The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Power Up: Coronavirus deaths nearly doubled this summer as U.S. braces for grim fall

with Brent D. Griffiths

Good morning and welcome back. Tips, comments, recipes? Reach out and sign up. Thanks for waking up with us.

The people

FALL BACK: Vice President Mike Pence once predicted that by Memorial Day weekend, the United States would “largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us.” Yet Labor Day brings a reminder that the threat is far from over: The country's death toll has nearly doubled — and the cases have almost quadrupled — in the three months since the last holiday weekend sparked warnings from public health officials that prematurely relaxing or ignoring social distancing measures could prolong the pandemic. 

Coronavirus summer is coming to a morbid close. Here's the latest, from The Washington Post's tracker:

(For perspective, on Memorial Day, there were 94,536 deaths and 1,667,330 cases, per the Covid Tracking Project.)  

The death toll has well exceeded President Trump's own various forecasts. Trump, seeking to put a rosy spin on his administration's response to the crisis that's been under attack from his 2020 opponent Joe Biden, insisted Friday that “we’re rounding the corner on the virus.” 

But experts warn that we could soon see another post-holiday weekend virus surge due to increased travel and the reopening of schools across the country. And lax social distancing seen in jarring reports of large parties this weekend stands in stark contrast to the latest forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which predicts “the global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic could triple by year’s end, with an additional 1.9 million deaths, while a fall wave of infections could drive fatalities in the United States to 410,000,” our colleagues Joel Achenbach and William Wan report.

  • “In some ways we’re entering Labor Day with a more volatile mix than we did before Memorial Day,” Thomas Tsai, a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who partnered with Google to publish a forecast model for infections, told our colleagues Meryl Kornfield, Hannah Dreier, Derek Hawkins and Marisa Iati. “We have masks and treatment, but we’re starting with a much higher base of cases, and we’re still seeing new hot spots rise across the country.
  • Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, warned against a repeat of the post-Memorial Day case surge heading into fall: “We don’t want to see a surge under any circumstances, but particularly as we go on the other side of Labor Day and enter into the fall.”

Fauci told CNN he's “not sure what [Trump] means by his recent assessment that this is the pandemic's final turn. He cited new outbreaks in recent weeks in places such Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana and “others who are starting to have an uptick in what we call percent positive of testing, which generally is a predictor that there's going to be a problem.” 

Experts have long worried about the fall's dropping temperatures, since transmission of the virus is greater in “the dry air of climate-controlled” confined spaces. It also marks the start of flu season which could put even more strain on the U.S. health care system. “There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in an interview with our Lena Sun this past April. “And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean.”

While Fauci and other state and local officials urged Americans to keep their Labor Day gatherings small and outdoors, the large crowds that epidemiologists feared appeared to be in full swing.

  • “[San Francisco] Mayor London Breed denounced the more than 1,000 people who gathered on Ocean Beach Saturday night to celebrate Burning Man, a week-long festival in the Nevada desert that was canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic,” the San Francisco Chronicle’s Trisha Tadani reports. Breed called the “reckless and selfish”: “You are not celebrating. You are putting people's lives at risk."

Transmission is being compounded by large outbreaks on college campuses, according to Gregg Gonsalves, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health: “We’ve had this gigantic migration event over the past few weeks where students are moving all over the country from homes to universities,” Gonsalves told the New York Times’s Tara Parker-Pope. “The relative calm of places like New York and Connecticut has to be now thought of in the context of all this big jumble of people crisscrossing the country to get back to college.”

  • At the University of Iowa, 1,569 students have tested positive for the virus since the start of the semester, per the Daily Iowan's Rylee Wilson
  • Over 20 students at New York University were suspended for breaking the school's coronavirus policies after a mass gathering took place on Saturday night in Washington Square Park. “Many, the number unclear, were seen without masks or face coverings and failed to socially distance,” according to NBC News New York. 
  • At the University of South Carolina, over 1,700 cases have been reported since August 1 according to the school's covid-19 dashboard case tracker. Video from last week shows USC students crowding a bar where coronavirus guidelines were not enforced:

A look ahead: “The IHME model projects that under the most likely scenario, 410,451 people in the United States will have died by Jan. 1,” Joel and William report. 

  • “The scenarios pivot on human behavior and public policy,” they write. “The best-case scenario would result from near-universal mask-wearing and the maintenance of social distancing and government mandates limiting the size of indoor gatherings. The worst-case scenario assumes that people and their communities stop taking precautions.”
  • “It’s easy given the summer lull to think the epidemic is going away,” Christopher Murray, director of IHME, said Friday on a conference call. But there's “bleak times ahead in the Northern Hemisphere winter, and unfortunately we are not collectively doing everything we can to learn from the last five months.”
  • Fauci, asked about the updated IMHE projection, said: “Of course it's possible … If you do a lot of indoor activity and you don't utilize masks to the utmost, you very likely will get to this number.”

Labor Day Weekend is an “accelerator weekend,” Vanderbilt University's infectious-disease specialist William Schaffner told CNBC's Will Feuer. Allowing mask mandates to expire or easing enforcement of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention coronavirus guidelines — even as cases fall to a manageable level in some places — is a mistake, he warned. 

  • “You will get a seesaw effect and I can predict that just as sure as I know the sun is going to rise in the east We’ve got to sustain this for months. It’s not a quick fix,” Schaffner said. 
  • “We have to go into the fall with decreasing cases like we’re doing now,” Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services told reporters last week. “We can’t risk a lack of personal responsibility. ”

On the Hill

HOUSE LAWMAKERS WILL PROBE DEJOY: House Democrats called for the immediate suspension of  Postmaster General Louis DeJoy “following accusations that he reimbursed former employees for campaign contributions they made to his preferred GOP politicians, an arrangement that would be unlawful,” Amy Gardner reports.

  • “Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in a statement late [last night] that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which she chairs, would begin an investigation, saying that DeJoy may have lied to her committee under oath.”

This follows The Post's blockbuster report: “Between 2000 and 2014, 124 individuals who worked for the company together gave more than $1 million to federal and state GOP candidates,” our colleagues Aaron C. Davis, Amy Gardner and Jon Swaine reported in a detailed analysis of federal and state campaign finance records of political giving by employees at New Breed Logistics, DeJoy's private company.

  • The key will be whether the evidence amounts to a straw donor scheme: Although it can be permissible to encourage employees to make donations, reimbursing them for those contributions is a violation of North Carolina and federal election laws.” 

Trump said he's open to an investigation: The president told reporters “Sure, sure, let the investigations go.” He also said DeJoy should lose his job “if something can be proven that he did something wrong.” 

The campaign

55 DAYS UNTIL ELECTION DAY: Pence and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) both hit the campaign trail in Wisconsin on Labor Day, her first solo stop since becoming former vice president Joe Biden's running mate, Chelsea Janes reports. The dueling stops show we have entered the final jaunt before November.

  • Trump remained in Washington, venting to reporters:He called his opponents names — Biden was a ‘stupid person’ and Harris was ‘not a competent person.’ Yet more notable than his usual partisan insults was his extraordinary attack on the country’s senior military officials,” the New York Times's Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns report
  • “Defending himself for a fifth straight day following a report in The Atlantic that he ridiculed America’s war dead, Mr. Trump suggested the accusations came from Pentagon leaders, whom he described as war profiteers,” they write. The president described Pentagon leaders as people who “want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs, that make the planes, that make everything else, stay happy."

Remember millions of Americans will vote before Election Day, some very soon: North Carolina began mailing out more than 600,000 requested absentee ballots to voters on Friday. Minnesota, another hotly contested battleground, will be the first state to allow in-person voting starting Sept. 18. And the first presidential debate will cap off the month on Sept. 29.

President Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden took rhetorical swipes at each other on Sept. 7. (Video: Reuters)

WARNING SIGN AHEAD FOR THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Of the $1.1 billon his campaign and the party raised from the beginning of 2019 through July, more than $800 million has already been spent. Now some people inside the campaign are forecasting what was once unthinkable: a cash crunch with less than 60 days until the election,” the Times's Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman report.

Most of the money went toward beefing up online fundraising: Under then-campaign manager Brad Parscale, more than $350 million — almost half of the $800 million spent — went to fund-raising operations, the Times reports. Parscale also reportedly had a car and driver. Trump, the Times adds, brags that Bill Stepien took a pay cut when he took over. 

  • The GOP has also amassed 2,000 staff members across 100 offices as volunteers, according to the party, knock on 1 million doors per week. Biden's campaign continues eschew such tactics.

But there's an eyebrow-raising list of other expenses: Biden has raked in cash during the pandemic with a mostly slimmed down campaign and a schedule packed with virtual fundraisers, the latter of which Trump reportedly abhors. 

  • $11 million for two Super Bowl Ads: "It was a vanity splurge that allowed [Trump] to match the billionaire Mike R. Bloomberg’s buy for the big game.”
  • Hiring a number of aides, allies and friends of the family: Trump’s former bodyguard and White House aide has been paid more than $500,000 by the R.N.C. since late 2017." 
  • $4 million to Trump family businesses just since 2019: “Hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mr. Trump’s club at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, lavish donor retreats at Trump hotels, office space in Trump Tower, and thousands of dollars at the steakhouse in Mr. Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel."

Parscale did have a defense for his spending:

BIDEN'S LACK OF POLICY DETAILS COULD SPELL TROUBLE: The focus on “restor[ing] the soul of the nation” rather than any one detailed agenda “is laying the groundwork for bitter internal battles, should Biden win the presidency, on topics from race to climate to trade, while Wall Street leaders plan to have their way with a president many expect to be unusually susceptible to outside pressure,” Annie Linskey reports.

  • Some problems are already bubbling up: Biden worried powerful bankers with recent proposals to allow banking at the Post Office and having the Federal Reserve guarantee every American a bank account. “But in private calls with Wall Street leaders, the Biden campaign made it clear those proposals would not be central to Biden’s agenda.”

Outside the Beltway

CALIFORNIA ABLAZE: “The weekend blazes pushed the area burned in California to more than 2 million acres, the most burned on record in a single wildfire season since modern records began in 1987, even before the most dangerous part of the fire season had begun, according to Daniel Swain, a climate researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles,” Jason Samenow reports.

  • But there's a coming weather whiplash: “The high-pressure zone from Canada driving the potentially fire-fanning winds is predicted to bring a sudden and historic drop in temperatures over parts of the Colorado Rockies along with an early season snowstorm,” our colleague writes. “Denver and Boulder are both under winter weather advisories  for 3 to 7 inches of snow by early Wednesday.”
The Creek Fire in the Sierra National Forest, about 290 miles north of Los Angeles, grew to over 73,000 acres as of early Sept. 7. (Video: The Washington Post)

The scene in Southern California: “Searing hot temperatures. Eerie yellow-gray skies. The sharp scent of smoke and flakes of ash that rained down upon the land,” the Los Angeles Times's Deborah Netburn reports.

In the media


Jamal Khashoggi was the target of online harassment before his death: Nearly two years after the killing, a review of Twitter records by U.S. experts is shedding new light on the pattern of allegedly coordinated abuse and intimidation during Khashoggi’s final months, when he was living in Virginia, a campaign that some officials say may have violated U.S. laws, with potentially serious implications for the relationship between Washington and Riyadh,” Joby Warrick reports.

  • Saudi Arabia handed down the “final” rulings in his murder: The kingdom's “public prosecutor said that eight people had been sentenced to prison terms between seven and 20 years for the killing, Kareem Fahim reports. None of the eight people were named, but “were all believed to be members of a 15-man hit squad that traveled to Turkey from Saudi Arabia in October 2018 before killing and dismembering Khashoggi.”

Right wing protesters gathered outside Portland: “More than 1,000 supporters of [Trump], including some aligned with white nationalist extremist groups, gathered in northwest Oregon last night in a show of force against left-wing protesters, creating even more tension in a region that has been rocked by weeks of protests,” Samantha Schmidt, Fenit Nirappil, Abigail Hauslohner and Tim Craig report.

  • The scene: “The crowd, which initially gathered in a community college parking lot in Oregon City, Ore., about 30 minutes from downtown Portland, included armed people wearing bulletproof vests or shirts bearing the name of Aaron ‘Jay' Danielson, the slain supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer. There were also families with young children and adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory. Some identified themselves as members of the Proud Boys, a self-identified western chauvinist group that the FBI has said has ties to white nationalism.” 

States have begun slashing programs as Congress stalls on a relief plan: Economists warn that further state spending reductions could prolong the downturn by shaking the confidence of residents, whose day-to-day lives depend heavily on state and local services,” the New York Times's Mary Williams Walsh reports.