is already offering to perform ceremonies for happy couples.
The three deadliest states:
13 towns have at least 1,000 cases: “New Jersey’s two largest cities — Newark and Jersey City — continue to have the most coronavirus cases and are the only two municipalities with more than 3,000 confirmed tests, according to numbers reported by local officials,” NJ Advance Media for NJ.com's Jeff Goldman reports.
70 people died at a nursing home as body bags piled up: “After receiving an anonymous tip last Monday, the police found 17 bodies in bags in a small holding room at the Andover facility,” the Times's Tracey Tully, Brian M. Rosenthal, Matthew Goldstein and Robert Gebeloff report in an in-depth story about the facility. “The startling discovery illustrated the toll that the coronavirus outbreak has taken on the nation’s nursing homes and other congregate facilities that house society’s most vulnerable, including older people and those with mental and physical disabilities.”
A sick corrections officer had to get his own test. He was positive: “On Monday, an officer at Southern State Correctional Facility received an email from a lab in charge of testing New Jersey first responders: He was ‘not eligible’ for a coronavirus test, the message said, partially ‘due to current testing capacity,’” NJ.com's Blake Nelson and Joe Atmonavage report. “He decided to get a private test on his own because of how sick he was, his wife Christine McDowell said.”
Northeast governors name picks to multistate council focused on reopening: Govs. Ned Lamont (D-Conn.), Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), Gina Raimondo (D-R.I.), John C. Carney Jr. (D-Del.), Tom Wolf (D-Penn.), Cuomo and Charlie Baker (R-Mass.) all named a health expert, economic development expert and a respective chief of staff to the partnership, the Hartford Courant's Josh Kovner reports.
- Some notable names: Murphy's picks include former Obama Department of Homeland Security head Jeh Johnson and former acting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Richard Besser. Lamont's pick for his state's chief is former PepsiCo CEO Paul Mounds.
A look at the situation nationally:
State sees smallest daily increase in cases and deaths in three weeks: “Whether the new data reflects continued slowing of the death toll from the pandemic remains unclear, in part because the reported number of cases and deaths have dropped on every Sunday during the epidemic, often to tick back up in the following days,” the Times-Picayune | Advocate reports.
Local paper runs eight-plus pages of obits: “The Times-Picayune | Advocate printed eight-and-a-half pages of obituaries Sunday, almost double the amount normally published,” Kyle Whitfield reports. The paper ran four pages of obituaries on the same day last year.
In today's @NOLAnews, we had just over 8 pages of death notices. It's been like this the last few Sundays, which is the biggest day of readership. We used to consider 4 pages a lot. All of these beloved family members and friends for so many. And no funerals. pic.twitter.com/xtMypiaNb4— Jennifer Brown (@brownjen) April 19, 2020
New Orleans business owners pressure mayor to begin to reopen by May 1: “The deeply unsustainable cancellation of all public events in our city for 2020 will irreparably damage if not destroy our city's culturally important French Quarter — our tourist industry, and most businesses in general,” a one-page ad run in the Times-Picayune/Advocate signed by prominent business owners said in their plea to Mayor LaToya Cantrell, the Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate's Della Hasselle and Bryn Stole report.
Baker says his state is still in the middle of a surge: “The number of cases has been declining in recent days — the count of new cases was 2,221 on Friday — though state officials caution against reading too much into day-to-day trends, in part because of the variation in the number of tests reported by labs in the state,” the Boston Globe's Andy Rosen reports. “Speaking before the most recent numbers were released, Baker said the state remains in an acute phase in the crisis.”
- Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is taking an usual step to get his message out: “Seven public works trucks fitted with sound equipment drove between noon and 5 p.m. through the neighborhoods with the highest rates of the virus — Hyde Park, Mattapan, Dorchester, East Boston, Roxbury, and Roslindale — delivering the message in seven languages to wash hands and stay inside,” the Globe reports.
New York is prepared to send 400 ventilators: "We know how important ventilators are. If their numbers keep going up and if they have to scramble, I said, ‘You were there for us and we’re going to be there for you,’” Cuomo said referencing the surge of cases in Massachusetts during his daily press briefing, the Boston Herald's Erin Tiernan reports.
A hospital executive's mission to get PPE sounds straight out of Hollywood: “They found out about the supplies through ‘an acquaintance of a friend of a team member.’ They paid five times the amount the hospital would normally pay for such a shipment. [Andrew Artenstein, chief physician executive at Baystate Health] himself drove to a small Mid-Atlantic airport to review the order when it arrived. Then, he says, the FBI showed up,” WBUR's Bob Oakes reports.
WHAT ELSE YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Americans at the WHO transmitted real-time info to the Trump administration: “More than a dozen U.S. researchers, physicians and public health experts, many of them from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were working full time at the Geneva headquarters of the World Health Organization as the novel coronavirus emerged late last year and transmitted real-time information about its discovery and spread in China to the Trump administration, according to U.S. and international officials,” Karen DeYoung, Lena H. Sun and Emily Rauhala report.
Trump confirmed he really doesn't like Mitt Romney: The president “purposefully left the Utah Republican off an economic recovery task force because of his ill will for [Senator] Romney, who voted to convict the president in the impeachment trial,” the Salt Lake Tribune's Thomas Burr reports.
Zuckerberg speaks: “Since we’re all generating data from apps and devices every day, there will likely be many more opportunities to use the aggregate data to benefit public health. But it’s essential that this is done in a way that protects people’s privacy and respects human rights,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg writes in a Post op-ed this morning of the social media giant's partnership with researchers on its opt-in survey of users on their symptoms and what might lie ahead.
DROP THE MIKE: For two hours, current and former NBA stars, athletes, journalists and Americans desperate for any sports united around the retelling of the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls and the legacy of Michael Jordan, thanks to ESPN's “The Last Dance.”
The first two-parts of the docuseries were summed up in memes of Bulls GM Jerry Krause, the unearthing of a Larry Bird comparing a 23-year-old Michael Jordan to “God disguised” and, yes, two retirees talking about their brush with aspects of the story.
P.S.: If you want the real reason for the chyrons tweeted around the world, the Athletic's Richard Deitsch has you covered.