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The Health 202: Americans are deeply divided by party about timing of reopening their states, per new poll

with Paulina Firozi

Governors in the United States started ratcheting down their coronavirus shutdowns within similar time frames.

Yet whether Americans believe that timing was appropriate largely depends on whether their governor shares their own political party.

A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll underscores this reality: Partisanship is a strong indicator of how people view the government's response to the pandemic, their own feelings about how to respond to it and their expectations for what day-to-day life will look like through the warm summer months. 

One particularly important example: Democrats are much more likely to feel that businesses and other parts of the economy reopened  too fast, while Republicans tend to feel they did so too slowly. That mirrors messaging from President Trump, who has called for the economy to rapidly reopen in a “transition to greatness.” “We’re not going to close the country — we’re going to put out the fires,” Trump said Thursday if a second wave of the virus hits the United States.

But members of both parties are more willing to give the benefit of the doubt to governors they agree with on other issues.

Fifty-six percent of Democrats living under GOP governors said their states started reopening too soon, compared with just 27 percent living under Democratic governors. That’s a 29-point difference.

Likewise, 45 percent of Republicans living under Democratic governors said their states starting reopening too late. But just 20 percent of Republicans living under GOP governors felt that way — a 25-point difference.

Yet there haven’t been huge state variations across the nation in terms of when they reopened some of their activities. All 50 states have begun reopening in some form or another.

Some Republican governors received media criticism they opened too soon, while conservative protesters in some states have likewise slammed Democratic governors for sustaining lockdowns. But most governors laid out several reopening phases that started in late April or early May. 

A crowd gathered outside Atilis Gym in Bellamawr, N.J., on May 18 burst into cheers after a police officer allowed the gym to reopen despite a state lockdown. (Video: @proteinnpop via Storyful)

There are a few exceptions. Georgia's Republican governor, Brian Kemp, was a week ahead of most governors in initiating reopening, and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is maintaining restrictions in Northern Virginia for several more weeks.

Governors are juggling the public health risks posed by the virus with an urgent economic need to get people back to work. “The virus will be with us,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) said last month. “We have to find a sustainable way that will be adapted in real time to how we live with it.”

Even Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the target of much conservative ire over her state's stay-at-home orders lockdowns, signed an executive order yesterday morning lifting some restrictions (and a Michigan court upheld her power to do so). People are now allowed to gather in groups of 10 or fewer and retailers may start operating next Tuesday if customers make appointments ahead of time. All restaurants and shops in the Upper Peninsula and northern areas of the state may open today, however. 

That's after Trump further stoked controversy in the Wolverine State by refusing to appear in public with a mask, as is required in the state, while visiting a Ford factory now making ventilators and masks. 

“The president is like a petulant child who refuses to follow the rules,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a Thursday evening appearance on CNN. “This is no joke.” Trump responded by tweeting that the AG shouldn't unleash her “anger and stupidity out on Ford Motor - they might get upset with you and leave the state, like so many other companies have - until I came along and brought business back to Michigan. JOBS!”

Political affiliation will influence how many Americans respond to the pandemic this summer.

“There is one pandemic, but Americans increasingly view both the gravity of it and what should be done about it through red- and blue-colored glasses,” said KFF President Drew Altman. “It’s a sad comment that partisan division, not national unity, is becoming a defining feature of the American response to coronavirus.”

Generally speaking, Democrats are more wary of easing social distancing practices while Republicans are more eager to do so. More Republicans than Democrats say the worst of the pandemic is behind us. Here’s how people responded to the Kaiser poll when asked whether they expect to do the following activities within the next three months:

  • Eat in-person at a restaurant in the next three months: 75 percent of Republicans; 39 percent of Democrats.
  • Go to a barber, hair salon or nail salon: 74 percent of Republicans; 43 percent of Democrats.
  • Attend a gathering of friends or family with more than 10 people: 73 percent of Republicans; 43 percent of Democrats.
  • Stay in a hotel or vacation rental: 43 percent of Republicans; 24 percent of Democrats.

The poll also found partisan differences in how people feel about wearing masks:

  • Eighty-nine percent of Democrats and 58 percent of Republicans said they wear a mask away from home and around other people some or most of the time.
  • Eight-eight percent of Democrats and 48 percent of Republicans said President Trump should wear a mask when meeting other people.

Ahh, oof and ouch

AHH: The CDC said it lumped together data from both diagnostic and antibody testing in its total covid-19 test count. 

The agency acknowledged it combined in its tally the results from tests that identify when people are actively infected with results from antibody tests, NPR’s Rob Stein reports.

Yet diagnostic testing – which detects an active coronavirus infection – is what the administration has been under fire to increase. Including antibody testing counts in the testing totals could have made its progress toward that goal appear better than in reality.

A CDC spokeswoman told NPR the “majority of the data” is from tests identifying actively infected people but said the agency’s count of coronavirus testing includes antibody testing because “some states are including serology data” in their numbers.

“Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, expressed concern that adding the two types of tests together could leave the impression that more testing of active cases had been conducted than was actually the case,” Rob writes. 

“Serology tests don't give real-time information about the number of new infections occurring. And combining the tests is problematic because it could leave governments and businesses with a false picture of the true scope of the pandemic…That's important because sufficient testing is considered crucial for keeping the epidemic under control, especially as the nation starts to relax social distancing measures, experts say.”

OOF: New York leaders deflected blame yesterday for not locking down more quickly.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) insisted they didn't know how far and how quickly the virus had spread in March, saying they're not to blame for the city becoming the U.S. pandemic epicenter because they lacked sufficient information on which to base decisions. New York locked down about a week after several jurisdictions in California – and has seen far worse outcomes.

“Who should have known?” Cuomo told reporters. “It’s above my paygrade as the governor of one state, but what federal agency? What international health organization? I don’t know. It’s not what I do; it’s not my responsibility. But someone has to answer that question.”

They were responding to findings of a Columbia University report, which concluded that if New York City had mandated social distancing even one week earlier, more than 17,000 deaths in the metro area could have been avoided.

“The findings, first reported by The New York Times, revealed what many New Yorkers have come to believe over the past two months: Cuomo and de Blasio, two Democrats who have been unable to even present the same death count amid long-standing bickering, dragged their feet during the most dire crisis either has faced in their careers and as a result, thousands of New Yorkers died,” Politico reports.

OUCH: Michigan may have significantly undercounted its covid-19 deaths.

The state, one of those hit hardest by the coronavirus, “could have undercounted hundreds of fatalities connected to Covid-19 during a period in March and April when deaths had surged above normal levels,” the Wall Street Journal’s Coulter Jones and Jon Kamp report.

There were more than 13,000 deaths in the state between March 15 through April 18. That’s compared with an average of about 9,300 deaths a year in the same period in the last six years, according to an analysis of death certificates.

“The state’s death certificate data show a significant surge in fatalities in and around Detroit, which is the epicenter of Michigan’s Covid-19 outbreak,” Coulter and Jon write. “Deaths in three counties in that area were up 80% in the five-week period, compared with recent averages. But about a third of certificates from that increase—more than 900 cases—don’t list Covid-19 as an underlying or related cause of death.”

“The Journal’s findings underscore the broader challenge of tracking the disease even as the country looks for accurate data to measure the safety of reopening the economy,” they add. “Public-health experts say it is common to undercount deaths from new maladies, and that testing deficits made it particularly easy to miss deaths from people infected by the coronavirus.” 

There's still a lot to learn about the coronavirus

Doctors say they’re now seeing a puzzling inflammatory syndrome linked to the coronavirus in a few young adults, not just kids.

“Jennifer Lighter, a pediatric infectious diseases doctor at NYU Langone, said younger children with the condition seem to have symptoms that look more like traditional Kawasaki, which is characterized by inflammation of the blood vessels,” Ariana Eunjung Cha and Chelsea Janes report. “But teens and young adults have more of an ‘overwhelming’ response involving the heart and multiple organs.”

Doctors at D.C.'s Children's National Hospital say two patients have contracted a severe inflammatory illness that could be linked to the novel coronavirus. (Video: The Washington Post)

Some doctors worry the syndrome has been underdiagnosed in adults. That may be in part because doctors who treat adults may not have seen Kawasaki disease, which is a childhood disease.

“The syndrome appears to be rare, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which recently dubbed the condition MIS-C, or multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children — has expressed alarm about the rapid decline of patients with the illness,” Ariana and Chelsea write. “… At least four children, three in New York state and a 15-year-old girl in Maryland, have died of apparent MIS-C in recent weeks.” 

A company under investigation by the Justice Department wants Maryland to restore its canceled contract for medical equipment. 

Blue Flame Medical, a supply company started by a pair of well-connected Republican operatives, was meant to fulfill a $12.5 million contract to provide medical equipment. But Maryland officials canceled the contract, saying the company didn’t deliver medical masks and ventilators on time. 

“The firm’s lawyer, Douglas Gansler, a former Maryland attorney general, said Thursday that Maryland officials made a mistake,” Tom Hamburger and Juliet Eilperin report. “Gansler said 27 of 110 mechanical ventilators promised by Blue Flame were delivered Thursday to a Maryland Emergency Management Agency office in Sparrows Point, a sign of the company’s good-faith effort to fulfill its obligation.”

But a spokesman for the state’s department of general services said the delivery was not accepted “pending legal deliberations,” citing “separate federal, state and congressional inquiries.”

The Justice Department launched a probe into the company less than a month ago after it learned about concerns from Maryland as well as from California. 

The Trump administration's response

Trump said he's not considering replacing the head of the CDC.

He said, “No,” when asked by reporters yesterday if he was considering ousting CDC Director Robert Redfield. Tensions between the agency and the White House have increased in recent weeks, as Felicia Sonmez and Darryl Fears have reported

CNN’s Kristen Holmes reported this week ttheCDC leader recently “grew concerned he may have a target on his back, according to a source familiar with the dynamic. CDC officials dismissed claims that Redfield was in the hot seat.”

Redfield also said his agency isn't being silenced by the White House. In an interview with Politico, he dismissed any reports about the agency being stifled. 

“[I]n contrast to past public health crises surrounding AIDS, Zika and Ebola, the CDC has largely been sidelined as a messenger. It stopped holding regular press briefings on the coronavirus in March, as the White House took over many public-facing aspects of the response,” Politico’s Brianna Ehley reports. 

“The CDC's shrinking public presence amid the pandemic has raised questions and concerns in the public health community about whether the administration is muzzling federal experts — especially as Americans are being urged to resume some normal activities, despite climbing cases and deaths.”

Industry impact

A fragmented and poorly organized health-care system in the United States is partly to blame for the nation’s inability to quickly provide broad diagnostic testing for the coronavirus. 

The patchwork system “made it difficult for hospitals and other medical providers to quickly overcome obstacles to testing,” the New York Times’s Katie Thomas reports

Scott Becker, the chief executive of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, said there’s little coordination between public and private health labs, even after years of efforts to push for a national laboratory system. 

Katie describes how early on, when some labs ramped up coronavirus testing or offered free testing services, some hospitals and doctors continued to send samples to national lab companies — including industry giants such as LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics — because “bureaucratic hurdles of quickly switching to a new lab were just too high.”

The nation’s testing backlog has improved. “Still, the level of testing in the United States is orders of magnitude less than what many epidemiologists say it should be,” Katie adds. “The country should be doing at least 900,000 tests a day — and as many as 20 million — to yield an accurate picture of the outbreak, they say. The need for extensive testing is even more acute as many governors have reopened their states before the epidemic has crested.”

Coronavirus latest

Here are a few more stories to catch up on before the weekend:

Crawling toward a new normal:
  • A group of advisers appointed by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) is recommending District students not return to schools until there is a vaccine or coronavirus cure, Perry Stein reports.
  • Facebook said it will start allowing some employees to work remotely indefinitely, but the social media giant said it may lower paychecks to reflect cheaper costs of living in some cases, Rachel Lerman and Elizabeth Dwoskin report.
  • Stores are being revamped to make shopping more efficient, safe and easy as economies reopen, with pared-down shelves, closed fitting rooms and plexiglass dividers, Abha Bhattarai reports.
The economic fallout: 
  • New figures show 2.4 million Americans filed jobless claims last week, bringing the total to more than 38 million Americans over the course of nine weeks, Tony Romm, Jeff Stein and Erica Werner report.
  • Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow expressed uncertainty that the nation’s economy would quickly rebound, a contrast with the president's confidence about a “tremendous” economic recovery, Jeff and Robert Costa report.
What may be ahead: 
  • A team of researchers from Imperial College London say there could be a surge of deaths — a potential doubling of the nationwide death toll in two months — because of easing restrictions in the United States, Adam Taylor writes.
More on the administration’s response: 
  • The Trump administration said it would provide $1.2 billion in a partnership with biopharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca to bolster work toward a potential vaccine. The deal is also meant to secure the nation at least 300 million doses of a potential vaccine, Mark Berman writes in The Post’s live blog.
  • Trump told reporters he will finish his regimen of hydroxychloroquine soon, once again defending his use of the medicine, Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner write. “I think it's another day,” Trump said. “I had a two-week regimen of hydroxychloroquine. ... And I'm still here. I'm still here.”
  • Nine former scientific advisers to former president Barack Obama said federal and state governments have to immediately begin replenishing medical stockpiles to avoid another “extraordinary shortage,” Marisa Iati writes.

Sugar rush

The coronavirus pandemic has grounded thousands of flights worldwide. Some flights attendants from major U.S. airlines share one wish: getting back in the sky. (Video: The Washington Post)