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Senate Democrats Obstruct Bipartisan Legislation to Address Shortage of Respirators and Face Masks During Coronavirus Outbreak

Senate Democrats Obstruct Bipartisan Legislation to Address Shortage of Respirators and Face Masks During Coronavirus Outbreak

Senate Democrats blocked bipartisan legislation to address the shortage of respirators and face masks as concerns about coronavirus continue to grow.

The bill, which was obstructed on Thursday, would have increased access to “vitally-needed respirators,” according to Senate Republicans.

Sponsored by Republican Senator Deb Fischer and Democrat Senator Kyrsten Sinema, the bill would amend the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act to address the shortage and ensure that all respirators certified by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “are eligible for the same federal liability protections as other medical products, vaccines, and drugs.”

“The Senate had an opportunity to act quickly and pass my bipartisan bill to address the shortage of respirators facing our country during this coronavirus outbreak. As a result of the objection from Senate Democrats, the health and safety of our health care providers and first responders is at risk. I will continue to seek a way forward for this critical legislation,” Fischer said in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted Democrats on Twitter for blocking the bill.

“[Fischer’s] bipartisan PREP Act would expand medical professionals’ access to vitally-needed respirators and create certainty for mask manufacturers,” McConnell tweeted. “It is not controversial. The Senate could have passed it today. But Senate Democrats refused to let it move forward.”

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Bernie Sanders Can Lead the Fight Against Coronavirus. Joe Biden Can’t.

Yesterday, as Americans finally began to internalize the severe implications of the coronavirus outbreak, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders each gave a national address on the topic. Their speeches were a contrast in leadership: Biden’s mostly a restatement of the problems posed by the pandemic, Sanders’s a clarion call for specific measures and an appeal to solidarity in the face of danger.

The vast difference between the two Democratic presidential candidates’ responses puts the question to us all: is Biden really the safe pick and Sanders a risk, as the prevailing story goes, or is it the other way around?

Biden’s speech Thursday afternoon was cast as his big chance to demonstrate steady, stable leadership amid the Trump administration’s incompetent handling of the country’s health and looming economic crisis. Instead, viewers who tuned in at the scheduled 1 PM time were treated to half an hour of wide-eyed staffers trying to fix technical difficulties so Biden could come to the podium.

Thirty minutes later, a sober, subdued Biden delivered an address his campaign team hoped would give their candidate a presidential sheen and draw a contrast with President Trump. Stressing that “this is going to require a national response,” Biden hit on themes familiar to anyone who has been following his campaign, decrying Trump’s xenophobia, his cuts to federal agencies, his weakening of public trust in the government, and general undermining of US “credibility” on the world stage.

Yet when it came to outlining specifics for dealing with the crisis, Biden was curiously vague. His speech was peppered with statements like, “We have to get to work immediately to dig ourselves out of this hole,” and, “We need to weather the storm and get the people and this economy back to full strength as soon as possible.” No less than twelve times, Biden told viewers “We need” to: “surge our capacity,” to “place our focus on those who are struggling just to get by,” to “give them relief,” to “provide food for them,” to provide “smart, bold, compassionate leadership.”

Biden largely elided specifics, instead beginning the speech by directing Americans to go to his campaign website if they wanted to see details of the plan he had released. One exception was his call for emergency paid sick leave, a measure aimed at making it easier for people to abstain from work in the coming weeks and months — and prevent infection or further spread of the virus — without losing their financial footing. On this, Biden was more specific, but he was also following the lead of Congressional Democrats who already introduced an emergency paid sick leave bill.

Other than paid sick leave, Biden’s only specifics for dealing with the crisis revolved mainly around personal behavior. He urged the public to wash their hands, to stay at home, and to avoid hugs and handshakes. He called for free COVID-19 tests; for the government to measure and report every day how many were ordered, completed, and came up positive; for testing of seniors and other vulnerable populations; and for the creation of hundreds of mobile testing stations and drive-through testing centers. He also called for FEMA and the Pentagon to plan and prepare for potential deployment, and for the government to ensure every American had enough information to “make an informed decision” about when to get tested, to self-quarantine, or to seek medical help. None of this was purposeless, but neither was it particularly robust.

In the end, Biden’s speech achieved the feat of being both technocratic and light on technocracy. While he gave a picture of the areas in which a response would be necessary, he was stingy with details. And crucially, aside from paid sick leave, he failed to propose any concrete measures to protect working-class people from the economic fallout that the pandemic is likely to cause.

One hundred miles away, almost as soon as Biden finished speaking, Sanders gave a parallel but very different speech.

He opened in an unusually emotional style, both sober and reassuring. “First and foremost, we must remember that we are in this together,” he said. It would be “a tragic and dangerous mistake” to believe that our own health is our only concern and that others must fend for themselves. He urged recognition of mutual dependence, vulnerability, and responsibility.

“Now is the time for solidarity,” he said. His speech imagined solidarity not as an aspirational ideal but as a practical course of action, not as an expression of individual altruism but as an act of collective self-preservation. We consider each other’s well-being not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because the more people act in that spirit the more likely each of us is to see our own interests met. It’s a lesson learned through many decades of working-class struggle, particularly the experiences of the labor movement.

Sanders then moved on to concrete plans for dealing with the crisis. On some of these, his approach overlapped with Biden’s. Both assailed the administration’s lack of transparency and general incompetence, urged more testing, and called for putting public health professionals front and center in dealing with the crisis. When it came to policy specifics, Sanders, like Biden, demanded the eventual vaccine be available free of charge, called for emergency funding for paid leave from work, and to evaluate the status of the government’s testing and processing.

But unlike Biden, who simply directed viewers to read through a nearly 7,000-word long plan on their own time, Sanders outlined numerous specific proposals the government needed to take to deal with the crisis there and then. He called for an immediate expansion of community health centers, and rather than merely demand Americans “surge our capacity” to deal with the virus as Biden had, he called for the government to mobilize medical residents, retired medical professionals, and all other medical personnel to beat back the crisis. More than just urging authorities to nebulously “ensure” Americans were informed about the crisis, Sanders called for the creation of well-staffed national and state hotlines.

Sanders demanded emergency unemployment assistance to anyone who lost their job during the crisis, constituting 100 percent of their prior salary, with a cap of $1,150 a week, or $60,000 a year. He specified that gig workers, independent contractors, domestic workers, and — due to the crisis’s impact on the restaurant industry — tipped workers must all be eligible. He called for school lunches, SNAP, and Meals on Wheels to be expanded, ensuring people stuck at home could still be well-fed.

Emergency homeless shelters must be constructed, Sanders said, to ensure homeless Americans, survivors of domestic violence, and college students quarantined off-campus could still receive shelter and nutrition. He also called for emergency lending to small- and medium-sized businesses, in part to fund construction of manufacturing facilities and production of supplies like ventilators, of which he warned hospitals were facing shortages.

Perhaps most significant was Sanders’s call for an “immediate moratorium” on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shutoffs, a measure meant to both alleviate the financial burden on the public in what looks to be a protracted health and economic crisis, and to prevent Americans from spreading the virus by venturing out to work due to financial desperation. (By contrast, Biden’s website merely mentions “mortgage and rental relief,” by which it means making federal money available from a general fund for mayors and governors to provide assistance in an unspecified manner.) Such measures were justified, Sanders made clear, because the virus outbreak was a crisis on the scale of World War II and could end up taking more lives than that global conflagration.

Beyond that, Sanders dutifully worked in his usual themes — now with renewed resonance in the midst of the crisis. He stressed the importance of passing Medicare for All as not just a matter of economic justice, but of practicality, noting that many Americans avoid visiting the doctor for lack of money, worsening the current crisis. And he called for pharmaceutical companies to be told “in no uncertain terms” that there would be no price gouging when it comes to medication.

Contrary to the dominant media narrative that surrounds both candidates, for viewers who watched both addresses it was Biden who seemed unprepared and lacking specifics, and Sanders the realist who had come prepared, could reassure the public, and knew exactly what he would do upon winning office.

In many ways, Bernie Sanders was made for a moment like this.

He understands the problems facing working-class people in their day-to-day lives: medical uninsurance and underinsurance, inflexible or unreliable work schedules, lack of childcare, food insecurity, vulnerability to eviction, the absence of emergency funds. He talks about these pervasive realities in his stump speech; they are integral to the way he imagines the texture of American life, and what he believes needs fixing. It’s not difficult for him to call them to mind and account for them in a moment of crisis.

And he’s not a rookie at arguing for major public interventions to stop and prevent widespread devastation, regardless of the implications for corporate profits. In fact, the central demands that have propelled him from the margins to the mainstream — Medicare for All, tuition-free college and student debt cancellation, a Green New Deal, massive public housing investment and a homes guarantee — are of precisely that same nature. The measures this moment urgently calls for are echoes of the social-democratic reforms for which Sanders has spent years, or in some cases decades, attempting to build support.

A public health crisis of this magnitude is like a tracer dye revealing the fractures in the system. It’s never been more evident that health care in this country is inadequate and barbarically unequal, and that tens of millions of working-class people in this country are living inches from financial ruin. It’s never been clearer why the nation needs a political revolution of the type Bernie Sanders advocates. A recent headline in the Independent read, “Ironically enough, Bernie Sanders’s policies could have saved us from coronavirus.” But it doesn’t have to be ironic — and they still can. If we’re fortunate, this crisis will help millions understand that Biden’s hostility to the creation of a real welfare state is unreasonable and literally deadly.

As disastrous as COVID-19 looks to be, the crisis presents Sanders with an unparalleled opportunity to revive his campaign. According to exit polls, large majorities of voters in Michigan and Missouri trusted Biden more to handle a major crisis. Sunday’s debate, the first and perhaps last one-on-one matchup between the two candidates, gives Sanders a chance to reverse this perception and show Biden up as unprepared, risky, and generally unfit to lead.

In 2016, debating Hillary Clinton one-on-one in Flint, Michigan before pulling out a surprise victory in the Midwestern state, Sanders was able to use the format — as well as Clinton’s own in-built conservatism — to appear forward-thinking and decisive, while making Clinton look indecisive, wishy-washy, and overly cautious in a time of crisis. While Clinton received one round of applause for her answer to a question on restoring trust in government, Sanders received four separate sets of audience applause for an answer that was half the length.

In other words, the debate went a lot like Biden and Sanders’ dueling coronavirus press conferences, except unscripted and in real time. Clinton’s reticence to call for bold public action — a product, fittingly, of the same political approach pioneered by Biden in the 1980s — worked against her in a time of crisis, while Sanders’s more ambitious and strident demands perfectly fit the moment.

Sunday’s debate will be similar. It will be one on one. It will be conducted in the midst of crisis. And Sanders’s opponent will be a similarly conservative Democrat allergic to government action — in this case, one who once admonished Democratic elder statesman Hubert Humphrey for not being “cognizant of the limited, finite ability government has to deal with people’s problems.” Only this time, Sanders will be facing a rival who not only has a habit of forgetting his best friend’s name and what office he’s running for, but tends to give incoherent, rambling answers when deprived of a teleprompter. And this time, the crisis is affecting not one city, but the entire globe and its economy.

Sunday’s debate has the chance to reshape the race — but Sanders will need to take the gloves off. After all, there are bigger things at stake in this election than his friendship with Joe Biden.

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Trump’s Coronavirus Presser Was a Contribution to Joe Biden

Anadolu AgencyGetty Images

(Permanent Musical Accompaniment For The Last Post Of The Week From The Blog’s Favourite Living Canadian)

Someday, in the dim twilight of our gotterdammerung, when we’re fighting tooth and claw for the last edible nematode on the planet, let’s all take a moment to recall that Yamiche Alcindor of PBS once tried to save the world as we once knew it.

YA: You said you don’t take responsibility, but you did disband the White House pandemic office, and the officials working in that office left the administration abruptly. What responsibility you take for that? And officials that worked in the office said the White House lost valuable time? What do you make of that?

THE PRESIDENT: It is a nasty question. What we have done is we have saved thousands of lives because of the quick closing. And when you say me, I didn’t do it. We have a group of people. I could ask, perhaps my administration, but I could ask tony about that, because I don’t know anything about it. You say we did that. I don’t know anything about it.

Having already denied responsibility for any mistakes that had been made in relation to the global pandemic here at home, the president* then explained that he was not responsible for anything that happened within his administration. If there were a cock to crow in the Rose Garden, he’d be dead from exhaustion by now.

Anyway, the press conference was a joke but, in its defense, it probably counts as an in-kind contribution to Joe Biden’s eventual general election campaign.


Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: “Four Women” (Nina Simone): Yeah, I still pretty much love New Orleans.

Weekly Visit To The Pathe Archives: Here are some horses being treated for horse flu in England in 1949. It is not easy work, as you can tell from the people trying to get the horse to take the pill. I have a feeling that by about week two of self-quarantine, Grandpa and Meemaw are going to be pretty much in the same temper. History is so cool.

Is it a good day for dinosaur news, Nature? It’s always a good day for dinosaur news!

Here we describe an exceptionally well-preserved and diminutive bird-like skull that documents a new species, which we name Oculudentavis khaungraae gen. et sp. nov. The find appears to represent the smallest known dinosaur of the Mesozoic era, rivalling the bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae)—the smallest living bird—in size. The O. khaungraae specimen preserves features that hint at miniaturization constraints, including a unique pattern of cranial fusion and an autapomorphic ocular morphology9 that resembles the eyes of lizards.

We all have our miniaturization constraints, after all, not that it matters or anything. Even tiny dinosaurs lived then to make us happy now.

We should be serious for a bit. Listen to the serious people. Look, as Mr. Rogers advised us, for the helpers. They really are out there. For the first time, I’ve aged into a “vulnerable category.” It feels very weird. I also have Medicare, which I adore, and which I wish everybody had. My mother was hit with polio during the 1950s and spent considerable time in an iron lung. It scarred her for life. Epidemics do that. Call your kids. Call your folks. Keep in touch.

The shebeen will conduct business as usual, unless, of course, I get hit by another car. My self-quarantine has been materially affected by the cancellation of all sports, especially the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. (I am severely Markus Howard-and-Sabrina Ionescu-deprived. I also am suffering from a severe Ernie-Jet-and-Chuck depletion.) It was the right call and I’m glad they made it, but damn, it really does put a hole in my year. Be well and play nice, ya bastids. Wash your damn hands and stay above the snake-line, or the ghosts of a hundred angry nuns will descend upon you and ruin your whole day.

Respond to this post on the Esquire Politics Facebook page here.

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Trump declares coronavirus pandemic a national emergency

By ANDREW TAYLOR, ZEKE MILLER, JILL COLVIN and LISA MASCARO

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency in order to free up more money and resources. But he denied any responsibility for delays in making testing available for the new virus, whose spread has roiled markets and disrupted the lives of everyday Americans.

Speaking from the Rose Garden, Trump said, “I am officially declaring a national emergency,” unleashing as much as $50 billion for state and local governments to respond to the outbreak.

Trump also announced a range of executive actions, including a new public-private partnership to expand coronavirus testing capabilities with drive-through locations, as his administration has come under fire for being too slow in making the test available. Trump said, “I don’t take responsibility at all” for the slow rollout of testing.

Late Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a deal with the Trump administration for an aid package from Congress that would provide free tests, sick pay for workers and bolster food programs.

“We are proud to have reached an agreement with the Administration to resolve outstanding challenges, and now will soon pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” Pelosi announced in a letter to colleauges. The House was poised to vote.

Access to testing has been a persistent source of concern. Still, Trump said officials don’t want people taking the test unless they have certain symptoms. “We don’t want people without symptoms to go and do that test,” Trump said, adding, “It’s totally unnecessary.”

Trump took a number of other actions to bolster energy markets, ease the financial burden for Americans with student loans and give medical professionals additional “flexibility” in treating patients during the public health crisis.

He waived interest on federally held student loans and moved to prop up energy markets, by directing the Department of Energy to buy oil to fill the strategic petroleum reserve “’right up to the top.” He said he was giving Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar emergency authorities to waive federal regulations and laws as needed, for instance, to allow doctors to practice tele-medicine across state lines.

“Through a very collective action and shared sacrifice, national determination, we will overcome the threat of the virus,” Trump said.

Earlier, Trump said the White House and Congress have yet to agree on a broader economic aid package, claiming that he doesn’t believe House Democrats are “giving enough.” Lawmakers are preparing to vote on their own measure Friday.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday the House would approve its coronavirus aid package, imploring the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to “put families first” by backing the effort to provide Americans with relief.

The House Democratic leader spoke from the speaker’s balcony at the Capitol ahead of Trump’s news conference at the White House, as the power centers of Washington were shuttered to visitors.

“Our nation, our great nation has faced crisis before,” Pelosi said. “And every time, thanks to the courage and optimism of the American people, we have prevailed. Now, working together, we will once again prevail.”

Central to the package is free testing for the virus and guaranteed sick pay for workers who are taking time away from jobs, along with an infusion of dollars to handle unemployment benefits and boost food programs for children, families and seniors.

Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, whom Trump tapped to negotiate for the administration, have engaged in around-the-clock negotiations that continued even as Trump was speaking.

But Republican leaders in Congress slowed the deal, wanting assurances that Trump would publicly support the agreement before signing off on it ahead of any vote, according to a top congressional aide unauthorized to discuss the private talks and speaking on condition of anonymity.

GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, huddled with Mnuchin and Trump at the White House earlier Friday.

“We can only defeat this outbreak if we have an accurate determination of its scale and scope, so that we can pursue the precise science-based response that is necessary to put families first,” Pelosi said.

The White House is under enormous pressure, dealing with the crisis on multiple fronts as it encroached ever closer on the president.

The virus has swept in alarming ways across American life, sending the financial markets into a dangerous slide and shuttering schools and sporting events and limiting everyday interactions in communities across the country.

And a personal health scare intensified as White House officials worked to determine the level of exposure by the president and senior aides to several foreign officials who have since tested positive for the virus.

Trump said he was gratified that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tested negative for the virus, after the pair sat next to each other for an extended period of time last weekend. A senior aide to Bolsonaro tested positive. “We have no symptoms whatsoever,” said Trump, who has not gotten tested but said Friday he would “most likely” be tested “fairly soon.”

Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, now in isolation at a hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus, had returned to Sydney from Washington, where he met Attorney General WIlliam Barr and Ivanka Trump last week.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said Ivanka Trump, who worked from home on Friday, was evaluated by the White House Medical Unit and it was determined that because she was exhibiting no symptoms she does not need to self-quarantine.

Barr, meanwhile, was staying home Friday, though he “felt great and wasn’t showing any symptoms,” according to his spokeswoman Kerri Kupec. She said the CDC did not recommend testing at this point.

In addition, just days after meeting Trump and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort, the communications chief for Brazil’s president, Fábio Wajngarten, tested positive for coronavirus. Scott said he was isolating himself.

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was also at Trump’s club on the weekend, joined a growing list of lawmakers who have chosen to isolate themselves as a precaution. He announced Friday that he also met with the Australian official who has now tested positive. And GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who had previously isolated himself after a potential exposure at a conservative conference in Washington, said Friday he met with a Spanish official and is now self-quarantining.

Pelosi and Mnuchin continued their constant cross-town phone calls throughout a tense day of negotiations to firm up and salvage the emerging deal that has widespread support from Democrats and some in the business community seeking certainty.

Providing sick pay for workers is a crucial element of federal efforts to stop the rapid spread of the infection. Officials warn that the nation’s healthcare system could quickly become overwhelmed with gravely sick patients, as suddenly happened in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus.

The ability to ensure paychecks will keep flowing — for people who stay home as a preventative measure or because they’re feeling ill or caring for others — can help assure Americans they will not fall into financial hardship.

Trump’s 73-minute remarks capped a tumultuous week in which Washington strained for a comprehensive response to an outbreak that is testing the nation’s political, financial and health care systems.

Hospitals welcomed Trump’s emergency declaration, which they and lawmakers in Congress had been requesting. It allows the Health and Human Services Department to temporarily waive certain federal rules that can make it harder for hospitals and other health care facilities to respond to an emergency.

Such rules include a Medicare requirement that a patient spend three days in the hospital before the program will pay for care in a nursing facility. Waiving the rule would make more inpatient beds available. Another rule requires doctors and other clinicians to be licensed in the state in which they are providing services. It can be waived if the physician is licensed in another state.

The American Medical Association said the emergency declaration would help ensure America’s health care system has sufficient resources to properly respond to the ongoing outbreak.

Trump’s actions were also viewed favorably on Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial Average’s gains doubled in the last half-hour of trading Friday to nearly 2,000 points, its biggest point gain ever, as Trump outlined steps to expand testing, buy more oil to boost U.S. reserves, ease the economic impact on students and free up billions for states and cities to fight the virus outbreak.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to be over it.

Trump has struggled to show he’s on top of the crisis, after giving conflicting descriptions of what the U.S. is doing to combat the virus. On Wednesday he announced he would ban travel to the U.S. from Europe, but aides later clarified that it would have carve-outs for American citizens, permanent residents and some others — and only affect 26 European nations.

Trump on Friday said “we may have to include” the U.K. because of a recent rise in cases. “Their numbers have gone up fairly precipitously over the last 24 hours, so we may be adding that, and we may be adding a couple of others and we may frankly start thinking about taking some off.”

The House aid package builds on an emergency $8.3 billion measure approved last week.

Pelosi promised a third coronavirus package will follow soon, though the House is leaving Washington on Friday for a previously scheduled recess. That measure will include more aggressive steps to boost the U.S. economy, which economists fear has already slipped into recession.

But there’s little appetite within either party for Trump’s proposal to suspend collection of the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax. States are already clamoring for fiscal relief from Washington as the virus threatens their budgets.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, said more tests would be available over the next week, but that officials should not wait before trying to mitigate the virus’ effects.

“We still have a long way to go,” he said Friday. “There will be many more cases. But we’ll take care of that, and ultimately, as the president said, this will end.”

___

Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani, Alan Fram, Lauran Neergaard, Martin Crutsinger, Laurie Kellman, Michael Balsamo and Kevin Freking in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.

___

The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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No, senior citizens, it’s definitely not “the safest time to fly”

Take 65 seconds to watch the president’s own top science advisor last night on CNN declare that people, especially seniors, shouldn’t be flying except for reasons of absolute necessity.

Visit the CDC’s webpage devoted to “People at Risk for Serious Illness from COVID-19” and you’ll find six bullet points right at the top, the fifth of which is “Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.” Now take 30 seconds and watch Ainsley Earhardt, an anchor on the president’s favorite show on his favorite network, advise its famously old viewership that flying has never been more awesome.

She’s not the only Fox anchor encouraging people to buy tickets:

If you’re not in the at-risk population, flying’s unlikely to kill you. But it can certainly pass the virus along to you, and you’ll then pass it along to someone who is in the at-risk population. The more people opt out of “social distancing,” the more intense the epidemic will be. Laura Ingraham, Dartmouth grad, surely understands that.

What is Fox doing?

They’ve had some worthwhile coverage of coronavirus this week. Tucker Carlson warned viewers a few days ago not to kid themselves that the disease is just some flu that’ll go away. Anthony Fauci was a guest on Sean Hannity’s show to reiterate that point. Martha MacCallum ably grilled Seema Verma last night about the coming shortage of ICU beds and ventilators. Contributors have been beating the drum about ramping up testing. I don’t get to watch it much during the day but I’m sure Chris Wallace and the news side are doing a fine job of delivering the facts, and will now have the chance to do so overnight as live programming continues into the wee hours. Fox management is taking it seriously too:

The top executives at Fox News Channel told employees Thursday to cut back on studio bookings and to expect possible programming changes as a result of precautions being taken against the spread of coronavirus, the latest media outlet to unveil new procedures as the disease complicates the logistics of newsgathering.

Executives want to “limit personal interaction, reduce the chance of exposure wherever possible and maintain the health and safety of those employees who are unable to telecommute,” Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott and Fox News President Jay Wallace told employees in a memo Thursday. And they suggested they may have to tweak the way content is presented. “Programming changes will be enacted in the coming days on some of our platforms — our programming leadership team is working on this now and will communicate that accordingly,” the executives said in the memo…

The Fox News executives urged employees in the memo to “keep in mind that viewers rely on us to stay informed during a crisis of this magnitude and we are providing an important public service to our audience by functioning as a resource for all Americans.”

They have provided a public service this week in some ways, as I just said. But telling old people that it’s never been safer to fly when in reality it’s never been less safe for them to fly isn’t providing a public service. Whatever the hell this is, it isn’t a public service:

Coronavirus is a Chinese-North Korean bioweapon aimed at the United States — that was unleashed on China first, for some reason? And we shouldn’t “overreact” to this … bioweapon attack?

What?

It would be unconscionable but cynically understandable to air this sort of thing if Trump were still in “it’ll blow over” mode. If the task is to provide cover for the president at all costs, up to and including encouraging reckless behavior that’ll get people killed, then happy talk about air travel and not “overreacting” to a disease that’s about to swamp American emergency rooms would have a certain cynical logic. But Trump is declaring a national emergency as I write this. He’s past “it’ll blow over” mode. He understands now that this is a mortal threat to Americans and to his chances of a second term. The time for business as usual and “don’t overreact” is over for him and for righty media. I … think?

There are polls going around this week showing that Republicans are much more likely to say the threat from coronavirus is exaggerated, for complicated reasons. Partly, I think, it’s geographic. The country’s biggest hot spots for the virus thus far are Seattle, New York, and L.A., all deeply Democratic areas. Dems are living with a more immediate threat than Republicans are for the moment. Partly too there’s a “boy who cried wolf” effect in media coverage. Republicans have spent the past three years listening to how Russiagate and then the Ukraine matter were going to end Trump’s presidency. Now they’re hearing it about COVID-19 and tuning it out. And partly it’s partisan wishcasting. Righties know that if the media *is* right in this case about the extent of the epidemic, Trump’s odds at a second term will dwindle.

But partly it’s a reaction to the denialism in some of the rhetoric in righty media and from the president himself. Trump spent six weeks insisting that this is no big deal. As you’ve just seen in the clips up top, some Foxies continue to insist that it’s fine to carry on as normal against the advice of the CDC. Take an audience that’s predisposed to do that in the first place and reinforce their skepticism of the threat with scoffing comments from political and media authority figures they trust and of course they’re going to conclude that this is overblown. With the possible exception of conservative talk radio, there’s no media outlet capable of doing more good — or harm — in shaping Republican opinion than Fox. Which makes it that much more important that all of Fox’s messaging on coronavirus encourages good practices to contain the outbreak.

At the end of the day, they’re saving the lives of their own viewership.

There may be another reason why Republicans are more skeptical of the threat. Republicans skew older, and for whatever grim reason, older people generally seem to be fairly sanguine about the threat.

At her home in The Villages, a sprawling central Florida retirement community that overlaps three counties, Alicia Przybylowicz still greets neighbors with a big smile and an outstretched hand. “I’m a hand-shaker. I think I will always be a hand-shaker and a hugger,” the 64-year-old said. Worries about the coronavirus aren’t going to stop that. “It seems that it’s been blown out of proportion.”…

The Villages is one of the largest retirement developments in the United States, with 125,000 residents living on more than 15,000 acres. When asked on the “Villages Friendly Folks” Facebook page how they were managing the coronavirus, a majority of people sided with Przybylowicz, saying the crisis is being overblown.

Against mounting advice from federal and private health experts, many expressed a determination to move forward with travel excursions, such as cruises.

We could spitball theories why older people, the group most at risk from the virus, seem to be taking it more in stride. They’ve already lived through many hardships; nothing fazes them. They’ve also lived through many scares that haven’t panned out. They’re complacent. But I’d bet there’s a Trump/Fox component that’s feeding their organic skepticism. It would be good to disabuse them of it at some point before we have news crews filming senior citizens sick with the virus collapsing in hospital parking lots because there’s no room inside. Which is less than a month away.

Here’s our Treasury secretary echoing the imbecilic talking point that commercial air travel seems like a perfectly chill thing to do right now. Fun fact: A man has been banned from flying Jet Blue in the future because he boarded his last flight with the company knowing he had coronavirus. Enjoy the friendly skies.

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Republican Senator Announces Plans To Subpoena Consulting Firm Linked To Hunter Biden And Burisma

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) just announced plans to subpoena a consulting firm that has links to Hunter Biden and the Ukrainian energy company Burisma for records that could show a possible conflict of interest.

This comes one month after Johnson announced plans to subpoena a former consultant with the firm Blue Star Strategies, but he ended up deciding to instead subpoena the firm directly for the records. He will also ask for interviews with the firm’s founders so he can ask questions about Burisma, which was one of their clients.

“This subpoena is in furtherance of the Committee’s ongoing work to address the many unanswered questions about potential conflicts of interest and the extent to which representatives of Burisma—including officials at Blue Star—used individuals with close personal connections to high-level officials within the Obama administration to gain access to and potentially influence U.S. government agencies,” Johnson wrote on Thursday in a letter to notify the committee’s Democratic Ranking Member Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, according to Fox News.

In his subpoena for Blue Star Strategies, Johnson will request records dating back to January 1, 2013, pertaining to their work with Burisma, on whose board Biden was a member. Though he had initially planned to subpoena just one consultant from the company, he later learned this person was “bound by a non-disclosure agreement,” which led him to decide to subpoena the entire company.

MORE NEWS: If he wins the Democratic nomination, can Joe Biden make it to November?

In his letter, Johnson acknowledged that Peters had not even wanted him to subpoena one consultant.

“Your letter stated your concern ‘that the United States Senate and this Committee could be used to further disinformation efforts by Russian or other actors,’ and asked that the Committee receive defensive briefings ‘specifically regarding [the Blue Star consultant],” Johnson wrote. “Over the last several weeks we have had a number of bipartisan meetings and briefings to discuss the subpoena and address the concerns of Committee members. During the course of these discussions, the suggestion was made by both Democrat and Republican members of our Committee that we should issue a subpoena directly to the source of the documents relevant to our work: Blue Star.”

Johnson went on to say that he feels that “appropriate course of action at this time is to accommodate that request.”

After joining the board of Burisma in 2014, Biden reportedly helped connect them with Blue Star. His work with Burisma ended up being at the center of Democrats’ impeachment effort against Donald Trump, as they claimed the president had pressured Ukraine to investigate his business dealings with the company as a way to hurt his father, former Vice President Joe Biden.

It’s clear that this Biden and Burisma thing is a complete mess, and the American people deserve to know the truth about what really went on there. If they really have nothing to hide, they should have no problem complying with the subpoena and letting everyone know exactly what is happening.

This piece originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.

Read more at LifeZette:
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Biden trashes American republic, tells voter ‘I’m not working for you’
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Trump says he will likely get tested after being near someone with COVID-19

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Friday he will likely be tested for the coronavirus “fairly soon,” as questions swirled about why the president, his top aides and his family weren’t doing more to protect themselves and others against COVID-19.

In the face of repeat direct and indirect exposures, Trump was defensive, insisting he didn’t need to isolate himself because he wasn’t exhibiting symptoms. But he conceded he would “most likely” submit to testing after a top Brazilian official who spent time with him last weekend in Florida tested positive for the virus.

At the same time, Trump continued to flout public health officials’ advice by publicly and repeatedly shaking hands during a Rose Garden address on efforts to combat the pandemic. At the same event, he allowed that “anyone can be a carrier of the virus” and risk infecting older Americans and others at higher risk.

The president, according to two people close to the White House, has resisted taking the test for fear it would project weakness or worry. Trump has wanted to appear in full control during the crisis, especially as he tries to calm stock markets amid historic drops, and has expressed concerns that taking personal steps could undermine that.

Trump continued to stress Friday that he is not exhibiting any symptoms of infection, but he skirted questions about whether he was being selfish by refusing to isolate himself when others who have had similar exposure have chosen to do to avoid potentially infecting others. Asked whose advice people with similar exposure should listen to in the face of the contradictory messages, Trump said, “I think they have to listen to their doctors.”

Trump has also had repeated contact with lawmakers who were themselves exposed to people who later tested positive and chose to self-isolate out of an abundance of caution.

As White House officials worked to determine the level of exposure by the president and senior aides, Trump held an afternoon news conference and announced he was declaring a national emergency — something he had been reluctant to do for fear it would further rattle the markets — and unveiled a new public-private partnership to expand coronavirus testing capabilities.

Still, he said that, “We don’t want everyone taking this test,” adding: “It’s totally unnecessary. This will pass.”

The president had up until Friday declined to be tested for the virus or to limit his contact with others, professing no concern about potential exposure as his White House insisted they were following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. He told reporters Thursday that he was “not concerned,” adding Friday that, “we have no symptoms whatsoever.”

And even as he refused to modify his own behavior — including continuing to shake hands — Trump told the nation that, “We must take all precautions” and be “responsible for the actions” that we take and see others take.

Trump spent time last weekend with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s communications director, Fábio Wajngarten, who tested positive just days later. Wajngarten posed for a photo with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club and attended a birthday party for Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is dating the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. The president attended the party as well. There were also fears that Bolsonaro himself might have the virus, but he said Friday he’d tested negative.

The White House stressed that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence “had almost no interactions with the individual who tested positive and do not require being tested at this time.”

In addition to the Brazilian official, top administration officials — including Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka — met last week with an Australian Cabinet minister who on Friday tested positive for the virus.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, said he woke up with a temperature and sore throat on Friday, one week after his meeting with the Americans.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said Ivanka Trump worked from home Friday “out of an abundance of caution,” but said Dutton had been asymptomatic during their interaction and the White House Medical Unit determined she was “exhibiting no symptoms and does not need to self-quarantine.”

The CDC advises those who have been in “close contact with a person with symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID-19” to remain home and practice social distancing.

People don’t show symptoms immediately after exposure to the virus; there is an incubation period of anywhere from two to 14 days. However, not all exposures automatically put people at risk of infection: the CDC doesn’t consider it risky to walk past someone with the virus or to be briefly in the same room with them. The CDC is most concerned with close contact, which it defines as being coughed on by a patient or being within about 6 feet for a prolonged period of time such as while living with, visiting or sharing a room.

Trump has also had repeated contact with others who were exposed to the virus and quarantined themselves out of an abundance of caution. That included Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who traveled aboard Air Force One with the president on Monday and found out mid-flight that he was among a handful of GOP lawmakers who were exposed to a person who tested positive for the virus after last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference.

Also staying home: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who announced Friday he would be extending his CPAC-related self-quarantine after coming into contact with another person who later tested positive, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who announced Thursday he was self-quarantining after spending time in Mar-a-Lago and his own meeting with Dutton. Florida Sen. Rick Scott was also isolating himself following his interactions with the Brazilian delegation.

Many doctors across the country have been advising those who have been exposed to someone with the virus to isolate themselves. And Trump, who is 73, is considered to be at higher risk of developing serious complications because of his age.

The president should get tested, even if he is not exhibiting symptoms, said Stephen Morse, a Columbia University expert on the spread of diseases.

”If f I were in that position I’d certainly want to be tested, rather than waiting until something happened,”said Morse. Beyond Trump’s own health, he said, he could pose a risk to others if he is infected and keeps meeting other political leaders.

”Anyone who’s infected is a risk of spreading it to other people,” and that can be true of people who are infected but don’t have symptoms, Morse said.

Trump’s new conference came amid intense criticism over his mixed messages on the severity of the outbreak and over the administration’s scattershot response. His prime time address earlier this week only added to the public confusion, and Trump has grown increasingly frustrated that his words to the nation so far have done little to calm the public or the financial markets.

The president’s mood was “as black as it has ever been” on Thursday, according to one confidant. He has called around to allies while watching cable news coverage of the Wall Street plummet, furious that his efforts to bolster markets did the exact opposite, according to three White House officials and Republicans close to the White House who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.

And he has been lashing out at those around him for failing to do more, at times criticizing former President Barack Obama and a familiar target, the chairman of the Federal Reserve.

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Trump declares virus pandemic a national emergency

Speaking from the Rose Garden, President Donald Trump said, “I am officially declaring a national emergency.”

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency in order to free up more money and resources as he denied any responsibility for delays in making testing available for the new virus, whose spread has roiled markets and disrupted the lives of everyday Americans

Speaking from the Rose Garden, Trump said, “I am officially declaring a national emergency,” freeing up as much as $50 billion for state and local governments to respond to the outbreak. Trump also announced a range of executive actions to bolster energy markets, ease the financial burden for Americans with student loans and give medical professionals additional “flexibility” in treating patients during the public health crisis.

He also announced a new public-private partnership to expand coronavirus testing capabilities, as his administration has come under fire for being too slow in making the test available. Trump said, “I don’t take responsibility at all” for the slow rollout of testing.

The partnership will include drive-through testing in some locations and an online portal to screen those seeking to get tested.

Still, Trump said officials don’t want people taking the test unless they have certain symptoms. “We don’t want people without symptoms to go and do that test,” Trump said, adding, “It’s totally unnecessary.”

Trump waived interest on federally held student loans and moved to prop up energy markets, by directing the Department of Energy to buy oil to fill the strategic petroleum reserve “’right up to the top.” He said he was giving Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar emergency authorities to waive federal regulations and laws as needed, for instance, to allow doctors to practice tele-medicine across state lines.

“Through a very collective action and shared sacrifice, national determination, we will overcome the threat of the virus,” Trump said.

Meanwhile, Trump said the White House and Congress have yet to agree on a broader economic aid package, claiming that he doesn’t believe House Democrats are “giving enough.” Lawmakers are preparing to vote on their own measure Friday.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday the House would approve its coronavirus aid package, imploring the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to “put families first” by backing the effort to provide Americans with relief.

The House Democratic leader spoke from the speaker’s balcony at the Capitol ahead of Trump’s news conference at the White House, as the power centers of Washington were shuttered to visitors.

“Our nation, our great nation has faced crisis before,” Pelosi said. “And every time, thanks to the courage and optimism of the American people, we have prevailed. Now, working together, we will once again prevail.”

Central to the package is free testing for the virus and guaranteed sick pay for workers who are taking time away from jobs, along with an infusion of dollars to handle unemployment benefits and boost food programs for children, families and seniors.

Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, whom Trump tapped to negotiate for the administration, have engaged in around-the-clock negotiations that continued even as Trump was speaking.

But Republican leaders in Congress slowed the deal, wanting assurances that Trump would publicly support the agreement before signing off on it ahead of any vote, according to a top congressional aide unauthorized to discuss the private talks and speaking on condition of anonymity.

GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, huddled with Mnuchin and Trump at the White House earlier Friday.

“We can only defeat this outbreak if we have an accurate determination of its scale and scope, so that we can pursue the precise science-based response that is necessary to put families first,” Pelosi said.

The White House is under enormous pressure, dealing with the crisis on multiple fronts as it encroached ever closer on the president.

The virus has swept in alarming ways across American life, sending the financial markets into a dangerous slide and shuttering schools and sporting events and limiting everyday interactions in communities across the country.

And a personal health scare intensified as White House officials worked to determine the level of exposure by the president and senior aides to several foreign officials who have since tested positive for the virus.

Trump said he was gratified that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tested negative for the virus, after the pair sat next to each other for an extended period of time last weekend. A senior aide to Bolsonaro tested positive. “We have no symptoms whatsoever,” said Trump, who has not gotten tested but said Friday he would “most likely” be tested “fairly soon.”

Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, now in isolation at a hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus, had returned to Sydney from Washington, where he met Attorney General WIlliam Barr and Ivanka Trump last week.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said Ivanka Trump, who worked from home on Friday, was evaluated by the White House Medical Unit and it was determined that because she was exhibiting no symptoms she does not need to self-quarantine.

Barr, meanwhile, was staying home Friday, though he “felt great and wasn’t showing any symptoms,” according to his spokeswoman Kerri Kupec. She said the CDC did not recommend testing at this point.

In addition, just days after meeting Trump and Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort, the communications chief for Brazil’s president, Fábio Wajngarten, tested positive for coronavirus. Scott said he was isolating himself.

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was also at Trump’s club on the weekend, joined a growing list of lawmakers who have chosen to isolate themselves as a precaution. He announced Friday that he also met with the Australian official who has now tested positive. And GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who had previously isolated himself after a potential exposure at a conservative conference in Washington, said Friday he met with a Spanish official and is now self-quarantining.

Pelosi and Mnuchin continued their constant cross-town phone calls throughout a tense day of negotiations to firm up and salvage the emerging deal that has widespread support from Democrats and some in the business community seeking certainty.

Providing sick pay for workers is a crucial element of federal efforts to stop the rapid spread of the infection. Officials warn that the nation’s healthcare system could quickly become overwhelmed with gravely sick patients, as suddenly happened in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus.

The ability to ensure paychecks will keep flowing — for people who stay home as a preventative measure or because they’re feeling ill or caring for others — can help assure Americans they will not fall into financial hardship.

Trump’s 73-minute remarks capped a tumultuous week in which Washington strained for a comprehensive response to an outbreak that is testing the nation’s political, financial and health care systems.

Hospitals welcomed Trump’s emergency declaration, which they and lawmakers in Congress had been requesting. It allows the Health and Human Services Department to temporarily waive certain federal rules that can make it harder for hospitals and other health care facilities to respond to an emergency.

Such rules include a Medicare requirement that a patient spend three days in the hospital before the program will pay for care in a nursing facility. Waiving the rule would make more inpatient beds available. Another rule requires doctors and other clinicians to be licensed in the state in which they are providing services. It can be waived if the physician is licensed in another state.

The American Medical Association said the emergency declaration would help ensure America’s health care system has sufficient resources to properly respond to the ongoing outbreak.

Trump’s actions were also viewed favorably on Wall Street, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 1,985 points, or 9.4%, its best gain since October 2008. Stocks doubled their gains in the last half-hour of trading as Trump made his remarks.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to be over it.

Trump has struggled to show he’s on top of the crisis, after giving conflicting descriptions of what the U.S. is doing to combat the virus. On Wednesday he announced he would ban travel to the U.S. from Europe, but aides later clarified that it would have carve-outs for American citizens, permanent residents and some others — and only affect 26 European nations.

Trump on Friday said “we may have to include” the U.K. because of a recent rise in cases. “Their numbers have gone up fairly precipitously over the last 24 hours, so we may be adding that, and we may be adding a couple of others and we may frankly start thinking about taking some off.”

The House aid package builds on an emergency $8.3 billion measure approved last week.

Pelosi promised a third coronavirus package will follow soon, though the House is leaving Washington on Friday for a previously scheduled recess. That measure will include more aggressive steps to boost the U.S. economy, which economists fear has already slipped into recession.

But there’s little appetite within either party for Trump’s proposal to suspend collection of the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax. States are already clamoring for fiscal relief from Washington as the virus threatens their budgets.

Lawmakers from both parties expressed alarm at the U.S. response, and especially over how few patients have been tested.

“We’re basically, in my opinion, flying blind,” said Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, said more tests would be available over the next week, but that officials should not wait before trying to mitigate the virus’ effects.

“We still have a long way to go,” he said Friday. “There will be many more cases. But we’ll take care of that, and ultimately, as the president said, this will end.”

___

Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani, Alan Fram, Lauran Neergaard, Martin Crutsinger, Laurie Kellman, Michael Balsamo and Kevin Freking in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.

___

The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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Newt Gingrich: I Am in Italy Amid the Coronavirus Crisis. America Must Act Now—And Act Big

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic poses two threats: public health and economic.

I am living in Italy, where my wife, Callista, is the ambassador to the Holy See.

I have watched first-hand as the Italian government has worked hard to contain the coronavirus by imposing strong public health measures to try to get the epidemic under control. These measures will lead to significant economic challenges.

As I write:

  • All schools are closed in all of Italy.
  • All churches are closed (including St. Peter’s Basilica).
  • All weddings and funerals are postponed.
  • All restaurants are closed.
  • In fact, all stores except grocery stores and pharmacies are closed.
  • People are urged to work from home unless they work in special designated factories

The streets are almost empty.

These steps are not an overreaction. The coronavirus is out of control of in Northern Italy. As of 6 p.m. local/1 p.m. EST on March 10, there were 15,113 total cases in Italy, with 12,839 active cases, 1,016 deaths and 1,258 recoveries. And there were 162 total cases here in Rome.

The hardest-hit region around Milan has had to improvise as its health system has been deeply stressed by the sheer number of patients. In Milan and Brescia, field hospitals have been set up in the fairgrounds as the local hospitals have been drowned in patients.

Because the demand for respirators and intensive care has been beyond any previous planning, doctors have been forced into the kind of triage thinking developed for intense battlefield casualty situations. There are reports that emergency room doctors are allotting respirators to those with higher life expectancy due to the limited equipment in the hardest hit areas of the province. If you are older or have other illnesses, you may simply not be eligible for treatment.

The impact of restricting travel is clear and continuing. The No. 2 airports in Milan and Rome are being closed. The main airports in Italy’s two largest cities have radically decreased flights—and many of them are almost empty.

Yesterday, 158 passengers arrived in Rome on direct flights from the United States. Italy depends for 14 percent of its total economy on tourism. Last year, Rome attracted 15.2 million tourists. The Colosseum alone attracted an average of 21,000 tourists a day. Now, the Colosseum is closed.

There are some significant lessons from Italy for Americans who want to get through this pandemic with minimum loss of life and economic damage.

President Donald Trump was right to cut off travel from China as soon as it was clear how big the pandemic was going to be. He saved American lives and bought time for America to be more prepared as the pandemic developed.

When you realize that the current 1,016 deaths in Italy with a population of 60 million would be the equivalent of 5,400 deaths in the United States instead of the 41 deaths we have had so far, you can see what milder, slower and less aggressive responses might have cost in lives. Then we would have needed to move to truly draconian measures of isolation and shutdowns.

By the same standard, Trump was exactly right to ban travel from Europe. In fact, he was following the advice of his best medical experts.

As ABC News reported:

“Dr. Anthony Fauci, the widely-respected director the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield, appeared before the House Oversight Committee for a second day of questioning Thursday and backed President Trump’s travel ban from much of Europe.

“‘The real risk in general right now, and this is why the president took the action he did last night, within the world now over 70 percent of the new cases are linked to Europe,’ Redfield said. ‘Europe is the new China, and that’s why the president made those statements.'”

ABC continued:

“California Democratic Rep. Jimmy Gomez raises Trump’s various travel restrictions, asking if the European travel ban will have a significant impact on reducing the spread of community cases, Fauci said, ‘A firm yes.’

“‘Because if you look at the numbers, it’s very clear that 70 percent of new infections in world are coming from that region, from Europe,’ Fauci said. ‘Of the 35 or more states that have infections, 30 of them now, most recently, have gotten them from a travel-related case from that region.’

“‘It was pretty compelling that we needed to turn off the source from that region,’ Fauci said.”

While these have been the right steps, and while the Coronavirus Task Force led by Vice President Pence has been making progress, there are some big things that need to be done on both the public health and the economic fronts.

Faced with a pandemic threat, history teaches us it is far better to be over prepared than underprepared.

As I indicated earlier, if America begins to have the Italian scale of deaths, we would be losing 5,000, 10,000 or 15,000 Americans. If it really got out of control, the rates could go higher.

Italy has a unique vulnerability to coronavirus, because it has the second oldest-aged population in the world (only Japan has older citizens on average). This virus especially hits the elderly, and in Italy the average age of death is 81. The tragic experience of the Washington state nursing home simply reinforced the sense of vulnerability of older people.

However, America has a uniquely vulnerable population, too. There are tens of thousands of homeless people in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. If the coronavirus ever began spreading among those folks, who already suffer from malnutrition and other health problems, the losses could be catastrophic.

While Trump’s decisive actions have bought us time, it is important to recognize that we must use that time to think through the health threat in every component and react accordingly.

We should be planning for a worst-case pandemic and using the kind of intensity of implementation which served us so well in World War II. Getting enough ventilators, masks, intensive care units, treatment medications and aggressive community-wide testing are the minimum steps to saving lives and stopping the pandemic.

The Pence-led Coronavirus Task Force has begun to pull things together, but it should have a planning group that creates a worst-case projection and then devises the steps necessary to smother the pandemic and minimize its impact.

At the same time, we are solving the public health crisis we also must solve the economic challenge.

Italy has a worrisome economic problem, because it was already sliding into a recession and the necessary steps to isolate the disease will also crush the economy. There is a real danger that the Italian banks will fail and will pull the European banks down with them.


Via della Conciliazione with the St.Peters Basilica is seen completely empty on March 13 in Rome.
Marco Di Lauro/Getty

As Trump and the Congress consider what we must do to keep America growing and prosperous, they have to recognize that we may need to grow strongly enough to help pull Europe out of a deep recession by this fall. We can’t just think about what is happening economically in the United States. A collapsing Europe would have huge impact on the entire world economy, including America.

We do not need a “stimulus” package or a “recovery” package. We need an economic growth package that stimulates and invests in the kind of development that grows a bigger, better, more productive, more competitive American economy for the future.

As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated, the Congress has to stay in session until it passes the program necessary to both defeat the pandemic and regrow the American economy.

The lesson of Italy is that the sooner you act, the fewer lives you will lose and the less damage you will do to your economy.

Trump’s address this week was a good start, but we have a lot to do before these two challenges are met.

To read, hear and watch more of Newt’s commentary, visit Gingrich360.com.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

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Trump address declares national emergency over coronavirus but downplays threat

President Donald Trump on Friday took to the podium during a Rose Garden press conference to allay concerns about the growing coronavirus outbreak in the US.

But even while announcing new measures against Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, Trump continually downplayed the threat the country is facing and refused to take responsibility for the testing shortage that has left the US unable to track the unrolling pandemic.

Asked about whether he takes any blame for the botched testing process, Trump said, “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

The big announcement came when Trump announced a national emergency, unlocking billions of dollars in disaster aid to help combat the virus. The administration previously declared a public health emergency in January, but that didn’t tap into as much money as the new declaration under the 1988 Stafford Act, which is typically used for natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes, will allow.

Trump, flanked by the leaders of Target, Walmart, and Walgreens, announced several other measures, including a public-private partnership to boost testing capacity by setting up drive-through testing sites at some pharmacies and major store chains. That includes up to 5 million more tests and a website, developed with the help of Google, to help connect people to nearby testing stations.

He also announced efforts to relax laws and regulations that can limit health care capacity, including the greater use of telehealth and the elimination of some restrictions on hospital stays. He suggested that these changes will help build up capacity — a critical element to mitigating the outbreak — but it’s not clear if these will succeed.

At the same time, Trump acknowledged that there’s still no agreement with Democrats in the House about a package to deal with the crisis.

Some of this is in line with what experts have called on to deal with the crisis, but given the administration’s history in dealing with the pandemic, it’s unclear if these measures will work as planned. And the lack of a broader deal between Trump and House Democrats means more comprehensive action isn’t quite here yet.

Trump continually downplayed the pandemic, even while trying to address it

In between these announcements, Trump seemingly couldn’t help but downplay the risk of the crisis, while repeatedly shaking hands with other people present at the press conference.

Immediately after announcing the federal government will get 5 million test kits out, he said, “I doubt we’ll need anywhere near that.”

Trump also cautioned against too much testing capacity: “We don’t want people to take a test if we feel that they shouldn’t be doing it. And we don’t everyone running out, only if you have certain symptoms.” But while it’s true that not everyone needs to be tested, it’s these kinds of roadblocks that have led to report after report of doctors and patients struggling to get access to tests. On social media, doctors regularly complain that they can’t obtain tests for patients even if the patients display symptoms.

Testing is crucial to slowing epidemics. First, it lets public health officials identify sick people and subsequently isolate them. Second, they can trace that sick person’s recent contacts to make sure those people aren’t sick and to get them to quarantine as well. It’s one of the best policy tools we have for an outbreak like this.

Trump, however, suggested that all this testing is not going to be necessary, because the pandemic will reside.

“Again, we don’t want everybody to take this test, it’s totally unnecessary and this will pass,” he said. “This will pass through, and we’ll be even stronger for it.”

This viewpoint isn’t new to Trump. He previously tweeted comparisons to the common flu, which in fact appears to be less deadly and spread less easily than the coronavirus. He called concerns about the virus a “hoax.” He said on national television that, based on nothing more than a self-admitted “hunch,” the death rate of the disease is much lower than public health officials projected. And in February, he said of the coronavirus, “One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” (As of March 13, the country has more than 1,200 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins’s interactive map.)

Experts have been critical of the messaging. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, called it “deeply disturbing,” adding that it’s “left the country far less prepared than it needs to be for what is a very substantial challenge ahead.”

But even as he declares the outbreak a national emergency, Trump continues to deny and downplay the growing dangers of a major public health crisis.