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HeadlinesMay 15, 2020

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Coronavirus Whistleblower Says U.S. Unprepared for Second Wave of Infections

May 15, 2020

A top U.S. vaccine scientist told Congress Thursday he was removed from his job at the Department of Health and Human Services after he pushed back against President Donald Trump’s endorsement of untested and potentially dangerous treatments for COVID-19. Rick Bright, who filed a whistleblower complaint earlier this month, told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce he became “alarmed” at a lack of planning by federal agencies after the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China, late last year. He said his urgent pleas in January for the U.S. to procure masks and other personal protective equipment went ignored. Bright said the resulting shortages and reliance on lower-quality masks cost the lives of healthcare workers. And he warned the United States remains woefully unprepared for another wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths.

Rick Bright: “Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to improve our response now, based on science, I fear the pandemic will get worse and be prolonged. There will be likely a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall. It will be greatly compounded by the challenges of seasonal influenza. Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.”

The Lancet Assails Trump’s “Inconsistent and Incoherent” COVID-19 Response

May 15, 2020

The British medical journal The Lancet blasted what it called the Trump administration’s “inconsistent and incoherent national response to the COVID-19 crisis.” In an editorial, The Lancet wrote, “Americans must put a president in the White House come January, 2021, who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics.” The U.S. death toll is rapidly approaching 86,000 with over 1.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases, though public health experts say both figures are certain to be underestimates.

Trump Says Mass Coronavirus Testing May Be “Overrated”

May 15, 2020

President Trump traveled to Allentown, Pennsylvania, Thursday, where he toured a medical supply warehouse that distributes N95 masks to healthcare workers. Trump and his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, did not wear masks during their tour. Trump later addressed masked warehouse workers who sat in chairs spaced six feet apart. In a campaign-style speech, Trump promised to create the world’s greatest stockpile of medical equipment, attacked his political rival Joe Biden and questioned the practice of testing Americans for the coronavirus.

President Donald Trump: “Could be the testing’s, frankly, overrated. Maybe it is overrated. … We have more cases than anybody in the world. But why? Because we do more testing. When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.”

Trump’s remarks came as the deans of four major public health schools called for a massive increase in coronavirus case tracking, contact tracing and testing, warning, “If we do not commit these resources, we will be doomed to a cycle of shut down, re-opening, resurgence of the virus and then shutting down again.”

FDA Warns of Inaccurate Results from Rapid Coronavirus Test Used by White House

May 15, 2020

The Food and Drug Administration is warning about inaccurate results from an Abbott Laboratories rapid coronavirus test used by the White House to screen President Trump and Vice President Pence.

President Donald Trump: “I just had a test, as you probably heard. In fact, I had one yesterday, and I had one today. And it’s negative. Mike just had a test, and it’s negative.”

The FDA’s warning on the inaccurate coronavirus test came after preliminary results from a New York University study found it produced false negatives up to 48% of the time.

Michigan Cancels Legislative Session as Armed Protesters Gather at State Capitol

May 15, 2020

In Michigan, lawmakers canceled a legislative session Thursday as protesters armed with assault rifles descended on the state Capitol in Lansing. Michigan’s latest anti-lockdown protests came as the Detroit Metro Times reported Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has faced dozens of death threats on social media sites urging people to flout social distancing orders. Texas recorded 58 COVID-19 deaths and over 1,400 new infections on Thursday. It was Texas’s worst day yet during the pandemic. The spike comes two weeks after Republican Governor Greg Abbott allowed shopping malls, restaurants and theaters to reopen.

California to Slash Billions from State Budget as Coronavirus Hammers Tax Revenues

May 15, 2020

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday outlined a revised budget plan that seeks to close a yawning $54 billion deficit by July 1. Newsom says a nosedive in tax revenue caused by the pandemic will force him to slash spending for education, health and human services, parks and public safety. Newsom is also asking unions representing state employees to agree to 10% pay cuts. He appealed to Congress to include aid to state and local governments as part of the next coronavirus relief bill.

Gov. Gavin Newsom: “The enormity of the task at hand cannot just be borne by a state. The federal government has a moral and ethical and economic obligation to help support the states.”

House members return to Washington today to vote on a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package named the HEROES Act. Progressive critics say the bill fails to provide paycheck guarantees to workers and health insurance to the unemployed. President Trump has called the House bill “dead on arrival.”

Amazon to End $2-an-Hour Hazard Pay as CEO Jeff Bezos Gains $30 Billion During Pandemic

May 15, 2020

Amazon says it will end $2-per-hour hazard pay for workers at the end of May. The rollback comes after an Amazon employee recently told CBS more than 600 Amazon workers have tested positive for COVID-19, with six dying of the disease. An analysis by the Institute for Policy Studies released Thursday estimated Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — the richest person on Earth — has seen his wealth increase by $30 billion since mid-March.

New York Police Tackle and Arrest Mother for Allegedly Wearing a Mask Improperly

May 15, 2020

Here in New York, Governor Andrew Coumo has extended stay-at-home orders until May 28 but is opening some areas upstate. Meanwhile, a viral video shows New York police officers tackling a woman and handcuffing her in front of her young child in a Brooklyn subway station, after she allegedly failed to wear a mask properly. The mother, who is African American, was arrested Wednesday on charges of resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and harassment. This follows another viral video filmed earlier this month showing plainclothes NYPD officers violently pinning a Black man to the ground for allegedly violating social distancing rules, and assaulting a passerby who witnessed the arrest. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office reports that of 40 people arrested for social distancing violations, 35 were Black, four were Latinx, and just one was white.

First Coronavirus Cases Detected in World’s Largest Refugee Camp

May 15, 2020

In Bangladesh, two Rohingya refugees have tested positive for COVID-19 in Cox’s Bazar, where some 1 million people live in crowded and unsanitary conditions in the world’s largest refugee camp. The BBC reports the two refugees are now being treated in isolation, and about 1,900 others are being tested and isolated.

Hospitals in Peruvian City in “Catastrophe” After 14 Healthcare Workers Die of COVID-19

May 15, 2020

In Peru, hospitals in the Amazon region have collapsed and are in a state of “catastrophe” as cases of COVID-19 continue to surge, leaving at least 14 healthcare workers dead. The main hospital in the city of Iquitos reports only 13 to 15 doctors are healthy enough to care for the 300 new patients admitted daily. This is Dr. Enrique Sicchar.

Dr. Enrique Sicchar: “Today we are in a state of total catastrophe. At the regional hospital, the health system has collapsed. … The hospital has no more than 13 to 15 doctors for the entire hospital, and this situation has overwhelmed all of our human capacity.”

Second Immigrant Dies of COVID-19 After Release from ICE Jail

May 15, 2020

In the United States, a second immigrant has died of COVID-19 after being in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Columbus Free Press reports Óscar López Acosta had been detained at Morrow County Correctional Facility in Ohio for over a year but was reportedly released in late April for being at high risk of COVID-19 due to his diabetes. It is unclear whether he contracted COVID-19 in the ICE jail, but advocates say it is very likely, as the facility has also become a hot spot for the coronavirus with between 50 and 80 prisoners testing positive.

U.S. Granted Asylum to Just 2 People Since Coronavirus Immigration Bans Took Effect

May 15, 2020

The Washington Post reports the U.S. has granted asylum to just two people seeking refuge at the U.S.-Mexico border since mid-March. This comes as the Trump administration has essentially shut down the country’s asylum and immigration systems, suspending most due process for immigrants — including children — issuing bans and restrictions under the guise of stemming the spread of the coronavirus. Immigration and human rights advocates are condemning the actions, saying the Trump administration is “weaponizing” the pandemic to push for more radical, anti-immigrant, racist policies.

Family of Guatemalan Woman Killed by Border Patrol Agent Files Civil Rights Lawsuit

May 15, 2020

The family of a 20-year-old Indigenous woman from Guatemala who was shot dead in 2018 by a Border Patrol agent has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the agent and the U.S. government. Claudia Gómez González was crossing through the Texas-Mexico border with a group of people when border agents confronted her, prompting one of them to shoot her in the head.

Senate Reauthorizes Warrantless Surveillance of Internet Browsing History

May 15, 2020

The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to reauthorize sweeping government surveillance powers under the USA PATRIOT Act. On Wednesday, senators voted on an amendment that would have barred law enforcement from searching people’s internet browsing and search history data without a warrant. The amendment needed 60 votes to pass but only garnered 59, with 10 Democrats voting against it. Several senators, including Patty Murray and Bernie Sanders, were absent during the roll call. The amendment was co-sponsored by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who told reporters, “Getting access to somebody’s web browsing history is almost like spying on their thoughts. This level of surveillance absolutely ought to require a warrant.”

Richard Burr Resigns as Senate Intel Chair as FBI Probes Coronavirus Stock Sales

May 15, 2020

Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina stepped down Thursday as the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, one day after FBI agents serving a search warrant seized his cellphone. Burr is under scrutiny for a series of stock sales he made after he received privileged briefings about the threat of the coronavirus. Senator Burr’s brother-in-law, Gerald Fauth, also dumped tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of stocks on the same day in February that Burr unloaded a large number of shares. Georgia Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler said Thursday she’s turned over documents to the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Senate Ethics Committee. Loeffler and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, who’s chair of the New York Stock Exchange, traded massive volumes of stocks after a Senate coronavirus briefing in March. Meanwhile, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office has confirmed the California Democrat was questioned by the FBI over stock trades that her husband, Richard Blum, made ahead of the market crash earlier this year. Feinstein is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Tens of Thousands Evacuated as Typhoon Vongfong Hammers the Philippines

May 15, 2020

In the Philippines, tens of thousands of people are being evacuated to shelters as Typhoon Vongfong continues to ravage the island nation. Evacuees are staying in overcrowded shelters as local officials urge people to maintain social distancing, and warn evacuation centers could become coronavirus hot spots.

6.4 Magnitude Earthquake Rattles Western Nevada

May 15, 2020

A 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit western Nevada early this morning. The quake was reportedly felt as far as Salt Lake City, Utah, and California’s Central Valley. No injuries or deaths have been reported.

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