- The White House predicts that up to 240,000 Americans will die of coronavirus, even if the US abides by distancing measures, officials announced during the president’s daily coronavirus briefing. The president repeatedly asserted that millions would have died if he hadn’t stepped in.
- The coronavirus task force briefing that lasted for two hours. Throughout, the president made false and misleading claims. Through most of the lengthy debate, Trump struck an unusually quiet and somber tone, warning of the “tough two weeks” to come. But he also attacked governors, news reporters and critics as he defended his record.
- New York governor Andrew Cuomo lamented the bidding wars over ventilators. Cuomo said having numerous states and FEMA simultaneously trying to obtain the crucial breathing machines was “like being on eBay.”
- Cuomo’s brother, Chris Cuomo, was diagnosed with coronavirus. The governor said his brother “will be fine” considering his age and overall health, but he added that the diagnosis underscored the need to maintain social distancing practices.
- Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said Trump’s impeachment distracted lawmakers from responding to coronavirus, a claim that was quickly criticized by Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, who called for the virus to be declared a public health emergency in late January. Trump himself said that he wouldn’t have done anything differently if the impeachment trial didn’t take place.
- Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden emphasized the need for more testing to combat the virus. Both of the prominent Democrats also demanded that Trump immediately use the full powers of the Defense Production Act to speed up the production of medical equipment.
Read the full story on Trump’s latest press conference here:
Opinion: Ice agents are still performing raids – and using precious N95 masks to do so
Public health experts and providers Miriam Magaña Lopez and Seth M Holmes write:
On the first day of California’s “shelter-in-place” lockdown, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) agents raided immigrant communities in Los Angeles. Different from other raids, they carried N95 medical masks to protect themselves from Covid-19. Also different from previous raids, the Ice agents broke state regulations that ordered everyone to stay home except to do “essential” activities necessary to survive (eg buying food or medicine).
The protective masks Ice agents carried to raid communities in LA are the same personal protective equipment that made headlines in the last week due to extreme shortages endangering the lives of healthcare workers. These frontline health professionals care for patients without this basic protective equipment, forced to risk not only their own health but also the capacity of our health system in this critical pandemic. In fact, the surgeon general issued a statement requesting that all N95 masks be saved for doctors, nurses and other frontline health workers. In a time with severe shortages and orders to “shelter in place”, the federal government chose to prioritize masks for Ice agents instead of necessary health personnel and, ultimately, chose raids over the health of our country.
A ‘bidding war’ over ventilators
During today’s briefing, Trump said that all governors had to do if they needed ventilators, was ask. He also suggested that the US was “holding on” to a stockpile of 10,000 ventilators, that the government would slowly and strategically dole out. He also said the government has asked companies to send equipment directly to states.
At the same time, he derided and dismissed New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s complaint that states have to bid for ventilators, competing with other states and Fema to secure life-saving equipment.
“The federal government, Fema, should have been the purchasing agent: buy everything and then allocate by need to the states,” Cuomo said today. “Why would you create a situation where the 50 states are competing with each other and then the federal government and Fema comes in and competes with the rest of it?”
Without addressing why the federal government isn’t stepping in to secure the equipment at a fair price, Trump said that Cuomo,” shouldn’t be complaining because we gave him a lot of ventilators.”
“No matter what you give, it’s never enough,” he said.
Marathon briefing ends
“It’s an incredibly dark topic,” Trump said, before leaving the podium. “An incredibly horrible topic. And it’s incredibly interesting. That’s why everybody is, They’re going crazy, they can’t get enough of it.”
Fact check: “Nobody knew”
“Nobody knew how contagious this was,” Trump said. “I don’t think any doctor new it at the time. People have not seen anything like this.”
In fact, as the disease spread through China, public health experts were warning for weeks that the coronavirus threat could grow into a pandemic.
Moreover, epidemiologists have been predicting this sort of pandemic for years. The US intelligence community, in its January 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment, wrote: “We assess that the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.”
Once again, Trump misrepresented his administration’s travel restrictions, saying that he “stopped” travel from Italy before issuing broader restrictions on travel from Europe. Through the administration issued travel advisories for parts of Italy, he never banned travel from Italy.
The briefing has now reached the two hour mark.
“This is really easy to be negative about. But I want to give people hope, too,” Trump said, abandoning the quiet, somber tone he used earlier in the briefing.
“I’m not about bad news,” Trump said. “I want to give people hope. I want to give people the feeling that we all have a chance.”
As he has during previous briefings, the president then became combative, attacking reporters and dismissing what he called “stupid question”.
“I don’t think I would’ve acted any differently. I don’t think I would’ve acted any faster,” Trump said when asked if the impeachment distracted him from the coronavirus crisis.
Senate leader Mitch McConnell, has blamed the impeachment trial for distracting from the crisis. “I think it diverted the attention of the government because everything every day was all about impeachment,” McConnell said in an interview on “The Hugh Hewitt Show.”
Fact check: Even more on ventilators
Earlier, Dr. Birx said that the US is better positioned than the UK on ventilators. “They have 8000 ventilators in the UK. If you translate that to the US that would be equivalent to us having 40000 ventilators. We have five times that,” she said.
Indeed, the UK Cabinet Office said that there are 8,000 ventilators currently in the NHS with a further 8,000 already on order from overseas.
The US has nearly five times the population of the UK, so Birx’s idea to multiply 8,000 ventilators by 5 to gauge a comparison makes sense. But it’s unclear how many ventilators the US has. Estimates published in the New England Journal of Medicine guess 60,000 to 160,000 — that’s fewer than Birx’s boast.
“There is a broad range of estimates of the number of ventilators we will need to care for U.S. patients with Covid-19, from several hundred thousand to as many as a million,” wrote public health experts in the NEJM.
Fact check: Travel bans
As evidence that he acted early and effectively, the president touted his piecemeal travel bans and restrictions — which epidemiologists said could have stopped the spread of disease if implemented much earlier than they were — but ultimately did little more than cause chaos and confusion at airports.
“We stopped all of Europe,” Trump boasted. But the restrictions didn’t apply to all of Europe and included restrictions for several types of travelers.
Dr. Fauci said “I believe we acted early,” in response to a question about whether the US could have done more, earlier. But he conceded that earlier action could have helped.
Dr. Birx, as well, evaded the question, asserting that it remains to be seen whether the disease was spreading through the US in February or earlier.