The United States of America has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, overtaking China to lead the world in cases of COVID-19. The virus continued its exponential growth Thursday, surging to over 85,000 U.S. cases — though the true number is certain to be far higher. Over 1,300 people across the U.S. have died from the virus, and the death rate is predicted to accelerate in the days ahead. This as President Trump continues to defy his scientific advisers and downplay the threat of the pandemic.
Here in New York City, the largest hot spot of the U.S. crisis, 84 COVID-19 patients died on Thursday, as wave after wave of critically ill people flooded intensive care units and threatened to overwhelm the healthcare system. Columbia and NYU medical schools said they will allow medical students to graduate early to join the fight against COVID-19, as hospitalizations surged by 40% Thursday.
With intensive care beds and life-saving ventilators increasingly in short supply, Mayor Bill de Blasio pleaded for federal authorities to ship an additional 15,000 of the life-saving devices — half of the 30,000 he says are needed to keep critically ill patients breathing.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: “If you have a ventilator, you can save a life; you can keep someone going, get them through this crisis so they can recover. If you don’t have a ventilator, people die who didn’t need to die. It’s as simple as that.”
Some New York City hospitals have begun splitting ventilators to allow two patients to use a single device, as nurses fear a looming shortage will soon force them to decide who lives and who dies.
New York officials are pleading with the White House to use the Defense Production Act to order companies to manufacture ventilators and other critically needed medical equipment, but President Trump has refused, saying business leaders have promised to meet the challenge without government intervention.
The New York Times reports the White House canceled an agreement with General Motors and Ventec Life Systems to produce up to 80,000 desperately needed ventilators, over concerns about the project’s $1 billion price tag — or about 0.05% of the cost of the coronavirus relief bill.
On Thursday, President Trump said he doubted New York’s urgent request for 30,000 ventilators was merited. Trump was speaking on Fox News.
President Donald Trump: “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you go into major hospitals, sometimes they’ll have two ventilators. And now, all of a sudden, they’re saying, 'Can we order 30,000 ventilators?'”
Politico reports the White House failed to follow hundreds of pandemic response guidelines laid out in a 69-page National Security Council playbook, squandering more than two months when the federal government should have mobilized to test for new infections while procuring life-saving medical equipment. And ProPublica has published internal emails detailing how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underestimated the threat from the virus and stumbled in communicating policy to local public health officials.
In immigration news, three unaccompanied immigrant children have tested positive for COVID-19 as they remain in custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement in New York. Five staff members and one staff contractor at three separate facilities in New York also recently tested positive. Still, the agency says it will continue to hold separated children in its custody until quarantines at ORR facilities are lifted.
This comes as a 52-year-old Guatemalan immigrant held at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, New Jersey, has tested positive.
In Louisiana, asylum seekers held at the Richwood Detention Center have been on hunger strike for at least four days demanding their release as they fear contracting coronavirus.
In Georgia, at least 350 immigrants detained at the for-profit Stewart Detention Center, known for its chronic medical neglect, also held a hunger strike demanding their immediate release. In audio recordings, detained immigrants describe cramped conditions, poor planning, and increasing panic among prisoners.
Asylum seeker: “We are frustrated because of the uncertainty, because we don’t know in which moment we can be infected with this virus by people who are coming in here from the outside. We could be infected at any moment — when we go outside, when we go to the yard, when we go eat. We are constantly at risk of infection. So this hunger strike is to demand ICE that, out of humanity, they give us our freedom.”
Italy recorded another 662 coronavirus deaths Thursday, bringing its death toll to more than 8,200 — more than double the toll in China, where the pandemic began. Some Italian patients have been transferred to Germany due to critical shortages of ventilators and supplies.
Spain recorded its deadliest day yet, with 769 COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in a video posted on Twitter today he’s tested positive for COVID-19 and will work from home in self-isolation.
And Ireland will nationalize its entire healthcare system for the duration of the pandemic. This is Irish Health Minister Simon Harris.
Simon Harris: “Patients with this virus will be treated for free, and they’ll be treated as part of a single, national hospital service. As the taoiseach outlined, today I received government approval that for the duration of this crisis, the state will take control of all private hospital facilities and manage all of the resources for the common benefit of all of our people. There can be no room for public versus private when it comes to pandemic.”
China has announced a ban on almost all foreigners entering the country, in an effort to prevent a second wave of coronavirus infections.
In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe refused calls to lock down cities, citing the severe economic consequences of a stay-at-home order. Bars, restaurants and shops in crowded Tokyo remain open, despite a spike in new cases there. Officially, Japan has over 1,400 confirmed cases, but the true number is certain to be far higher.
In Africa, Ethiopia’s president has released over 4,000 prisoners in an effort to prevent overcrowding in prisons and contain the spread of the coronavirus. This comes as Ethiopians are calling on their government to lift months-long internet shutdowns in parts of Ethiopia where government forces have clashed with an Oromo separatist group. The blackout has left millions unable to access information about the pandemic.
In South Africa, which began a three-week nationwide lockdown today, two COVID-19 deaths have been reported among more than 900 confirmed cases.
Meanwhile, Egyptian authorities have expelled Guardian journalist Ruth Michaelson after she reported that Egypt has far more coronavirus cases than have been officially reported.
In Latin America, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has exempted churches from coronavirus-related lockdowns by classifying religious gatherings as “essential services” — agreeing to demands from evangelical leaders. Confirmed coronavirus cases in Brazil have skyrocketed in the past week to nearly 3,000.
In Mexico, the governor of the state of Puebla is facing backlash after claiming poor people are immune to COVID-19. Meanwhile, the Mexican government has temporarily suspended asylum requests as Mexico attempts to promote social distancing and cancels nonessential services. Mexico has confirmed nearly 600 COVID-19 cases amid a severe shortage of test kits.
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a sweeping and indefinite suspension of environmental rules, telling companies they will effectively be allowed to regulate themselves during the coronavirus pandemic. Under the new rules, big polluters will no longer be punished for failing to comply with reporting rules and other requirements.
Cynthia Giles, the EPA’s former head of enforcement under President Obama, told The Hill newspaper the move “tells companies across the country that they will not face enforcement even if they emit unlawful air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, so long as they claim that those failures are in some way 'caused' by the virus pandemic. And it allows them an out on monitoring too, so we may never know how bad the violating pollution was.”
In climate news, extreme ocean temperatures along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have sparked the third major coral bleaching event in the last five years. A recent study by University of Hawaii researchers predicts pollution and climate change will destroy 70 to 90% of coral reefs worldwide over the next two decades.
In a blow to civil rights, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling Monday that will make it harder for people to sue over racial discrimination in employment and contract negotiations. The Supreme Court threw out a lower court’s ruling that had given the green light for a $20 billion racial bias lawsuit against Comcast, accusing the TV company of discriminating against black-owned channels by refusing to carry their content.
The Trump administration has indicted Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on charges of narcoterrorism and international cocaine trafficking. Attorney General William Barr laid out the charges Thursday, claiming Maduro’s Socialists United of Venezuela party partnered with dissident factions of Colombia’s FARC rebel movement “to flood the United States with cocaine” while using the drug trade as a “weapon against America.” The State Department has offered a $15 million reward for information that could lead to Maduro’s arrest.
In a nationwide address Thursday, President Maduro dismissed the charges as another attempt by Washington to stage a coup d’état. Maduro blasted President Trump as a “racist cowboy” and fired back at the United States’ handling of the coronavirus crisis.
President Nicolás Maduro: “The United States has become a public health threat to the public health of Latin America, the Caribbean and the world. There is no public health system in the United States. There is no public health system. The entire system is private.”
Thirty-year-old Indian-American journalist Liyna Anwar has died after a long battle with an aggressive form of leukemia. Her struggle for what might have been a life-saving stem cell transplant exposed racial disparities in the national bone marrow registry and inspired a nationwide campaign urging people of South Asian descent to become stem cell donors. Click here to see our coverage of Liyna’s struggle.