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Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, and Dr. Drew: Fox News keeps inviting TV doctors on air who say crazy things

Since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, the conservative network has hosted Dr. Mehmet Oz, Dr. Drew Pinsky, and Dr. Phil McGraw on its programs.

While the three household names have all had success in daytime television, each of them has previously faced serious criticism from medical professionals. Moreover, none of them are infectious disease experts. 

And yet Oz, McGraw, and Pinsky have all appeared on Fox News, making comments that support the network’s editorial viewpoint, but which fly in the face of what health officials have said about the coronavirus.

After Trump’s declaration, their tone became more serious. But it has again shifted of late, with high-profile hosts and personalities now pushing to end the shutdown and questioning whether it was even prudent in the first place. 

Neither Oz, nor McGraw, nor Pinsky are on the payroll of Fox News. The network does have a pool of paid medical contributors that it regularly uses to discuss the virus.

But Oz, McGraw and Pinsky are household names, giving what they say and the advice they dispense significantly more weight. And the comments each of them have made while on Fox News have supported the message the network was promoting at one point or another.

A spokesperson for Fox News declined to comment for this story. But all three doctors have walked back the controversial comments they’ve made during their appearances on the network.

Dr. Oz

Oz, the celebrity cardiac surgeon, has become a fixture on Fox News in recent weeks, although he is not formally employed by the network.

During his appearances, he has made comments that have drawn significant scrutiny. This week, he faced backlash for comments he made Tuesday on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.  

As Hannity, arguably Trump’s top supporter on cable television, discussed how to end the shutdown and get Americans back to work, Oz offered up an idea. 

Reopening schools across the country might be “an appetizing opportunity.” He cited an article in a medical journal which said it “may only cost us two to three percent in terms of total mortality.”

“We need our mojo back,” Oz told Hannity, contending that reopening schools “with the theoretical risk on the backside” might “be a trade-off some folks would consider.”

Oz did not respond to requests for comment from CNN. But on Thursday, facing significant criticism, he released a video on Twitter in which he said he “misspoke.” 

“I’ve realized my comments on risks around schools have confused and upset people, which was never my intention,” Oz said. 

Oz said he has been “asked constantly” how to “get people back to their normal lives.” He said he would continue to examine different approaches to “beat this virus.” 

But those aren’t the only comments Oz has made on Fox’s airwaves that have drawn criticism. 

He has caught Trump’s attention for talking up the potential effectiveness of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a way to treat the novel coronavirus — despite the lack of firm scientific evidence that it is an effective treatment. 

Oz himself has even acknowledged the lack of evidence from clinical trials that proves whether or not hydroxychloroquine is effective against the coronavirus. 

“There’s no question it’s not proven to be beneficial in large clinical trials we expect in America, certainly that the FDA and medical societies would desire,” Oz acknowledged earlier this month on Fox News. “But these have been supported with case studies.”

In fact, at the time of his comments, studies in humans had presented conflicting conclusions. This week, however, a French study found that hydroxychloroquine does not help patients with the virus.
Oz, who is an advocate of alternative medicines and treatments, has been skewered by the medical community for years. In 2015, a group of physicians wrote Columbia University, saying they were “dismayed” Oz was a member of the school’s faculty. And in 2014, Oz was scolded by senators during a congressional hearing over his promotion of weight-loss products on his television show.

Each time, he has defended himself. In 2015, Oz said he provides the public “information that will help them on their path to be their best selves,” provides “multiple points of view,” and contended that “doesn’t sit well” sometimes “with certain agendas which distorts the facts.”

Dr. Phil

McGraw is not a medical doctor; he holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, but is not licensed to practice.

On Thursday night he appeared on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show where he appeared to criticize the shutdown.

“The economy is crashing around us and they’re doing that because people are dying because of coronavirus,” McGraw said. “I get that, but look, the fact of the matter is we have people dying — 45,000 people a year die from automobile accidents, 480,000 from cigarettes, 360,000 from swimming pools — but we don’t shut the country for that.”

“But yet,” he added, “We’re doing it for this and the fallout is going to last for years because people’s lives are being destroyed.”

McGraw faced a brutal round of criticism for his comments, with his name trending on Twitter Friday morning. 

Critics pointed out that automobile and swimming pool accidents are not contagious causes of death.

Moreover, his comments about swimming pools were grossly inaccurate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 3,536 unintentional drownings in the United States form 2005 to 2014 — not the 360,000 annually as McGraw said.

In a video posted online Friday afternoon, McGraw apologized and acknowledged his errors.

“Last night I said we as a society have chosen to live with certain controllable deadly risks every day: smoking, auto crashes, swimming. And yes, I know that those are not contagious,” McGraw said. “So probably bad examples. Probably bad examples.”

“And by the way, I misspoke about drowning deaths,” McGraw added. “I quoted a worldwide number, not a US number.”

McGraw said he wants people to follow recommendations issued by public health experts and government leaders, and said he believed the country was right to shut down if that is what it takes to protect people.

But McGraw said that he worries about people’s mental well-being while stuck in quarantine. He said he is “concerned the deterioration of the mental and physical health can be substantial” while inside for prolonged periods of time.

“If you didn’t like my choice of words, I apologize for that,” McGraw said. “Know this, I am concerned about you. That’s my number one concern here. If you don’t like my choice of words, then hit the eject button on those. But don’t ever thing I’m not concerned about you.”

Dr. Drew

Pinsky is one of America’s most famous physicians. He’s widely known for his syndicated radio show “Loveline” and the reality television show “Celebrity Rehab.” He also previously hosted a show on CNN’s sister channel, HLN.

In early March when called upon to offer his professional opinion on the coronavirus, he significantly downplayed the threat and instead attacked news organizations that were taking it seriously.

In appearances on Fox News in early March, Pinsky claimed the real problem was “due to panic, not the virus.” And, despite data pointing to a much higher mortality rate for the coronavirus, Pinsky argued the flu was “vastly more consequential.” 

“It is a press-induced panic that will have real consequences,” Pinsky said in a March 2 appearance on Ingraham’s show. 

Pinsky shared a similar message in other television appearances, including channels outside of Fox News. He argued that panic inspired by the press was “far worse than the virus.”

At the time, his comments were criticized, but Pinsky stood by them. But earlier this month, in the face of incontrovertible evidence, Pinsky apologized. 

“My early comments equating coronavirus with influenza were wrong,” Pinsky said in an April 5 video posted to Twitter. “They were incorrect…and I want to apologize for that. I wish I had gotten it right, but I got it wrong.”

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Ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to serve out prison sentence at home – The Denver Post

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and longtime fixer Michael Cohen will be released from federal prison to serve the remainder of his sentence in home confinement because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cohen is currently locked up at FCI Otisville in New York after pleading guilty to numerous charges, including campaign finance fraud and lying to Congress. He will remain under quarantine for 14 days before he is released. Federal statistics show 14 inmates and seven staff members at the prison have tested positive for the coronavirus.

After he is released, Cohen will serve the remainder of his sentence at home, according to a Justice Department official and another person familiar with the matter. They could not discuss Cohen’s release publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Prison advocates and congressional leaders have been pressing the Justice Department for weeks to release at-risk inmates ahead of a potential outbreak, arguing that the public health guidance to stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from other people is nearly impossible behind bars.

Attorney General William Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons earlier this month to increase the use of home confinement and expedite the release of eligible high-risk inmates, beginning at three prisons identified as coronavirus hot spots. Otisville is not one of those facilities.

As of Thursday, 473 federal inmates and 279 Bureau of Prisons staff members had tested positive for the coronavirus at facilities across the U.S. Eighteen inmates have died since late March.

Many federal inmates have been seeking home confinement as the number of coronavirus cases grows in the federal prison system, but advocates have accused the Bureau of Prisons of moving too slowly to release inmates. The Bureau of Prisons said it had moved more than 1,000 inmates to home confinement since March 26, when Barr first issued a directive to increase its use in late March. The agency said it is a “tremendous logistical lift that was accomplished through the marshaling of all of BOP’s resources.”

The Justice Department official said Barr had told senior officials at the Bureau of Prisons when he first issued his directives that they must scrupulously apply the same criteria to all inmates and not give anyone special treatment.

On Friday, the Bureau of Prisons said it was moving about 111 inmates — most of whom are likely to qualify for home confinement or furlough — from the prison camp at Otisville into the medium-security prison at the facility so they could begin a quarantine period, which would be required before they could be released, as their records are reviewed.

A federal judge had denied Cohen’s attempt for an early release to home confinement after serving 10 months in prison and said in a ruling earlier this month that it “appears to be just another effort to inject himself into the news cycle.” But the Bureau of Prisons can take action to move him to home confinement without a judicial order.

Cohen, 53, began serving his sentence last May and was scheduled to be released from prison in November 2021.

Other high-profile inmates have also been released as the number of coronavirus cases soars. Last week, a judge ordered Michael Avenatti — the attorney who rose to fame representing porn star Stormy Daniels in lawsuits against Trump — to be temporarily freed from a federal jail in New York City and stay at a friend’s house in Los Angeles. Avenatti had said he was at high risk of getting the coronavirus because he had a recent bout with pneumonia and his cellmate at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan was removed due to flu-like symptoms.

Former New York state Senate leader Dean Skelos, 72, who was also serving a sentence at Otisville, is also expected to be released soon from prison to home confinement after testing positive for the coronavirus, prosecutors told a judge Wednesday.

CNN first reported Cohen was being released to home confinement.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan declined to comment.

___

Associated Press writer Larry Neumeister in New York contributed to this report.

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Exclusive: New Senate plan would guarantee paychecks for furloughed or laid-off workers 

Support for a once-radical idea — the government funding of company payrolls — is growing in Congress, as the legislative body scrambles to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and the massive economic fallout that’s resulted.

The newest proposal on the subject, the Paycheck Security Act, comes from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mark Warner (D-VA), Doug Jones (D-AL), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT): Their bill, which was shared exclusively with Vox, would fund a portion of a company’s payroll costs, up to $90,000 per worker who has been laid off or furloughed, if a business can demonstrate that it has suffered a 20 percent month-over-month drop in revenue.

The thinking behind the legislation is similar to that of a bill introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) last week and an idea put forth by Republican Sen. Josh Hawley (MO) in a Washington Post op-ed. Jayapal’s legislation would cover a company’s payroll costs up to $100,000 per employee, while Hawley’s suggestion would cover 80 percent of wages, up to the United States’ median wage. Support for such plans is spanning an increasingly broad range of lawmakers.

“Bernie, Doug, and I represent the breadth of the Democratic Party’s thinking on this,” Warner said.

These ideas are picking up steam as lawmakers discuss what should be included in the next economic stimulus package from Congress, which may not be approved until May or later. Given the overwhelming demand for unemployment insurance and small-business loans that’s been observed in recent weeks, lawmakers see a comprehensive effort like this as increasingly necessary to reduce layoffs and relieve some of the pressure on an already overburdened unemployment system.

This bill intends to keep workers employed so businesses can resume their operations more quickly once the economy is up and running again: Companies interested in receiving these funds would have to maintain worker pay and benefits and offer to bring back those they have laid off.

“We need some simplicity and efficiency,” Sanders told Vox. “If I lost my job and I’m trying to get through to unemployment, I can’t make that connection, because they are overwhelmed.”

What the bill would do and how it’s different from other proposals

The legislation would provide businesses of all sizes with grants that cover part of workers’ salaries and some operational costs for up to six months. The proposal is inspired in part by a provision in the CARES Act, which helps guarantee paychecks for airline workers through September.

These grants are specifically intended to cover up to $90,000 in wages for every worker who has been laid off or furloughed by a business; they could also include up to 20 percent of revenue to be used for operational costs like utilities and rent. The monthly payroll costs would be calculated using a monthly average between January 2018 and February 2019, depending on whether a business operates seasonally.

There are some eligibility restrictions, however. To ensure that this funding goes to the businesses that need it most, companies that currently have 18 months of average payroll on hand in cash would be barred from receiving these grants. Those that are receiving funding from the Payroll Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program would also be ineligible, unless the money they were getting from either of those programs ran out.

Businesses would be able to demonstrate their need for the program by showing documentation of month-over-month revenue losses: The senators’ white paper doesn’t yet specify exactly what time frame would be used for these losses, but the program would likely use numbers from January through March 2020, with an adjustment for seasonal businesses, according to a Warner spokesperson.

The grants would be doled out via a partnership between the Treasury Department and the IRS. Some of the delivery mechanisms the proposal suggests are payroll processors, which could get the money to businesses more quickly, or a direct bank deposit from the IRS straight to companies.

Using these processors could eliminate the backlog that businesses have experienced with other programs like the Paycheck Protection Program.

There are some slight differences between this plan and Jayapal’s, which is a bit more generous. Hers would cover up to $100,000 per worker, for example.

Warner notes that the decision to focus on furloughed or laid-off workers is to address clear gaps that companies are facing.

“If a business has lost 50 percent of their revenues and they have 50 percent of their revenues coming in, and that 50 percent is letting them pay their workforce, you don’t want to overly subsidize that ongoing operation,” he says.

Both Jayapal and the senators say they’ve been in touch about working together on their respective proposals.

European countries have implemented similar programs to reduce unemployment

Other countries including Germany, Denmark, and the UK have implemented some form of a paycheck guarantee program to reduce unemployment.

In mid-March, Denmark implemented a program similar to both Jayapal and the senators’ bill, with the government covering 75 percent of workers’ salaries that companies pay out, up to a certain amount. The investment in such a program is massive: The program, by one estimate from the Atlantic, will cost as much as 13 percent of Denmark’s national economy. Across Germany, Denmark, and the UK, however, unemployment has stayed much lower than it is in the US.

The Senate bill’s sponsors argue that this program could potentially cost less than other stimulus programs.

“We can make the case that this is probably costing the government less than some of the other proposals thus far,” says Sanders. Warner noted, too, that the cost of the CARES package along with recent measures taken by the Federal Reserve could be well over $6 trillion. He suggested that the Paycheck Security Act would not surpass that.

In the past four weeks, a staggering 22 million people have filed for unemployment. To combat the scale of the economic crisis the country is experiencing, the senators argue that lawmakers need to be thinking more expansively than they otherwise might.

“I think the challenge is also going to be a recognition from a lot of folks that we simply can’t flip a switch and turn the economy back on,” Jones said.

When asked about potential Republican backing, Jayapal and Warner were optimistic. “This is a time for all of us to be creative,” Warner told Vox, adding that discussion about both the UK and German programs came up during negotiations about the CARES Act.

“The idea that was bipartisan in the Paycheck Protection Program is that we need to keep workers on paychecks,” Jayapal noted, adding that this common thread could boost support for both bills.


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They Filed for Unemployment Last Month. They Haven’t Seen a Dime.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has repeatedly promised to fix New York’s archaic unemployment-insurance system, which has been overwhelmed by an unprecedented wave of claims.

The state has partnered with Google to overhaul the online application, staffed call centers with thousands of additional workers and expanded their call-volume capacity, and vowed to address outstanding unemployment claims within 72 hours.

Carly Keohane has yet to benefit from any of those improvements.

Ms. Keohane, who lost her waitressing job in Rochester, N.Y., has been waiting a month to receive $2,124 in unemployment payments as a direct deposit into her bank account.

But the state instead told her that the money had been deposited on a state-issued debit card, which she never received. She cannot get anyone on the phone to find out where it is.

“I call the Department of Labor every single day, and I know the options by heart now,” said Ms. Keohane, 31, whose checking account was down to $10.35. “It would be OK if I just knew where the money was.”

As the coronavirus pandemic and near-nationwide stay-at-home orders exact an astonishing toll on the American economy, states’ unemployment systems have cratered under a never-before-seen deluge of jobless claims. Over the past four weeks, about 22 million workers filed jobless claims, including about 1.2 million New Yorkers.

Unemployment systems, some of which rely on an antiquated computer programming language that has largely gone the way of dinosaurs, were not built for such a rush of claimants.

They also were not built for a new class of workers — independent contractors and the self-employed — now eligible for assistance during the pandemic.

The results have been disastrous and maddening. Many people have had their online applications crash before they could hit submit, requiring them to start again from scratch. They have endured hourslong wait times over several days only to get randomly disconnected, or connected with representatives who say they cannot fix their issues.

In other states, including Kansas and Missouri, applicants say that they are still waiting for their unemployment payments to arrive, and that they have experienced long wait times on the phone, as well as busy signals, disconnections and error-prone online applications.

Without unemployment assistance, they have relied on friends, family and savings, if they have one, to survive.

For applicants in New York lucky enough to get through and submit a claim, some have been jolted awake at 2 a.m. by calls from the state’s Department of Labor seeking to confirm their identity.

Speaking in Albany on Thursday, the secretary to the governor, Melissa DeRosa, said the state had been staggering under the weight of more than one million claims for unemployment insurance, about four times the number of people who had lost jobs after the 2008 economic meltdown.

“We are going to continue doing everything we can to bring the system up to deal with this scale,” she said.

Ms. Keohane was saving for a down payment on house. Instead, she has withdrawn all of her money to pay for groceries, as well as diapers and wipes for her 2-year-old son.

She has debated getting groceries from a food pantry but cannot bring herself to do it.

“It’s not right for me to have to go there,” she said. “There are people who are more needy than me.”

Amy Berryman, a playwright who was let go from a wine bar in Manhattan last month, has not received the debit card that the state said it sent her weeks ago. Every week when she has to certify her unemployment claim, she asks that her payment be deposited into her bank account. It never has.

“I’m trying to spend $50 a week or less,” said Ms. Berryman, 31, as she stood in line at a grocery store to buy fresh produce, which she has been using to make lots of soup.

The $2.2 trillion federal stimulus passed last month sets aside especially generous benefits for the recently unemployed. It provides $600 a week on top of what states offer for unemployment. (The maximum weekly unemployment in New York is $504.)

But the stimulus has exacerbated the problem for states, which are now responsible for administering an enormous expansion of unemployment benefits for previously ineligible workers. For the first time, independent contractors and self-employed workers qualify for unemployment relief.

But in New York and other states, those workers are facing an extra set of head-scratching bureaucratic obstacles.

Self-employed New Yorkers, for instance, must first apply for traditional unemployment benefits even though they are not eligible. Once the state denies their claim, they then can pursue the new pandemic benefits available to them.

Jennifer Walsh, a self-employed hair stylist in upstate New York who stopped working on March 14, submitted her application more than two weeks ago. She is still waiting to be denied.

“Why is this even a step?” said Ms. Walsh, who added that many of her friends in the hair business were in the same situation. “I understand this is a new process for everyone, but in the meantime we are broke and we have no answers.”

While she waits, Ms. Walsh has been using credit cards and her savings to buy food and pay bills. “That will only go so far,” she said.

Ms. DeRosa said on Thursday that roughly 275,000 New Yorkers still had outstanding unemployment claims, most of which involve people who were self-employed, which requires additional paperwork and confirmation.

A state official on Friday said that the federal government was requiring New York State to confirm that those workers are not eligible for traditional unemployment before processing their claims for pandemic assistance. The state is working to create a single unemployment application for those workers.

But challenges with the New York’s unemployment system are just the start of problems for many people out of work. More than a half-dozen New Yorkers who recently lost their jobs told The New York Times that they requested unemployment payments to be deposited into their checking accounts, but instead received debit cards.

James Colón, who was let go from the Strand bookstore in Manhattan last month, received one of the cards, issued by Key Bank, a regional bank based in Cleveland. Its online banking system worked the first day, but now shows an error message when he tries to log on.

Without access to Key Bank’s site, he cannot transfer the money into his checking account to pay May rent. No one at Key Bank has been able to resolve the problem, he said.

A representative for Key Bank did not immediately respond to questions about its unemployment benefits card. Other states, including Washington and Indiana, also disperse unemployment assistance onto the bank’s cards.

The state official said on Friday that the New York Department of Labor had temporarily suspended direct deposit payments because of back-end problems. During that period, the state issued the debit cards to ensure claimants received payments, the official said.

“We are contacting Key Bank today to get to the bottom of this,” said the official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak with the media.

Bobbie de Matos, who lost her server job at a table-tennis themed bar in Manhattan, received a Key Bank card, which she did not request. It also does not work.

After calling the bank over many days, including a four-hour-hold on one call, Ms. de Matos said she finally reached a representative who told her that the card had not been assigned to her or anyone.

She needed to ask the state’s Labor Department to fix the issue, the person told her. But the state said it was an error with the bank. A new card is supposed to arrive in the mail soon.

She is hoping everything will be cleared up by next Friday, when she is scheduled to move from Manhattan to Brooklyn and will need to pay the movers.

“It’s a complete mess,” said Ms. de Matos, 23.

Long before the stay-at-home orders, Melvin Taylor II was let go from a production position in New York City. He received a Key Bank card in the mail late last year for his unemployment benefits.

Right as mass layoffs and furloughs began about a month ago, Key Bank alerted him that it had detected potential fraud on his card and automatically canceled it.

Mr. Taylor said he had not been able to reach a bank representative to order a replacement card.

“You’d be on the phone three hours, 59 minutes and 27 seconds, and then the phone would cut off,” Mr. Taylor said.

He has resorted to searching through coats and pants for loose change — he found about $20 — and has experimented with cheap and filling rice and pasta recipes.

“There are a lot of different spices that you can put in rice,” he said.

Jesse McKinley contributed reporting.

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Federal judge orders Florida company to stop peddling bleach-based COVID-19 ‘cure’

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A federal judge has ordered a Florida-based company to stop selling a product that it says cures COVID-19 but prosecutors allege contains a powerful bleach that could make people sick when it is ingested, the Justice Department said on Friday.

The April 16 injunction unsealed on Friday against Genesis II Church of Health and Healing and its executives came after prosecutors filed a civil complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

In the complaint, prosecutors say the company improperly marketed its “Miracle Mineral Solution” as a treatment for COVID-19 making claims that were “unsupported by any well-controlled clinical studies or other credible scientific substantiation.”

The complaint followed a warning letter sent to the company by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on April 8 over its claims, ordering it to respond within 48 hours about what corrective measures it planned to take.

The solution at issue contains Chlorine Dioxide, a type of product that the FDA has warned will turn into a dangerous bleach when it is mixed with other things.

The company is secular despite having the name “church” in its title and the fact its executives – Mark Grenon, Joseph Grenon, Jordan Grenon and Jonathan Grenon – hold titles of “bishop” or “archbishop,” according to the civil complaint.

Its website describes itself as a “loose knit organization” that was “formed to serve MANKIND directly” and “bring health to the world. “

No attorney information was listed in the court record for the Grenons, and a company representative could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Justice Department said Mark Grenon made erroneous comments about a cure for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, in a video on the company’s website.

“The Coronavirus is curable, do you believe it? You better … it’s wicked good stuff Joe.”

Joseph Grenon then replies: “MMS will kill it.”

In March, Attorney General William Barr ordered all U.S. Attorney offices to prioritize investigations into scams tied to the global coronavirus pandemic, such as the peddling of fake cures, investment schemes and Medicare fraud.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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Heartland hotspots: A sudden rise in coronavirus cases is hitting rural states without stay-at-home orders

When it came back positive, Tammy, who spoke on the condition that CNN not use her last name to protect her privacy, had already quarantined herself. Isolated, she decided to write her governor, Kevin Stitt, the first-term Republican and one of just 8 governors in the US to resist issuing a statewide stay-at-home-order. Tammy had voted for Stitt but she didn’t agree with his decision.

Just as cases are starting to plateau in some big cities and along the coasts, the coronavirus is catching fire in rural states across the American heartland, where there has been a small but significant spike this week in cases. Playing out amid these outbreaks is a clash between a frontier culture that values individual freedom and personal responsibility, and the onerous but necessary restrictions to contain a novel biological threat.

The remaining states, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming each saw an increase in cases, but more in line with other places that have stay-at-home orders. And all of those numbers may very well undercount the total cases, given a persistent lack of testing across the US.

This trend undermines the notion perpetuated by President Donald Trump and some of his Republican allies that the restrictive social-distancing measures aren’t necessary in rural America — and that these states even offer a model for reopening the country.

“If you look at Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota — that’s a lot different than New York, it’s a lot different than New Jersey,” Trump said at Thursday’s coronavirus task force briefing, adding that 29 states are “in that ballgame” of being ready to be reopened first.

“We have large sections of the country right now that can start thinking about opening,” Trump added.

A ‘mythic story’ of rural-urban divide

Laura Bellis, a progressive activist in Tulsa who has been a leading voice urging Oklahoma to adopt and enforce a stay-at-home policy, said she believes the resistance to such orders is grounded in a false view of an urban-rural divide.

“There’s a mythic story that they have really different needs, when we’re much more inextricably linked than that,” Bellis told CNN.

The governors of the holdout states frequently invoke middle-American, conservative values when defending their decisions not to issue stay-at-home orders. South Dakota’s Republican governor Kristi Noem has said her office has “trusted South Dakotans to exercise personal responsibility.” And Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska defended his call for voluntary social distancing as opposed to a stay-at-home order.

“This is a program that depends on people exercising personal responsibility and their civic duty,” Ricketts told Politico Wednesday. “This is about making that decision, not the heavy hand of government taking away your freedoms.”
In a Wednesday press conference, Stitt said he is making decisions about public-health guidelines “based on what’s happening in Oklahoma, not what’s going on in a different state or different city.” And in early April, Noem suggested her state did not need such tough restrictions because South Dakota is “not New York City.”

But while the American heartland is far less dense than New York and other cities and states on the coasts, it is home to much of the country’s agricultural and manufacturing base. The threat coronavirus poses to those sectors of the economy has begun to arrive.

In Iowa, for instance, two separate Tysons food processing plants have also closed due to outbreaks that have so far caused the deaths of two workers.

And in South Dakota a large pork processing plant owned by Smithfield Foods has been closed after experiencing a massive outbreak among workers there that has contributed to the explosion of coronavirus cases in Sioux Falls. (Noem has insisted a stay-at-home order “would NOT have prevented Smithfield from happening.”)

With the real potential for higher prices and even food shortages, insufficient action by Republican governors in the heartland could continue to ripple across the country in ways that would adversely affect the lives of Americans everywhere.

The governors in each of these states continue to insist that their own approach, short of a stay-at-home order, is the best way to combat the virus for their individual states — for the time being, at least.

“If we need to do more, we will do more,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday on “State of the Union.” “So that’s always an option on the table if we have to shelter in place. But right now, what we’re doing proves to be successful, this targeted approach.”

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Fears of Ventilator Shortage During Coronavirus Pandemic Unleash a Wave of Innovations

As the coronavirus rages across the globe, ventilators that pump oxygen into the lungs of critically ill patients have been embraced as the best hope for saving lives.

But fears of a ventilator shortage have unleashed a wave of experimentation at hospitals around the country that is leading to some promising alternatives to help sustain patients.

Doctors at North Shore University Hospital on Long Island have been using machines designed for people with sleep apnea to keep scores of coronavirus patients breathing, and engineers at New York University Tandon have transformed hooded hair salon dryers into personal negative pressure chambers that deliver oxygen and limit the spread of aerosolized virus, lowering the infection risks for health care workers and other patients.

Pulmonologists across the country have been turning to a remarkably simple intervention: flipping patients onto their stomach, which markedly improves oxygen levels for those in respiratory distress.

Doctors say these and other ad hoc interventions have allowed many hospitals to weather the surge of desperately ill patients in recent weeks, and may have helped stave off the dire ventilator shortages and rationing that some had feared but have not come to pass.

“Some of these are battlefield interventions that we would not normally use in hospitals, but this crisis has been an incredible spur for creativity and collaboration,” said Dr. Greg Martin, a pulmonologist in Atlanta and the president-elect of the Society of Critical Care Medicine. “The beauty of this is that we’re learning a lot and hopefully some of this will translate to things we can use in the future.”

The innovations have also been fueled in part by the dismal survival rates for patients on ventilators; in New York City, 80 percent of ventilated coronavirus patients did not survive.

Doctors have always seen ventilators as a last resort for patients in respiratory distress, but many physicians on the coronavirus front lines are finding that noninvasive interventions can keep patients off the machines and improve outcomes.

The pandemic is also scrambling previously accepted wisdom about acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, a condition marked by perilously low oxygen levels. The condition, an alarming hallmark of severe Covid-19, occurs when fluid that floods tiny air sacs deep within the lung interferes with the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to vital organs.

But over the past month, many doctors say they have been mystified by Covid-19 patients with low oxygen levels who are still breathing on their own. Some health workers have reported caring for patients with oxygen saturation rates in the 70s and 80s — anything below 93 percent is cause for concern — yet their heart rates and brain function were relatively normal.

“It’s been a very humbling experience dealing with a new illness, where we’re not sure whether the treatments we’re using are beneficial,” said Dr. Anthony S. Lubinsky, medical director of respiratory care at NYU Langone Health. “The data just isn’t there yet, but what we’re realizing is that a ventilator alone is often not enough to save ARDS patients.”

Intubation, which involves inserting a breathing tube into the lungs, carries myriad risks. Patients must be heavily sedated, and many remain tethered to the machine for weeks. They also need to be closely monitored 24 hours a day, a challenge for hospitals grappling with a flood of patients and a shortage of respiratory specialists.

Weaning patients off a ventilator presents its own difficulties because prolonged ventilation can cause severe lung injury, but removing breathing support too early can prove deadly.

“You never want to intubate a patient unless it’s absolutely necessary,” said Dr. Susan R. Wilcox, the chief of critical care in emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Still, many doctors believe that intubation offers the best hope for saving the most seriously ill patients. In recent weeks, as Covid-19 patients inundated hospitals in New York, Dr. Hugh Cassiere, a pulmonologist at Northwell Health, realized that the hundreds of less sophisticated breathing machines known as CPAP and BiPAP devices gathering dust in hospital storage rooms might help doctors weather a ventilator shortfall. The lunchbox-size devices are familiar to the millions of Americans with sleep apnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other breathing disorders.

Over several days, Dr. Cassiere and his colleagues figured out how to convert the machines into makeshift ventilators, in part by using 3-D-printed adapters to hook the machines up to endotracheal tubes and to add HEPA filters that capture virus emitted during exhalation.

Roughly 100 patients at North Shore University Hospital have been successfully sustained on the machines, and Dr. Cassiere said he has also used them on patients with other illnesses in order to free up critical care ventilators for Covid-19 patients. “I’d rather have more regular ol’ ventilators, but this could be a viable option if a hospital is running low,” he said.

Enthusiasm for the machines has been spreading. Rhode Island health officials on Tuesday announced a campaign asking residents to drop off their unused devices at fire stations across the state.

Many hospitals are using them to increase oxygen levels without resorting to intubation. The devices, doctors say, have been especially helpful for coronavirus patients with moderately impaired lung function. The positive air pressure they pump out dislodges fluid in damaged lungs, allowing the alveoli to better absorb oxygen, respiratory specialists say.

The Mount Sinai Health System in New York is retrofitting 200 breathing machines donated by Tesla. Those devices, manufactured by ResMed and known as VPAP, or variable positive airway pressure, have been reconfigured to trap exhaled contagions. In a pinch, the revamped machines can also serve as air pumps for intubation.

Dr. Charles A. Powell, director of the Mount Sinai-National Jewish Health Respiratory Institute, said the machines were not quite powerful enough to help patients in severe respiratory distress, though they do appear to provide relief for coronavirus patients with moderate breathing problems. He said the hospital has begun a randomized study to see whether the machines that use a simple face mask could be used at home by people not sick enough to be hospitalized.

The downside, he said, is the risk of infecting others in the household because the masks do not filter out exhaled virus. “If possible, a person who is not sick should stay out of the room while the CPAP machine is working,” he said.

Some doctors remain wary of the alternative devices. Dr. Wilcox of Mass General cited a 2017 study that found that up to 80 percent of patients with moderate respiratory distress who were attached to CPAP machines damaged their lungs by taking huge breaths over an extended period of time. The risk was especially pronounced in younger patients. Dr. Wilcox said she prefers to give coronavirus patients oxygen through a tube fitted beneath the nostrils.

“There is probably a subset of patients who could benefit from CPAP machines, but the challenge is how to quickly determine who they are,” she said.

Dr. Wilcox has also been encouraged by prone positioning, an intervention that involves turning patients in respiratory distress onto their stomachs. The practice, long used to increase oxygenation for mechanically ventilated patients, has been surprisingly beneficial for Covid-19 patients who are not intubated. The maneuver works by opening parts of the lungs that are compressed while lying on the back.

“It’s all anecdotal at this point, but patients tell us they feel better,” Dr. Wilcox said. “It’s just fascinating.”

Another intriguing alternative is a positive pressure hood that fits over a patient’s head to prevent the spread of pathogens while pushing air into the lungs. The hoods, which resemble something out of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” have been widely used by doctors in Italy and China in their battle against Covid-19.

Over the past month, engineers and doctors in the United States have been rushing ahead with designs for similar devices, though they have not yet been approved by the F.D.A. The hoods can be hooked up to a CPAP machine or the central oxygen lines common in most American hospitals.

As she tended to coronavirus patients last Tuesday at the University of Chicago Medical Center, Dr. Bhakti Patel noticed a man in his 50s struggling to breathe. His oxygen level had fallen to 85 percent and he was taking 30 breaths a minute; eight to 10 breaths a minute is considered normal. “You just can’t sustain that,” said Dr. Patel, a pulmonologist.

Not long after placing a hood over his head, the patient’s oxygen level hit 100 percent, she said.

For the past few weeks, a dozen patients who were on the verge of needing intubation have been using the ventilated helmets, and the early results have been promising. One patient has been discharged, another has left the I.C.U. and another two are expected to leave the I.C.U. this week. Only one patient who tried the helmet had to be intubated.

“I am cautiously optimistic,” said Dr. Patel, a co-author of a 2016 study that found the helmets helped avoid intubation in 80 percent of ARDS patients and significantly reduced mortality.

Over the past week, hospitals across the country have also begun experimenting with the helmets. At one, in Oakland, Calif., nurses have been assembling the helmets from parts they ordered on the internet.

Dr. Giacomo Bellani, a critical care doctor at San Gerardo Hospital and University of Milan Bicocca in Italy who has studied the use of the helmets in ARDS patients, is also a longtime booster. He said they were widely adapted in the 1980s by Italian doctors grappling with the country’s chronic shortage in I.C.U. beds.

The hoods have been a crucial stopgap measure for hospitals in northern Italy swamped by coronavirus patients struggling to breathe. Still, Dr. Bellani said they were not a panacea for the most desperately ill.

“The hoods can buy you time when you’re short on I.C.U. beds,” he said. “But there is a drawback because in some patients you are just postponing intubation and the longer the delay, the greater the risk that some patients won’t make it.”

Rukmini Callimachi, Tara Parker-Pope and Rachel Abrams contributed reporting.

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Small business loan program: Why the it is falling apart at the worst time

Washington dysfunction and distrust are coming at the absolute worst time for small business owners that desperately need support.

The backbone program of the $2 trillion stimulus designed to keep workers employed has been shuttered after less than two weeks. Tens of thousands of businesses did not get access to the program before it ran dry. Those businesses, many of them teetering on the brink of failure, currently have no clear pathway to survival at the moment.

The purpose of the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program was essentially to float payroll for millions of small businesses for a couple of months. The loan program transforms into a grant program if the money is used in large part for salaries, payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent or utilities. It was specifically, explicitly, drafted to incentivize companies to keep paying their employees even as their doors were closed.

In the last month, more than 20 million have filed unemployment claims. The central program to keep people in their jobs until the economy reopens is now out of money.

More perspective

The Treasury Department has requested an additional $251 billion for the program. Based on what CNN has been hearing over the course of the last week or so from participants and analysts, an informal poll of how much the program *actually* needs at this point, given the demand, comes to more than $1 trillion.

“If we want to be realistic about the need out there, that’s the real number,” one bank executive told CNN.

To be clear

The lawmakers and aides who drafted this program were always aware it would need more money. As each day passed during the negotiations, it became clear that the economic devastation was moving much quickly than the overall rescue package negotiations were on Capitol Hill. The expectation was the small business program, easily the most bipartisan element of the package, could be refilled with limited disruption if needed. That has turned out not to be the case, as Democrats have made clear they have other priorities they have deemed as equally as urgent that must be added onto additional funds.

Something to keep in mind

This program was structured on a first-come, first-serve basis. That alone has led to a lot of frustration for small business owners, particularly those who don’t have longstanding relationships (or lines of credit) with lenders who chose to prioritize clients first.

5 reasons you may not have gotten your stimulus money yet

But there’s another issue now: many small business owners have been waiting for more than a week to hear from their lender if their application had gone through. There is no longer a queue to wait in — the SBA said that has shut down as well. So the process for getting in line, or getting back in line, when additional funds are passed for the program is likely to cause further headaches and frustration for business owners.

Some statistics

Just to underscore why this is so significant right now:

There are roughly 30 million small businesses in the US. Small businesses employ just under half of all US employees. A JPMorgan Chase Institute analysis from 2015 found that only half of small businesses surveyed held a cash buffer large enough to support 27 days or more of business with no revenue. A quarter of small businesses held fewer than 13 cash buffer days in reserve.

Small business loan funds are tapped out: Here's what owners need to know now

The US is more than a month into stay-at-home and shutdown orders. Read through those statistics again to understand just how devastating this moment is for businesses around the country.

The PPP numbers

Before running out of money, the SBA processed and approved 1,661,397 loans. For context, the agency approved more loans in 13 days than it had approved in the past 14 years combined.

Roughly 70% of small business owners surveyed by the National Federation of Independent Business applied for the program, and of the 30% that didn’t, a third said they planned to apply for the forgivable loans in the weeks ahead.

It’s not just PPP

As we’ve reported several times here, the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program was also a prime life raft that small businesses were seeking out, particularly given the promises of very fast cash advances. That program, which was overwhelmed by applications and massively oversubscribed, according to officials, is now tapped out as well. Lawmakers are pushing for any agreement on additional PPP funds to also include EIDL funds.

The reality

The two programs can conceivably work in concert with one another — and now both are tapped out.

“Many small business owners planned to rely on the PPP forgivable loans for payroll and the EIDLs for working capital,” Kevin Kuhlman, senior director for government relations at NFIB, wrote in a letter to congressional leaders this week. “However, while some small businesses have received approved applications, the vast majority of businesses have not received loans, jeopardizing small businesses and employees who need immediate financial assistance.”

To the impasse

The Paycheck Protection Program is officially out of money and everyone agrees that the program deserves to injected with more cash. But negotiations aren’t moving quickly. And, despite pressure coming from industry leaders, and the real pain felt by business owners who are stuck in limbo, most aides on Capitol Hill recognize that the soonest this might get resolved is the next pro forma session.

That isn’t until Monday.

The sticking points

Aides on both sides acknowledge the divisions here haven’t moved much in a week. Democrats want any increase in funding for the PPP to paired with more money for hospitals, more money for state and local governments, and a special set aside for some of the funding in PPP to go directly to benefit underserved communities. Republicans, meanwhile, have continued to argue that money for PPP — a program that had broad bipartisan support– shouldn’t be used as a tool by Democrats to negotiate money for programs that haven’t been exhausted yet.

Rent. Student loans. Utility bills. How to get help if you can't pay your bills

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has signaled in recent days he could be amenable to setting some of the SBA money aside for underserved communities, and potentially even increasing funding for hospitals. But there isn’t a deal in sight at this point. SBA remains the only program that has completely exhausted its funds, something Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have repeated throughout this process to their members and to Democrats.

According to aides in this process, Democrats aren’t backing off from their push to get local and state governments more money. That continues to be a red line for Republican leaders who don’t think they can pass that proposal with a unanimous consent. Remember, EVERYONE has to agree here.

Mnuchin in the middle

He’s been everywhere. He’s texting with senators when they have a problem with PPP, he’s on cable, at the briefings and leading staff calls with aides to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer negotiating more money for SBA.

Here are 4 free resources that small businesses can access right now

Let’s say that again: the Treasury secretary of the United States, in the midst of a global pandemic and economic crisis, is calling into staff meetings to talk about ways forward.

“Mnuchin seems to have been made for this moment,” one aide said.

That doesn’t mean everyone is happy with Mnuchin right now. Republicans feel cut out of his negotiations with Democrats. They don’t know if they will be able to back any deal Mnuchin cuts with Democrats. But practically, he’s taken the rollout of the stimulus bill seriously, inserting himself into even the minutia of its execution. One person familiar with Mnuchin’s role said that during a recent call with Republican members, Mnuchin heard a slew of complaints about issues local banks were having implementing PPP. Mnuchin personally asked members to send a list of specific banks to McCarthy’s office. The list was 800 lenders long, but according to the aide, Treasury went through the list in a matter of days.

As one Republican senator put it, no one never expected Mnuchin to be this responsive.

Status check: Stimulus checks

For everything you need to know, read this smart piece by CNN’s Katie Lobosco on the “5 reasons you may not have gotten your stimulus money yet.”

Democrats were briefed this week on the status of the program and given a rundown of why some checks might be delayed in getting to Americans. First off, if individuals are going to the Internal Revenue Service website and getting a message of “status not available,” there could be a few reasons for that:

  • They make too much money;
  • They did not file 2018 or 2019 tax returns;
  • They filled out a 2019 return that contains errors or has been stopped;
  • They filed a 2018 return, but then might have mistakenly signed up with the non-filer portal, so the system has not sorted that out;
  • They lack a work-authorized Social Security number.

Primary reason for any delays

Individuals don’t have direct deposit info with the IRS and are going to have to wait for paper checks.

When do paper checks go out

IRS told Capitol Hill staffers this week that paper checks should start going out next week. From there, roughly 5 million checks will be sent a week.

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Smugglers Sawed into Trump’s Border Wall 18 Times in One Month in San Diego

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) records obtained by The Washington Post via a Freedom of Information Act request, smugglers breached or attempted to breach President Donald Trump’s border wall 18 times in one month, sawing into sections in the San Diego area between September 27 and October 27.  The newspaper had requested breaching data for the full 2019 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

CBP said the average cost to repair the damage was $620 per incident. The agency declined to reveal specific locations of the incidents, “citing law enforcement sensitivities.” It clarified that the smuggling attempts that were counted were ones that required the government to repair the border wall and did not necessarily represent successful breaches, which allow narcotics or migrants to enter the country illegally.

“Transnational criminal organizations are an adaptive adversary — regardless of materials, nothing is impenetrable if given unlimited time and tools,” CBP said in a statement, adding that they are building a “border wall system that includes technology, roads and an enforcement zone. Taken together, these capabilities maximize how long agents have to respond to attempted crossings — increasing the time they have from mere seconds to minutes, hours or even days depending on the adversary’s methods.”

The wall is still under construction amid the coronavirus pandemic, and Congressional Democrats have called on the president’s administration to stop building the barrier as the nation grapples with the enormity of the public health crisis.

“Money should be invested in healthcare, small businesses and fighting the spread of the coronavirus, not used to build an ineffective and wasteful border wall,” 91 Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter addressed to Attorney General William Barr, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, obtained by Axios.

Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who represents areas like the town of Ajo, where residents have reported their fears that the virus will spread unchecked as border wall construction workers travel to and from the border, said: “The presence of large construction crews in small border towns threatens the health of those communities where they are already underprepared to deal with the coming public health emergency.”