“Hopes & Prayers” is even more insipid than the “Thoughts & Prayers” bromide that Republican politicians typically tweet out after the latest mass shooting, but five months into the pandemic that’s ravaging the U.S. that’s about all the Trump White House has to offer Americans.
As I noted in a June 21 post, after plateauing in the 150,000 range for several weeks, the U.S. case count increased sharply in the June 14-21 period to 181,010. That trend continued last week, with the case load jumping to 277,801 from June 21-28.
Daily case counts now exceed 50,000, and with infection rates soaring in heavily populated southern and western states such as Florida, Texas, California, Georgia and Arizona, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned on June 30 that if the U.S. doesn’t get its shit together they could soon see 100,000 cases a day.
As of noon today, the case total and death toll in the United States stood at 2,344,023 and 122,127. And where are the numbers going? Well, if statistical trends are any indication, they are set to grow dramatically.
Going back to May 24, the U.S. has had week-to-week increases in case totals of 153,150 (May 24-31), 155,420 (May 31-June 7), 155,564 (June 7-14) and 181,010 (June 14-21).
On a state-by-state basis, California (4363 new cases on Saturday), Texas (4250), Florida (4049), Arizona (3109), Georgia (1800), North Carolina (1773), Louisiana (1231) and South Carolina (1155) are the current hotspots. But they are far from the only states where day-to-day case totals are climbing, with the largest increases being seen in the south and western parts of the country.
Since the pandemic hit North America in mid-March, scientists have warned that even if physical distancing and other slow-down measures succeeded in curbing the virus’s first wave, as summer drew to a close and colder temperatures started to force people back indoors again, we would likely face a second wave.
Many countries around the world, including Canada, have weathered the first wave reasonably well, and are now taking steps to loosen restrictions on large gatherings and “re-open” their economies.
The United States is on that path too. The big difference there is that the first wave of the pandemic has never really been contained. Sure, some of the initial hotspots such as Seattle and New York have managed after a months-long struggle to rein in the virus. But as had been forecast, the virus is now beginning to spread to other areas of the country — many of which lack the capacity (and often the political will) to protect public health.
If you click the first link, you’ll see that the top ten countries in terms of infections in early April were the United States, Italy, Spain, Germany, China, France, Iran, United Kingdom, Switzerland and Turkey.
As of today at 11 a.m. CST, the top ten consists of the United States, Brazil, Russia, Spain, United Kingdom, India, Italy, Peru, Germany and Iran.
With the U.S. case load and death toll from the pandemic having exceeded 1.8 million and 105,000, president Donald Trump announced yesterday that the U.S. would be severing ties with the World Health Organization (WHO).
As you can see in this CBC report, the decision was criticized by the president of the American Medical Association, who said it served “no logical purpose”. No surprise there, as logic isn’t exactly a core value of the MAGA Republican movement led by Trump. Instead, the president is engaged in a desperate/craven effort to resurrect his political fortunes in light of his administration’s failed response to the pandemic.
While WHO might make for a convenient scapegoat (in the minds of Trump supporters, anyway) the organization, as it is currently constituted, is in pretty much a no-win situation.
Some time this Memorial Day weekend, the United States’s death toll from the pandemic will surpass 100,000. The infection total, meanwhile, is approaching 1.7 million. Both are stark figures that have attracted attention world-wide, and generated a ton of political controversy and economic turmoil domestically.
When I spoke with Simon Enoch, Saskatchewan head of Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in late March for an article on neoliberalism and COVID-19 that ultimately ran in mid-May, one topic we discussed was the “perfect storm” of factors that were likely to see the pandemic blow up in the U.S.
“Even if it’s sort of rickety, Canada at least has single-payer socialized medicine where there’s a large degree of coordination across provinces and federally,” Enoch said during our interview. “The patchwork privatized system down there is just ill-equipped to deal with something of this magnitude. The fact you’re going to have people who think they’re infected but for financial reasons can’t seek care… it’s going to be an absolute disaster.”
On April 17, I did a blog post looking at how four countries besides Canada and the United States were doing in their struggle against the pandemic. Here’s an update on their situation. As with us and our southern neighbour, it’s a bit of a good news/bad news story. First, the good news.
Germany On April 17, Germany’s case load and death toll stood at 143,685 and 4352. As of today at noon, the totals are 178,170 and 8213. As I noted in my previous post, while Germany hasn’t necessarily outperformed other European countries such as France, United Kingdom and Italy with infections, its death toll continues to be much lower, which has been attributed to a younger patient population and vigorous testing and contact tracing to limit the chance of an outbreak. Now, Germany is taking tentative steps to reopen its society/economy although the government remains alert to the possibility of future outbreaks.
Sweden On the good news/bad news scale, Sweden falls in the middle. Again, as I noted in the earlier post, Sweden has differed from most countries around the world in handling the pandemic in that it didn’t impose as stringent physical distancing and lockdown measures. Conservative pundits have held Sweden up as an example of how a country can balance public health and economic concerns.
When the pandemic first hit the U.S. in mid-March, the projected death toll with physical distancing measures in place was between 100,000 to 240,000. In early April, a more optimistic figure of 60,000 was put forward.
That was based on a University of Washington study. Whether that figure was ever realistic is hard to know. But in the month since the study was released numerous parties in numerous ways have undermined the effectiveness of physical distancing guidelines. As a result, the U.S. has blown past the projections contained in the model with the infection/death totals standing at 1,333,540 and 79,252 as of noon today.
Since the pandemic started, the idea has been floated that, based on the usual pattern of a typical flu season, the virus might subside over the summer before perhaps returning in the fall. But a recent epidemiological report suggests that might not be the case. If that’s true, who knows how high the death toll might climb in the next few months.
Since the pandemic first got going in early January, scientists around the world have been working flat-out to study the virus. And while progress is being made, COVID-19 is proving to be a tough (viral) nut to crack, so plenty of questions remain.
What is known so far is that while many people who become infected seem to sail through with little or no symptoms, many others become seriously ill. It’s also known that infected people who are asymptomatic can still transmit the virus, and the incubation period for those who do get sick is 14 days, so there’s plenty of time for them to contribute to community spread too.
Certain demographics such as the elderly and those with a compromised immune system or underlying medical condition such as chronic lung disease, diabetes and obesity are at special risk. But the virus can hammer healthy people in the prime of their life too.
Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe is scheduled to address the province tonight at 6 p.m. to recap where Saskatchewan stands six weeks into the pandemic. Then on Thursday morning the government is supposed to unveil a plan to begin loosening restrictions on economic activity.
Discussions of this type are taking place around the world. In countries that have had success in limiting the spread of the virus, such as South Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand, there is cautious optimism that this can be done safely. In countries/jurisdictions where the pandemic is still spreading, though, suggestions that widespread economic activity could be resumed are generally seen as contrary to public health interests.
As a relatively remote province with a small, widely dispersed population, Saskatchewan was likely never going to be at risk for a major outbreak. And with the measures the province has put in place, we have been reasonably successful at limiting the spread of COVID-19.
This kind of feels like a big storm, eh? Like, we can’t leave our houses and if we do, we have to get really bundled up for it. Then, when we get home, we have to change clothes. But, RFF Folks know how to deal with storms (2014, we will remember you always). We know that we’re going to get through it and that even if we have to call the show for lightning, we will come back together when it’s safe to do so.
That’s all to say that, unfortunately, we are canceling the 2020 Regina Folk Festival.
COVID-19 has really felt like a force of nature. We’ve prepared for it, we’re in the thick of it now, and ultimately, we will support each other when it’s over (even if there is some cleaning up to do).
It’s the right call, even though it sucks donkey butt. Oh well. What can you do?
Ordinarily around this time of year I’d be getting started on our Hot Summer Guide. It runs in our last June issue, and highlights a range of music/theatre festivals, fairs and other special events that are planned for Regina, Saskatoon and Saskatchewan’s “Hinterland” in the period from late June until Labour Day weekend.
Some years, spring may have already arrived. Other years, we might still be in the grip of winter. But regardless, the exercise always serves as a bit of a tonic as it allows me to look ahead to all the fun and fellowship that people across the province have planned over the summer months.
This year, though, it’s a much different situation. Because of all the uncertainty around the pandemic, and the restrictions placed on large public gatherings, organizers of many popular events have made the difficult decision to cancel for 2020.
One thing that’s struck me as especially bizarro about the pandemic is how “innovative” professional sports leagues and associations have been in trying to continue their seasons/host their events.
Some events, such as Wimbledon, the Men’s and Women’s Curling/Hockey World Championships, British Open, CHL playoffs and Memorial Cup and NCAA Basketball Championships have simply been cancelled. Others, such as the French Open, Masters and U.S. Open Golf Tournaments, Tour de France and Kentucky Derby have been tentatively rescheduled to the fall (or in the case of the Summer Olympics and Euro 2020, until summer 2021).
In the case of North America sports leagues, hockey and basketball would ordinarily be into the first round of the playoffs now, while baseball would be in its opening month. And all sorts of brainstorming has been going on about how the games might be played. Even U.S. president Donald Trump has been part of the push.
In a Friday blog post, it was noted that Alberta premier Jason Kenney and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers had petitioned the federal Liberal government for direct financial support for struggling oil producers and relaxed environmental regulations.
Later that day, Ottawa responded with $1.7 billion in funding to help the industry clean-up orphan wells with about $400 million expected to go to Saskatchewan. An additional $750 million was allocated to reduce methane emissions from fossil fuel production.
In an ideal world, those programs would be the responsibility of the industry that garnered billions (and even trillions) in profits from fossil fuel resources. But that’s not the way big business operates these days.
When physical distancing and other lockdown measures were being introduced in mid-March, public health officials issued cautionary warnings that, as the pandemic progressed, and the measures (hopefully) helped reduce the infection and fatality totals, a backlash might arise where people would accuse governments of over-reacting.
You could attribute it to human nature, I suppose. Although it probably aligns most closely with a particular sub-set of people who see the world through the lens of alt-right broadcast and social media rife with conspiracy theories and alternative facts.
We haven’t seen too much of that so far in Canada. But south of the border, where the political environment seems to be growing more toxic by the day, that sentiment is definitely percolating.
Most of the coverage we’ve done has focused on the U.S. and Canada. There are some interesting stories happening in other areas of the world, though, that highlight different aspects of how the pandemic is being managed. Here are a few:
Russia While Vladimir Putin’s government initially tried to play dumb about the virus, insisting that everything is under control, in recent days it’s become clear that the pandemic is spreading there as well. As of April 17 at noon, Russia’s case count stood at 32,008 infections and 273 deaths. Those numbers should probably be taken with a grain of salt because of Putin-inspired propaganda, but Moscow (population 12.5 million) and Saint Petersburg (5.3 million) have reportedly been especially hard hit.
Sweden Unlike most countries, Sweden hasn’t implemented major physical distancing requirements to address the pandemic. Schools have remained open, and businesses such as restaurants have continued to operate. Initially, the policy seemed to be working, and Sweden (irony of ironies, since it’s a socialist country) was being touted by conservative pundits as an example of how the pandemic could be managed without inflicting too much economic harm.
The default word that most people probably use when fantasizing about the pandemic ending and restrictions on their lives being lifted is “normal” — as in, they want life to return to normal.
It’s an understandable sentiment, I suppose, but is it a wise one? As the normal that’s being referenced, by definition, created the very circumstances that we find ourselves in today.
Instead, some are arguing we should seize the opportunity presented by the tattered state of our current world and aspire to a new normal — one which addresses the true challenges that face us related to climate change and the broader health of the environment.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s obvious now that there’s no shortage of blame to go around for how most countries and national agencies have responded to the pandemic.
China, where the outbreak appears to have started, is on that list. After the alarm was raised by a doctor in Wuhan on Dec. 30, the Chinese government’s first response was to admonish him for spreading false information. While criticism of China’s political response to the pandemic is justified, China’s scientific response in investigating the virus and sharing data with the outside world has subsequently been praised.
As the above-linked article notes, most of the criticism has come from right-wing politicians led by U.S. president Donald “China Virus” Trump, but also includes prominent conservatives in the U.K. Heck, even Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer gets a shout-out in the article.
Physical distancing guidelines are in effect in the U.S. until April 30. As I noted in two earlier blog posts, Trump and his Republican followers are desperate to see restrictions loosened ASAP so the economy can start to recover from the hit it’s taken.
With the November election looming, the stakes, in both a political and economic sense, are high. But the human stakes are also high. And the unfortunate reality is that, at this point anyway, the U.S. has had little success in “flattening the curve” of COVID-19 infections. Instead, the pandemic is still picking up steam.
Recognizing that reality, governors of states in areas that were especially hard hit in the pandemic’s early days have announced their intention to coordinate with each other on whatever strategy is eventually settled on to open up their economies.
Today’s post is only tangentially related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
If you check the calendar, this week marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 manned mission to the Moon. It launched on April 11, and followed two earlier Moon landings by Apollo 11 in July 1969 and Apollo 12 in November 1969. Unlike those missions, though, this one nearly ended in disaster.
In 1995, Apollo 13 was immortalized in a big-budget Hollywood movie directed by Ron Howard. Now, a researcher at NASA has put together a minute-by-minute audio-visual chronicle of the six-day mission. The chronicle features radio exchanges between the three-person crew and ground control at NASA, press conferences, even conversations between NASA officials and the astronauts’ families on Earth.