Over 40,000 people in the U.S. have now died of COVID-19 — almost double last week’s death toll — with over three-quarters of a million confirmed cases of the virus. Globally, there are over 2.4 million confirmed cases and over 165,000 known fatalities. True numbers of deaths and infections, both in the U.S. and around the world, are unknown due to lack of testing, issues around reporting and tracking data, and an unknown number of asymptomatic cases.
At least 7,000 of those deaths have been linked to nursing homes across the country, including long-term care facilities for veterans. Tens of thousands of residents and employees have contracted the infection. At the Cobble Hill Health Center in Brooklyn, at least 55 people have died. Nursing care workers at some homes have stopped coming in to work, and many report a dire shortage in protective equipment.
Thousands of anti-quarantine protesters continued to defy social distancing orders to protest around the U.S. over the weekend. Protests took place in Texas, Indiana, New Hampshire, Nevada, Maryland, Utah, Wisconsin, Washington and Colorado. In Olympia, Washington, 2,500 people defied a ban on large public gatherings. Hundreds more ignored stay-at-home orders to protest at the Colorado state Capitol in Denver. Protests also took place in San Diego.
One of the far-right activists organizing the protests online is so called gun-rights activist Ben Dorr and his two brothers, who run the group Minnesota Gun Rights. The trio has attacked the National Rifle Association as too soft on gun rights and has set up Facebook pages to organize protests in several states with names like “Wisconsinites Against Excessive Quarantine.”
Meanwhile, last week’s anti-quarantine protest in Lansing, Michigan, was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, which is founded by two prominent Trump supporters and was promoted by the Michigan Freedom Fund, whose founder Greg McNeilly is linked to the family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
In a series of tweets Friday afternoon, President Trump issued an online call to ”LIBERATE” Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia — all states where protesters targeted Democratic governors last week.
Congressional Democrats and the Trump administration say they could reach a deal today on $370 billion in new funding for loans to small businesses suffering from the devastating economic crash. The package would also include $100 billion for hospitals and testing but reportedly does not include increased funding for local governments, hazard pay for frontline workers, or a freeze on rent and housing payments.
The $350 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program in the first coronavirus relief package passed last month ran out of money less than two weeks after it was launched, as many small businesses say they did not get funds — or even a response to their applications — as much larger and more profitable businesses successfully obtained loans. The restaurant chain Potbelly Sandwich Shop received $10 million, while Ruth’s Chris Steak House got $20 million. Shake Shack said Sunday it is returning the $10 million loan it received to the program.
Meanwhile, observers warn the first $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package is being spent with very limited oversight, as the Treasury’s inspector general post remains unconfirmed by the Senate and the two panels set up to oversee the funds are understaffed.
Dozens of immigrant prisoners at the privately owned Otay Mesa Detention Center near San Diego began a hunger strike this weekend over mounting concerns about their safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Otay Mesa now has the largest coronavirus outbreak of any immigration jail in the United States. Last week, reports emerged of Otay Mesa guards pepper-spraying a group of women in one of the holding units for refusing to sign a contract reportedly protecting CoreCivic from liability if immigrants became sick, in exchange for face masks. This is a phone call between an activist with the immigration rights group Pueblos Sin Fronteras and a woman detained at Otay Mesa held in the unit that was pepper-sprayed.
Asylum seeker: “They are throwing pepper spray at us! They do not respect us. We are human, not animals. Help! They want to force us to sign documents so that we throw away the masks. They want to charge us for T-shirts we used to make the masks.”
In more immigration news, dozens of people held a rally outside a prison for immigrant youth in Chicago Saturday demanding they release detained children. The Heartland Alliance facility houses nearly 70 children separated from their parents on the U.S.-Mexico border, and as of last week confirmed some 37 children have tested positive for COVID-19. In recent days, images have emerged of youth inside displaying signs at the facility’s windows that read ”HELP.”
In Europe, Italy recorded its lowest daily death toll in a week as leaders weigh whether they will start significantly lifting restrictions in two weeks, when the current lockdown order expires. Italy has recorded the highest number of deaths after the U.S., at over 23,000. France and Spain also continued to show some signs of progress, even as they continue to suffer devastating daily losses. France reported close to 400 deaths Sunday, but hospital admissions have been trending downward. Spain registered its biggest daily drop in fatalities in almost a month with 410 new deaths. Germany has allowed some small businesses to reopen starting today.
In Greece, flames tore through a massive refugee camp on Chios island, destroying the shelters of hundreds of residents. The fire followed a protest over the death of an Iraqi asylum seeker, who camp dwellers suspect succumbed to COVID-19, though officials say she tested negative for the disease, and had been sent back to the camp from the hospital. The camp houses around 5,000 people, though it was only designed to accommodate 1,000.
The World Health Organization is warning the coronavirus may be on the verge of ravaging the African continent, causing a possible 10 million severe cases in the coming months. A worst-case scenario projection by the U.N. says 3.3 million people in Africa could die from COVID-19, and 1.2 billion could become infected. Public hospitals across 41 countries reportedly have fewer than 2,000 ventilators, and 10 countries have no ventilators at all. This is the WHO’s director-general.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “In the past week there has been a 51% increase in the number of reported cases in my own continent, Africa, and a 60% increase in the number of reported deaths. With the current challenge of obtaining testing kits, it’s likely that the real numbers are higher than reported.”
In Afghanistan, at least 40 employees of the presidential palace have tested positive for COVID-19 as President Ashraf Ghani moved into self-isolation. It’s not known whether he himself has contracted the infection. Afghanistan has reported around 1,000 cases of COVID-19 and at least 30 deaths, though the country has only tested some 7,000 people. Some analysts say that if the disease is not effectively contained, the death toll could be as high as 110,000 people, surpassing the estimated civilian death toll of the 18-year war.
In Latin America, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro continues to flout widespread guidelines for limiting the spread of the coronavirus, appearing at a packed anti-quarantine rally in Brasília. Bolsonaro can be seen repeatedly coughing into a crowd of protesters as he addressed the rally, where some were calling for a return to military rule. Brazil has over 38,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2,400 deaths.
Meanwhile, Peru reported over 15,000 cases of coronavirus on Sunday, the second-highest count in Latin America after Brazil.
In India, Mumbai health officials say they will administer hydroxychloroquine to thousands of residents to test the drug’s potential as a preventative treatment for the coronavirus. The anti-malarial drug repeatedly touted by Trump will reportedly be tested in Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums, as well as in Worli, the Mumbai neighborhood hardest hit by the virus. Critics are calling out the move to test the unproven and potentially dangerous drug on some of the city’s poorest residents. In other news from Mumbai, at least 200 healthcare professionals have tested positive for COVID-19. India has reported around 16,000 confirmed cases and 500 deaths, but true numbers are likely much higher.
In Canada, a gunman killed at least 16 people in the province of Nova Scotia Sunday, in the country’s worst-ever mass shooting. The shooter, identified as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, was also killed. The motive for the attack, which took place over 12 hours over several locations, is not yet known. The shooter was dressed as a police officer and disguised his car to look like a police cruiser.
In environmental news, the Trump administration has rolled back regulations on emissions of toxic mercury and other pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants. The new rule changes how the Environmental Protection Agency will run cost-benefit analyses for power plants: The perceived health benefits of cutting pollution will be reduced, while the economic costs of curbing pollution will be increased. Mercury is a highly toxic metal that causes brain damage and birth defects.
In climate news, a new study by Columbia University’s Earth Institute finds the western United States and northern Mexico are entering into a mega-drought worse than any other in over a thousand years. The report in the journal Science finds greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are playing a key role in driving unprecedented dry conditions in southwestern North America.