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The missing six weeks: how Trump failed the biggest test of his life

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When the definitive history of the coronavirus pandemic is written, the date 20 January 2020 is certain to feature prominently. It was on that day that a 35-year-old man in Washington state, recently returned from visiting family in Wuhan in China, became the first person in the US to be diagnosed with the virus.

On the very same day, 5,000 miles away in Asia, the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was reported in South Korea. The confluence was striking, but there the similarities ended.

In the two months since that fateful day, the responses to coronavirus displayed by the US and South Korea have been polar opposites.

One country acted swiftly and aggressively to detect and isolate the virus, and by doing so has largely contained the crisis. The other country dithered and procrastinated, became mired in chaos and confusion, was distracted by the individual whims of its leader, and is now confronted by a health emergency of daunting proportions.

Within a week of its first confirmed case, South Korea’s disease control agency had summoned 20 private companies to the medical equivalent of a war-planning summit and told them to develop a test for the virus at lightning speed. A week after that, the first diagnostic test was approved and went into battle, identifying infected individuals who could then be quarantined to halt the advance of the disease.

Some 357,896 tests later, the country has more or less won the coronavirus war. On Friday only 91 new cases were reported in a country of more than 50 million.

The US response tells a different story. Two days after the first diagnosis in Washington state, Donald Trump went on air on CNBC and bragged: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming from China. It’s going to be just fine.”

‘A fiasco of incredible proportions’

A week after that, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion article by two former top health policy officials within the Trump administration under the headline Act Now to Prevent an American Epidemic. Luciana Borio and Scott Gottlieb laid out a menu of what had to be done instantly to avert a massive health disaster.

Top of their to-do list: work with private industry to develop an “easy-to-use, rapid diagnostic test” – in other words, just what South Korea was doing.

It was not until 29 February, more than a month after the Journal article and almost six weeks after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in the country that the Trump administration put that advice into practice. Laboratories and hospitals would finally be allowed to conduct their own Covid-19 tests to speed up the process.

Those missing four to six weeks are likely to go down in the definitive history as a cautionary tale of the potentially devastating consequences of failed political leadership. Today, 86,012 cases have been confirmed across the US, pushing the nation to the top of the world’s coronavirus league table – above even China.

More than a quarter of those cases are in New York City, now a global center of the coronavirus pandemic, with New Orleans also raising alarm. Nationally, 1,301 people have died.

Most worryingly, the curve of cases continues to rise precipitously, with no sign of the plateau that has spared South Korea.

“The US response will be studied for generations as a textbook example of a disastrous, failed effort,” Ron Klain, who spearheaded the fight against Ebola in 2014, told a Georgetown university panel recently. “What’s happened in Washington has been a fiasco of incredible proportions.”

Jeremy Konyndyk, who led the US government’s response to international disasters at USAid from 2013 to 2017, frames the past six weeks in strikingly similar terms. He told the Guardian: “We are witnessing in the United States one of the greatest failures of basic governance and basic leadership in modern times.”

In Konyndyk’s analysis, the White House had all the information it needed by the end of January to act decisively. Instead, Trump repeatedly played down the severity of the threat, blaming China for what he called the “Chinese virus” and insisting falsely that his partial travel bans on China and Europe were all it would take to contain the crisis.

‘The CDC was caught flat-footed’

If Trump’s travel ban did nothing else, it staved off to some degree the advent of the virus in the US, buying a little time. Which makes the lack of decisive action all the more curious.

“We didn’t use that time optimally, especially in the case of testing,” said William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University medical center. “We have been playing reluctant catch-up throughout.”

As Schaffner sees it, the stuttering provision of mass testing “put us behind the eight-ball” right at the start. “It did not permit us, and still doesn’t permit us, to define the extent of the virus in this country.”

Though the decision to allow private and state labs to provide testing has increased the flow of test kits, the US remains starkly behind South Korea, which has conducted more than five times as many tests per capita. That makes predicting where the next hotspot will pop up after New York and New Orleans almost impossible.

In the absence of sufficient test kits, the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initially kept a tight rein on testing, creating a bottleneck. “I believe the CDC was caught flat-footed,” was how the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, put it on 7 March. “They’re slowing down the state.”

The CDC’s botched rollout of testing was the first indication that the Trump administration was faltering as the health emergency gathered pace. Behind the scenes, deep flaws in the way federal agencies had come to operate under Trump were being exposed.

In 2018 the pandemic unit in the national security council – which was tasked to prepare for health emergencies precisely like the current one – was disbanded. “Eliminating the office has contributed to the federal government’s sluggish domestic response,” Beth Cameron, senior director of the office at the time it was broken up, wrote in the Washington Post.

Disbanding the unit exacerbated a trend that was already prevalent after two years of Trump – an exodus of skilled and experienced officials who knew what they were doing. “There’s been an erosion of expertise, of competent leadership, at important levels of government,” a former senior government official told the Guardian.

“Over time there was a lot of paranoia and people left and they had a hard time attracting good replacements,” the official said. “Nobody wanted to work there.”

It was hardly a morale-boosting gesture when Trump proposed a 16% cut in CDC funding on 10 February – 11 days after the World Health Organization had declared a public health emergency over Covid-19.

Schaffner, who describes himself as the “president of the CDC fan club”, said he has been saddened by how sidelined the CDC has become over the past two months. “Here we have the public health issue of our era and one doesn’t hear from the CDC, the premier public health organization in the world,” Schaffner said.

Under Trump, anti-science sweeps through DC

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the diagnostic tests and will control any new treatments for coronavirus, has also shown vulnerabilities. The agency recently indicated that it was looking into the possibility of prescribing the malaria drug chloroquine for coronavirus sufferers, even though there is no evidence it would work and some indication it could have serious side-effects.

The decision dismayed experts, given that Trump has personally pushed the unproven remedy on a whim. It smacked of the wave of anti-science sentiment sweeping federal agencies under this presidency.

As the former senior official put it: “We have the FDA bowing to political pressure and making decisions completely counter to modern science.”

Highly respected career civil servants, with impeccable scientific credentials, have struggled to get out in front of the president. Dr Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert who has become a rare trusted face in the administration amid the coronavirus scourge, has expressed his frustration.

This week Fauci was asked by a Science magazine writer, Jon Cohen, how he could stand beside Trump at daily press briefings and listen to him misleading the American people with comments such as that the China travel ban had been a great success in blocking entry of the virus. Fauci replied: “I know, but what do you want me to do? I mean, seriously Jon, let’s get real, what do you want me to do?”

Trump has designated himself a “wartime president”. But if the title bears any validity, his military tactics have been highly unconventional. He has exacerbated the problems encountered by federal agencies by playing musical chairs at the top of the coronavirus force.

The president began by creating on 29 January a special coronavirus taskforce, then gave Vice-President Mike Pence the job, who promptly appointed Deborah Birx “coronavirus response coordinator”, before the federal emergency agency Fema began taking charge of key areas, with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, creating a shadow team that increasingly appears to be calling the shots.

“There’s no point of responsibility,” the former senior official told the Guardian. “It keeps shifting. Nobody owns the problem.”

Trump: everything’s going to be great

Amid the confusion, day-to-day management of the crisis has frequently come directly from Trump himself via his Twitter feed. The president, with more than half an eye on the New York stock exchange, has consistently talked down the scale of the crisis.

On 30 January, as the World Health Organization was declaring a global emergency, Trump said: “We only have five people. Hopefully, everything’s going to be great.”

On 24 February, Trump claimed “the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA”. The next day, Nancy Messonnier, the CDC’s top official on respiratory diseases, took the radically different approach of telling the truth, warning the American people that “disruption to everyday life might be severe”.

Trump was reportedly so angered by the comment and its impact on share prices that he shouted down the phone at Messonnier’s boss, the secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar.

“Messonnier was 100% right. She gave a totally honest and accurate assessment,” Konyndyk told the Guardian. And for that, Trump angrily rebuked her department. “That sent a very clear message about what is and isn’t permissible to say.”

Konyndyk recalls attending a meeting in mid-February with top Trump administration officials present in which the only topic of conversation was the travel bans. That’s when he began to despair about the federal handling of the crisis.

“I thought, ‘Holy Jesus!’ Where’s the discussion on protecting our hospitals? Where’s the discussion on high-risk populations, on surveillance so we can detect where the virus is. I knew then that the president had set the priority, the bureaucracy was following it, but it was the wrong priority.”

So it has transpired. In the wake of the testing disaster has come the personal protective equipment (PPE) disaster, the hospital bed disaster, and now the ventilator disaster.

Ventilators, literal life preservers, are in dire short supply across the country. When governors begged Trump to unleash the full might of the US government on this critical problem, he gave his answer on 16 March.

In a phrase that will stand beside 20 January 2020 as one of the most revelatory moments of the history of coronavirus, he said: “Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment – try getting it yourselves.”

To date, the Trump administration has supplied 400 ventilators to New York. By Cuomo’s estimation, 30,000 are needed.

“You want a pat on the back for sending 400 ventilators?” Cuomo scathingly asked on Tuesday. “You pick the 26,000 who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators.”

‘A total vacuum of federal leadership’

In the absence of a strong federal response, a patchwork of efforts has sprouted all across the country. State governors are doing their own thing. Cities, even individual hospitals, are coping as best they can.

In an improvised attempt to address such inconsistencies, charitable startups have proliferated on social media. Konyndyk has clubbed together with fellow disaster relief experts to set up Covid Local, an online “quick and dirty” guide to how to fight a pandemic.

“We are seeing the emergence of 50-state anarchy, because of a total vacuum of federal leadership. It’s absurd that thinktanks and Twitter are providing more actionable guidance in the US than the federal government, but that’s where we are.”

Valerie Griffeth is a founding member of another of the new online startups that are trying to fill the Trump void. Set up by emergency department doctors across the country, GetUsPPE.org seeks to counter the top-down chaos that is putting frontline health workers like herself in danger through a dearth of protective gear.

Griffeth is an emergency and critical care physician in Portland, Oregon. She spends most days now in intensive care treating perilously ill patients with coronavirus.

Her hospital is relatively well supplied, she said, but even so protective masks will run out within two weeks. “We are all worried about it, we’re scared for our own health, the health of our families, of our patients.”

Early on in the crisis, Griffeth said, it dawned on her and many of her peers that the federal government to which they would normally look to keep them safe was nowhere to be seen. They resigned themselves to a terrible new reality.

“We said to ourselves we are going to get exposed to the virus. When the federal government isn’t there to provide adequate supplies, it’s just a matter of time.”

But just in the last few days, Griffeth has started to see the emergence of something else. She has witnessed an explosion of Americans doing it for themselves, filling in the holes left by Trump’s failed leadership.

“People are stepping up all around us,” she said. “I’m amazed by what has happened in such short time. It gives me hope.”

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acdha
19 minutes ago
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Washington, DC
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The missing six weeks: how Trump failed the biggest test of his life

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When the definitive history of the coronavirus pandemic is written, the date 20 January 2020 is certain to feature prominently. It was on that day that a 35-year-old man in Washington state, recently returned from visiting family in Wuhan in China, became the first person in the US to be diagnosed with the virus.

On the very same day, 5,000 miles away in Asia, the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was reported in South Korea. The confluence was striking, but there the similarities ended.

In the two months since that fateful day, the responses to coronavirus displayed by the US and South Korea have been polar opposites.

One country acted swiftly and aggressively to detect and isolate the virus, and by doing so has largely contained the crisis. The other country dithered and procrastinated, became mired in chaos and confusion, was distracted by the individual whims of its leader, and is now confronted by a health emergency of daunting proportions.

Within a week of its first confirmed case, South Korea’s disease control agency had summoned 20 private companies to the medical equivalent of a war-planning summit and told them to develop a test for the virus at lightning speed. A week after that, the first diagnostic test was approved and went into battle, identifying infected individuals who could then be quarantined to halt the advance of the disease.

Some 357,896 tests later, the country has more or less won the coronavirus war. On Friday only 91 new cases were reported in a country of more than 50 million.

The US response tells a different story. Two days after the first diagnosis in Washington state, Donald Trump went on air on CNBC and bragged: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming from China. It’s going to be just fine.”

‘A fiasco of incredible proportions’

A week after that, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion article by two former top health policy officials within the Trump administration under the headline Act Now to Prevent an American Epidemic. Luciana Borio and Scott Gottlieb laid out a menu of what had to be done instantly to avert a massive health disaster.

Top of their to-do list: work with private industry to develop an “easy-to-use, rapid diagnostic test” – in other words, just what South Korea was doing.

It was not until 29 February, more than a month after the Journal article and almost six weeks after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in the country that the Trump administration put that advice into practice. Laboratories and hospitals would finally be allowed to conduct their own Covid-19 tests to speed up the process.

Those missing four to six weeks are likely to go down in the definitive history as a cautionary tale of the potentially devastating consequences of failed political leadership. Today, 86,012 cases have been confirmed across the US, pushing the nation to the top of the world’s coronavirus league table – above even China.

More than a quarter of those cases are in New York City, now a global center of the coronavirus pandemic, with New Orleans also raising alarm. Nationally, 1,301 people have died.

Most worryingly, the curve of cases continues to rise precipitously, with no sign of the plateau that has spared South Korea.

“The US response will be studied for generations as a textbook example of a disastrous, failed effort,” Ron Klain, who spearheaded the fight against Ebola in 2014, told a Georgetown university panel recently. “What’s happened in Washington has been a fiasco of incredible proportions.”

Jeremy Konyndyk, who led the US government’s response to international disasters at USAid from 2013 to 2017, frames the past six weeks in strikingly similar terms. He told the Guardian: “We are witnessing in the United States one of the greatest failures of basic governance and basic leadership in modern times.”

In Konyndyk’s analysis, the White House had all the information it needed by the end of January to act decisively. Instead, Trump repeatedly played down the severity of the threat, blaming China for what he called the “Chinese virus” and insisting falsely that his partial travel bans on China and Europe were all it would take to contain the crisis.

‘The CDC was caught flat-footed’

If Trump’s travel ban did nothing else, it staved off to some degree the advent of the virus in the US, buying a little time. Which makes the lack of decisive action all the more curious.

“We didn’t use that time optimally, especially in the case of testing,” said William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University medical center. “We have been playing reluctant catch-up throughout.”

As Schaffner sees it, the stuttering provision of mass testing “put us behind the eight-ball” right at the start. “It did not permit us, and still doesn’t permit us, to define the extent of the virus in this country.”

Though the decision to allow private and state labs to provide testing has increased the flow of test kits, the US remains starkly behind South Korea, which has conducted more than five times as many tests per capita. That makes predicting where the next hotspot will pop up after New York and New Orleans almost impossible.

In the absence of sufficient test kits, the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initially kept a tight rein on testing, creating a bottleneck. “I believe the CDC was caught flat-footed,” was how the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, put it on 7 March. “They’re slowing down the state.”

The CDC’s botched rollout of testing was the first indication that the Trump administration was faltering as the health emergency gathered pace. Behind the scenes, deep flaws in the way federal agencies had come to operate under Trump were being exposed.

In 2018 the pandemic unit in the national security council – which was tasked to prepare for health emergencies precisely like the current one – was disbanded. “Eliminating the office has contributed to the federal government’s sluggish domestic response,” Beth Cameron, senior director of the office at the time it was broken up, wrote in the Washington Post.

Disbanding the unit exacerbated a trend that was already prevalent after two years of Trump – an exodus of skilled and experienced officials who knew what they were doing. “There’s been an erosion of expertise, of competent leadership, at important levels of government,” a former senior government official told the Guardian.

“Over time there was a lot of paranoia and people left and they had a hard time attracting good replacements,” the official said. “Nobody wanted to work there.”

It was hardly a morale-boosting gesture when Trump proposed a 16% cut in CDC funding on 10 February – 11 days after the World Health Organization had declared a public health emergency over Covid-19.

Schaffner, who describes himself as the “president of the CDC fan club”, said he has been saddened by how sidelined the CDC has become over the past two months. “Here we have the public health issue of our era and one doesn’t hear from the CDC, the premier public health organization in the world,” Schaffner said.

Under Trump, anti-science sweeps through DC

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the diagnostic tests and will control any new treatments for coronavirus, has also shown vulnerabilities. The agency recently indicated that it was looking into the possibility of prescribing the malaria drug chloroquine for coronavirus sufferers, even though there is no evidence it would work and some indication it could have serious side-effects.

The decision dismayed experts, given that Trump has personally pushed the unproven remedy on a whim. It smacked of the wave of anti-science sentiment sweeping federal agencies under this presidency.

As the former senior official put it: “We have the FDA bowing to political pressure and making decisions completely counter to modern science.”

Highly respected career civil servants, with impeccable scientific credentials, have struggled to get out in front of the president. Dr Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert who has become a rare trusted face in the administration amid the coronavirus scourge, has expressed his frustration.

This week Fauci was asked by a Science magazine writer, Jon Cohen, how he could stand beside Trump at daily press briefings and listen to him misleading the American people with comments such as that the China travel ban had been a great success in blocking entry of the virus. Fauci replied: “I know, but what do you want me to do? I mean, seriously Jon, let’s get real, what do you want me to do?”

Trump has designated himself a “wartime president”. But if the title bears any validity, his military tactics have been highly unconventional. He has exacerbated the problems encountered by federal agencies by playing musical chairs at the top of the coronavirus force.

The president began by creating on 29 January a special coronavirus taskforce, then gave Vice-President Mike Pence the job, who promptly appointed Deborah Birx “coronavirus response coordinator”, before the federal emergency agency Fema began taking charge of key areas, with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, creating a shadow team that increasingly appears to be calling the shots.

“There’s no point of responsibility,” the former senior official told the Guardian. “It keeps shifting. Nobody owns the problem.”

Trump: everything’s going to be great

Amid the confusion, day-to-day management of the crisis has frequently come directly from Trump himself via his Twitter feed. The president, with more than half an eye on the New York stock exchange, has consistently talked down the scale of the crisis.

On 30 January, as the World Health Organization was declaring a global emergency, Trump said: “We only have five people. Hopefully, everything’s going to be great.”

On 24 February, Trump claimed “the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA”. The next day, Nancy Messonnier, the CDC’s top official on respiratory diseases, took the radically different approach of telling the truth, warning the American people that “disruption to everyday life might be severe”.

Trump was reportedly so angered by the comment and its impact on share prices that he shouted down the phone at Messonnier’s boss, the secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar.

“Messonnier was 100% right. She gave a totally honest and accurate assessment,” Konyndyk told the Guardian. And for that, Trump angrily rebuked her department. “That sent a very clear message about what is and isn’t permissible to say.”

Konyndyk recalls attending a meeting in mid-February with top Trump administration officials present in which the only topic of conversation was the travel bans. That’s when he began to despair about the federal handling of the crisis.

“I thought, ‘Holy Jesus!’ Where’s the discussion on protecting our hospitals? Where’s the discussion on high-risk populations, on surveillance so we can detect where the virus is. I knew then that the president had set the priority, the bureaucracy was following it, but it was the wrong priority.”

So it has transpired. In the wake of the testing disaster has come the personal protective equipment (PPE) disaster, the hospital bed disaster, and now the ventilator disaster.

Ventilators, literal life preservers, are in dire short supply across the country. When governors begged Trump to unleash the full might of the US government on this critical problem, he gave his answer on 16 March.

In a phrase that will stand beside 20 January 2020 as one of the most revelatory moments of the history of coronavirus, he said: “Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment – try getting it yourselves.”

To date, the Trump administration has supplied 400 ventilators to New York. By Cuomo’s estimation, 30,000 are needed.

“You want a pat on the back for sending 400 ventilators?” Cuomo scathingly asked on Tuesday. “You pick the 26,000 who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators.”

‘A total vacuum of federal leadership’

In the absence of a strong federal response, a patchwork of efforts has sprouted all across the country. State governors are doing their own thing. Cities, even individual hospitals, are coping as best they can.

In an improvised attempt to address such inconsistencies, charitable startups have proliferated on social media. Konyndyk has clubbed together with fellow disaster relief experts to set up Covid Local, an online “quick and dirty” guide to how to fight a pandemic.

“We are seeing the emergence of 50-state anarchy, because of a total vacuum of federal leadership. It’s absurd that thinktanks and Twitter are providing more actionable guidance in the US than the federal government, but that’s where we are.”

Valerie Griffeth is a founding member of another of the new online startups that are trying to fill the Trump void. Set up by emergency department doctors across the country, GetUsPPE.org seeks to counter the top-down chaos that is putting frontline health workers like herself in danger through a dearth of protective gear.

Griffeth is an emergency and critical care physician in Portland, Oregon. She spends most days now in intensive care treating perilously ill patients with coronavirus.

Her hospital is relatively well supplied, she said, but even so protective masks will run out within two weeks. “We are all worried about it, we’re scared for our own health, the health of our families, of our patients.”

Early on in the crisis, Griffeth said, it dawned on her and many of her peers that the federal government to which they would normally look to keep them safe was nowhere to be seen. They resigned themselves to a terrible new reality.

“We said to ourselves we are going to get exposed to the virus. When the federal government isn’t there to provide adequate supplies, it’s just a matter of time.”

But just in the last few days, Griffeth has started to see the emergence of something else. She has witnessed an explosion of Americans doing it for themselves, filling in the holes left by Trump’s failed leadership.

“People are stepping up all around us,” she said. “I’m amazed by what has happened in such short time. It gives me hope.”

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acdha
19 minutes ago
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Washington, DC
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Ron DeSantis Previews the Trumpist Line on Who's to Blame for COVID-19

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The future is Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) of Florida. Today the governor who resolutely refused to close the state’s beaches or much of any of its commerce while the coronavirus spread like wildfire across the country has now decided to blame New York and New Yorkers. De Santis was the first to order anyone arriving from New York City area airports to enter a 14 day quarantine. That was on Monday. He told reporters he was pursuing the travel ban approach rather than a statewide lockdown because, he claimed, the crisis in New York proved lockdowns don’t work.

Desantis looks like the spur to the White House’s announcement late last week that New Yorkers traveling to any other parts of the country should be self-quarantining. According to the Post, a conversation with DeSantis this morning was behind the President Trump saying he’s “considering” a quarantine of the New York metro region. (This evening Trump opted instead for a “strong travel advisory”.)

The effort to keep New Yorkers out of the state is at least understandable. I think I can say that with some standing since it would apply to me. For the moment New York is the most concentrated hotspot in the country. The fear and the reality are understandable.The Democratic Governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, yesterday announced plans to bar entry to cars with New York license plates and do house to house searches for fleeing New Yorkers. I’ll leave the constitutionality of such an effort to others. I think public authorities are entitled to wide latitude during epidemic health emergencies. The question is whether it’s an effective use of resources. In a press conference today DeSantis made a great ballyhoo about how a COVID-19-positive traveler from New York was intercepted at an airport checkpoint yesterday in Jacksonville.

The particulars of that story, if DeSantis’s account is accurate, are pretty egregious. But it comes after a twenty-four hour period when Florida’s COVID-19 positive case count went up by about a thousand, a 36% increase in one day. The virus is clearly deeply seeded in the state and growing exponentially on the ground. A few sick and scared New Yorkers certainly won’t help; but they are hardly the threat the state faces.

The heart of the issue is the tightly wrapped connection between incompetence, leadership failure and scapegoating. This is neither anomaly or paradox. It is the norm. Gov. Raimondo’s plan to search homes for New Yorkers seems more a product of panic and rash thinking. DeSantis’s gambit seems more political and forward looking, a fact underlined by the interplay between his and the President’s statements on a regional quarantine. Just as President Trump now blames China for hiding from him the escalating threat he ignored and denied for eight weeks DeSantis now seeks to shift blame for his failure to take the most basic preventative actions onto fleeing New Yorkers.

You can see at a distance the evolving political narrative. The sorrows that befall Florida and soon other red states will be blamed on the symbolic capital of deracinated liberalism, New York city, with its immigrants, bad values and dirty ways.

The kind of grievance politics which created Donald Trump and which he embodies and champions can only understand or confront challenge through the prism of grievance, blame and betrayal. This storyline, the groundwork for which has been laid for years, is rapidly coming into view for how the American right will explain the crisis of COVID-19.

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acdha
22 minutes ago
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Denialism as an ethos

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Krugman is worth reading on why COVID-19 denial has dominated the Republican Party even though it’s not even in the self-interest of the party’s most powerful forces. (As Justin Wolfers puts it, the problem with framing the question as “the economy” vs. “aggressive containment measures” is that “Without faith that you aren’t going to die when you interact with others, you don’t have an economy.”) The key problem is that at a certain point bad faith becomes the way you approach the world, not something that can be turned on and off like a tap:

First, when you have a political movement almost entirely built around assertions than any expert can tell you are false, you have to cultivate an attitude of disdain toward expertise, one that spills over into everything. Once you dismiss people who look at evidence on the effects of tax cuts and the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, you’re already primed to dismiss people who look at evidence on disease transmission.

This also helps explain the centrality of science-hating religious conservatives to modern conservatism, which has played an important role in Trump’s failure to respond.

Second, conservatives do hold one true belief: namely, that there is a kind of halo effect around successful government policies. If public intervention can be effective in one area, they fear — probably rightly — that voters might look more favorably on government intervention in other areas. In principle, public health measures to limit the spread of coronavirus needn’t have much implication for the future of social programs like Medicaid. In practice, the first tends to increase support for the second.

As a result, the right often opposes government interventions even when they clearly serve the public good and have nothing to do with redistributing income, simply because they don’t want voters to see government doing anything well.

Precisely. Fully Republican-controlled states have rejected the as-rewritten-by-John-Roberts Medicaid expansion not because it’s unpopular and doesn’t work, but because it’s popular and works. It’s a deeply revolting worldview, but it doesn’t suddenly vanish during a pandemic.

And, of course, the next step is scapegoating:

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fxer
28 minutes ago
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> “the problem with framing the question as “the economy” vs. “aggressive containment measures” is that “Without faith that you aren’t going to die when you interact with others, you don’t have an economy.”
Bend, Oregon
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Now Is the Perfect Time to Lower the Parenting Bar

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Photo: Carol Yepes/Getty Images

I’ve worked from home since 2009 when the economy collapsed and my kids were only 3 and 5. Let’s just say this is the kind of déjà vu I do not enjoy. But now is the perfect moment to pause and send up a prayer of gratitude to your God, your Antichrist, or at the very least your boss, to be thankful you have the option to earn money while inside your house. For those of us who find ourselves in this fortunate (and yet still potentially hellish) position, this is what I can tell you: I know panic, I know what it’s like to try to figure out your universe from scratch, and here’s another thing I know — you can do this. You just aren’t going to do it well. But that’s okay, none of us are.

Staring down the barrel of weeks if not months with my kids out of school while I both work and write a book, I’m tempted to tell them to do what I did when I was a teenager: Take up smoking and head into the woods to hit things with sticks, be back in time for a dinner of Minute Rice and butter in front of the TV around 6. Although those are not the times we’re currently living in (and also a fantastic way to get me arrested), there’s one thing we can all take away from the benevolently negligent heroes who raised Gen X:

Set the bar low.

Lower.

Keep going.

Right there.

Hello, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic with a global workforce with kids who’ve been raised to communicate with their friends via 15-second videos posted on global platforms. This isn’t a situation that lends itself to instantaneous platinum level Little House on the Prairie–ing.

Now is the time to embrace what work-from-home parents learned long ago — it’s not about winning; it’s about striving for the bronze. This is a perfect time to finally recognize how much you’ve been trained to perform parenting. To design a cozy little reading nook so your Instagram followers can see it and grudgingly approve. To bake your vegan muffins (and take a photo) or pack your kids’ bento boxes (and take a photo) or set out art supplies in a scattered but not too scattered way, if you catch my drift (and then definitely take a photo). To head into the woods and make flower crowns or whatever the fuck it is you’ve been doing out there. Give. It. All. Up. It’s time to take this parade float and strip it down to four wheels, a floor, and a functioning steering wheel. It’s time to be basic.

I homeschooled one of my kids for a year, and let me tell you something, I feel your Big Color Coded Schedule Energy. Mine lasted for all of 20 minutes and a single Facebook post. I think I had seen too many teachers-as-heroes movies because I fully expected my first-grader to prop his adorable chin on his adorable hands and soften his eyes at me as if to say, “Mama, tell me more about the food pyramid. You are wise and what am I even here for if not to learn?” That is … not what happened. Instead, on day one, he threw his head back and sighed to the ceiling like he couldn’t believe this was happening. He was being taken out of public school for this shit?

Depending on your kid’s age, the support their school is able to provide, and what your kid can reasonably tolerate or do on their own, make a basic, uncomplicated schedule you all can follow (because it’s not just their schedule now, it’s yours, too). Base it on when your kid typically has good focus or energy versus when they’re typically exhausted or riled up. Gang up hard-to-focus-on subjects during times when they’re at their best. Don’t disrupt those golden stretches with physical activity or screen time. You need those in your back pocket for when things get difficult. Kick dealer’s choice screen time as far down the schedule as you can. That’s Miller Time. Bottom line: You are not a real school. No one expects you to be a real school. The best you can aim for is your kid having something somewhat educational or interesting to do on the days you work. My homeschool “days” were more like a few hours. I repeat: This is not real school. You can’t replicate a real school. Stop trying.

The most crucial items on that schedule are activities that seem extremely duh but are absolutely critical and somehow also easy to blow off, at least for you. It took me an embarrassingly long time — years — to realize that while I would make sure my kids were fed or they went outside to play, I would be having coffee for meals while hunched over my screen for hours on end like a pale marketing witch. Then, not at all surprisingly, I’d completely blow my stack at my kids by 11 a.m. if not much, much sooner. To update that sage newborn advice about sleeping — eat when they eat, drink when they drink, open the windows and inhale fresh air when they do. Eating can be a snack, a drink can be water, outside time can be walking the dog (as long as you stay far away from others when you venture out). You might think you can’t afford the time to do those three things, but I’m here to tell you, you can’t afford not to.

If you take away nothing else about working from home (with or without kids) let it be this — your brain really needs breaks to work well. I had intense full-time jobs since I graduated from college — 17 years straight — before I was laid off in 2009. On my first unemployed morning, I went for a walk after dropping one kid off at kindergarten and the other at the preschool we had already paid for that month. I didn’t know it then, but that would be the last glimpse I’d ever have at a life structured around a full-time job. I felt completely unmoored from routine and blinked into the sun as if I had forgotten what it was for. We learn over time to feel like we must be in front of a screen grinding and grinding and grinding in order to do our jobs well. But that is bullshit.

We don’t realize that office jobs actually have some breaks built in, even if they don’t feel like breaks. A co-worker swings by to chat, you run out to pick up lunch, even meetings take you away (for better or worse) from having a sustained focus. When we’re home we try to replicate what we believe is the nonstop focus we have at work (again: we don’t) and wonder why it doesn’t, well, work. It’s because it’s impossible and bad. So instead of thinking of helping your kids or making them a snack as taking time away from your own work-related tasks, recognize these moments as brief breaks that will allow your brain to reset, and will ultimately make your work time a bit more productive once you get back to it. (Sometimes. No guarantees.)

Anyone who has a screen-sensitive kid — one that makes you weigh, “Is having them occupied and quiet for three hours straight worth the one to 1.5 hours of nuclear behavioral fallout that will follow?” — feels this particular dilemma hard. Only you can determine what’s right for both your kid and the emotional dead place you’ll need to retreat to when it all goes to shit. My vote is for pulling out screens when (1) things are so hopelessly off the rails that everyone could benefit from some family-member distancing, and (2) you are about to be on a call so important that hellfire will rain down upon everyone’s heads if your kids interrupt or are otherwise out of control in the background.

Be realistic about how easy (or not) it is to wrap up screen time. Some kids can be told a time when screens will be done and at that allotted time they’ll shrug and go do something else. Other kids will implode and trash the place like Keith Richards at the tender age of 105 once the iPad is removed from their sweaty little grips. If it’s the latter, consider waiting until later in the afternoon when you have long since passed the I Give a Shit How Today Goes stage.

Unlike everyone who’s been working from home all along and has been straining valiantly to appear like everything is very professional and extremely chill, you’re benefiting from a time when so many others are experiencing more or less the same level of disruption. Everyone has kids peeking in on their video calls. Everyone’s dogs are barking maniacally in the background. That’s why we have those microphone off, camera off buttons. Look, we all know what’s up. We all know work is going to suffer and parenting is going to suffer and we are going to suffer, too. There is no award ceremony at the end of this. Unlike the running joke that every working parent, single parent, or stay-at-home parent has uttered at some point, that “everyone was alive” at the end of the day, that is actually the real job we all have right now. Trying to keep people alive. Even people we don’t know and can’t see, at the end of the day, every day, until this thing is done.

Godspeed.

Please note the story you’re reading was published more than a day ago. COVID-19 news and recommendations change fast: Read the latest here to stay up-to-date. We’ve lifted our paywall on all essential news and updates about the coronavirus.

Now Is the Perfect Time to Lower the Parenting Bar

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acdha
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Washington, DC
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57 Things to Do With Friends While Social Distancing Beyond 'Catching Up'

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It looks like social distancing isn’t going away any time soon. While this is good for our physical health and strained healthcare system, it’s not great for folks who are desperate for their daily dose of social connections, or anyone who is feeling really lonely during quarantine. To get through this, we’re going to have to get creative.

With that in mind, we put together a mega list of ways to connect right now—to keep boredom and isolation at bay, and to bring levity and exuberance to an incredibly dark time. Unless otherwise specified, all the activities on this list are intended to be done virtually via your video call software of choice—FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Slack, Skype, Signal, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc.

By the way, if any of these hangouts go well, consider making them recurring events. Not only is it logistically easier, but it’s also a great way to combat loneliness and general COVID despair. When you’re feeling lonely and sad, having social engagements to look forward to helps a lot, and interacting with people regularly is a really good way to make friends (or deepen existing relationships).

  1. Set an alarm to remind you to do a daily vibe check in your group chats. (Bonus points if everyone shares a photo.)
  2. Get creative with your regular friend group check-ins. The Life team at VICE has been doing a daily laugh check (where everyone shares what’s funny to them right now) and a roommate check (everyone just shares what’s new with their roommates, whether it’s good or bad).
  3. Invite your friend group to start creating lo-fi vlogs for each other. (Think: skincare routine, “get ready with me,” house tour, etc.)
  4. Do a morning WFHOOTD (work from home outfit of the day) photo call-out in your group chat.
  5. Try Marco Polo, a surprisingly charming asynchronous video chat app that is far better than Facebook or Instagram for video DMs. (It’s a particularly good one for families!)
  6. Use Netflixparty to watch movies or shows together.
  7. Chat and play simple party games remotely using Houseparty.
  8. Try Instagram’s new ‘co-watching’ feature or try Squad, an app that lets you screenshare whatever is on your phone.
  9. Make a TikTok account if you haven’t already (you can keep it private!), and ask your friends to do so as well—it’s a really fun and easy way to make and share weird shit.
  10. Get your friend group to start sending weekly email “newsletters” to each other. (Keep it simple/doable with a format like “Things I read, watched, listened to, ate, laughed about, photographed, and loved” and bulleted lists.)
  11. Expand your network in some way; find a Facebook group or Reddit community for people in your profession, from your hometown, who share a common interest of yours, etc.
  12. Video chat with a friend while you both meal prep for the week ahead.
  13. Start a Slack or email listserv with your neighbors.
  14. Join choreographer Ryan Heffington’s Instagram Live dance parties.
  15. Or host your own dance party with friends by video chat.
  16. Challenge a friend or family member to a dance contest; record a video of yourself doing a dance, then send it to them to replicate and send video back to you.
  17. Or just learn the same TikTok dances and show them off to each other.
  18. Send dumb Cameos from your favorite microlebrities to each other; the custom videos run as low as $25, and are nice for a special occasion (think: sending a birthday message from their favorite reality show castmember).
  19. Take inspiration from this woman and create ridiculous mini set pieces for your video calls or to otherwise entertain your friends.
  20. Start a chill group blog that everyone can contribute to, à la Indoor Voices.
  21. Get it on an existing virtual trivia league (like this one or this one).
  22. Or host your own trivia night for like-minded nerdy pals.
  23. Organize a remote game night; this spreadsheet has a bunch of good games for multiple players.
  24. Put together outfits in Photoshop for hypothetical future social scenarios and show them off to each other. It's like digital paper dolls.
  25. Arrange a knitting circle.
  26. Do a weekly DIY challenge with other creative folks where you choose a theme and then make a project or craft using only the supplies you have on hand.
  27. Or do an art challenge where everyone creates a drawing or painting inspired by the same topic and then shows it off. (The topic can be silly and the art definitely does not need to be good.)
  28. Start a recipe club where everyone utilizes the same ingredient (probably beans) or cooks the same recipe and then shares photos and/or eats together.
  29. Set up a remote lunch hangout with coworkers, aka eat your WFH lunch together and chat like you would have in the office.
  30. Host a long-distance dinner party; each participant should cook their fanciest quarantine meal, set the table (with a laptop across from their spot), dress up, light candles, pour a glass of wine, etc.
  31. Host a drink, talk, and learn party, where everyone comes with a three minute PowerPoint presentation about a random topic.
  32. Make theme days a part of your group chat/hangouts. Now is a great time to start participating in Wig Wednesdays.
  33. Start a good old-fashioned book club.
  34. Or do an article club, podcast club, or documentary club.
  35. Get everyone in the group chat to create Memojis—which are, frankly, hilariously terrible—of each other.
  36. “Tour” a museum (like MoMa, Tate Britain, or the Musée d’Orsay) together from home while sharing your screen.
  37. Invite folks to join you in a daily photo challenge for the next two weeks. (There are tons of super simple prompts–like this—on Pinterest.)
  38. FaceTime with a friend while you do an at-home yoga or workout session together.
  39. Start “planning” the big group trip you’ve been meaning to take for years. (Obviously this can’t be pegged to a date, but you can still make a doc of specific places you want to go and stay, as well as general times of year you can agree upon.)
  40. Prepare lip syncs of iconic scenes in the style of Bowen Yang for each other.
  41. Plan an activity/hangout inspired by your favorite reality competition shows (think: Bake-Off, Project Runway, Chopped).
  42. Utilize software like iCloud, Dropbox, or Google Drive to share photos and videos within a friend group. This might look like a photo stream for pets, breakfast, outfits, etc. where people can easily view and comment, or creating a photo album of you and your friends, or uploading photos of a time in your life they weren’t a part of—so they can see your sibling’s new baby or your best college or childhood pics.
  43. Set up a standing 20 minute coffee break with a friend every morning at 11 or every afternoon at 3. (Time-boxing will keep it from feeling overwhelming or cutting into your workday.)
  44. Give any of the above hangouts a theme and invite everyone to come in dressed and/or with props. (Some ideas: Margaritaville, black tie, YouTube makeup, Animal Crossing.)
  45. Attend Digital Drag Fest events “together.”
  46. Or create your own quarantine drag fest and invite everyone to go all out with whatever they have at home.
  47. Do Self-Care Sundays with a close friend—put on a mask and talk while you soak in the tub.
  48. Write real physical letters to folks who just aren’t into texting. (FYI, even if you had an outside risk of having been exposed to COVID-19, it only survives for 24 hours on porous surfaces like paper; if the recipient is really worried, they can “quarantine” the letter for 24 hours after the mail carrier would have touched it before opening.)
  49. Or get a pen pal. (Check out Worldwide Snail Mail Pen Pals, PenPal World, Letters to Elders, and Write a Prisoner to find someone to connect with.)
  50. Set aside time each day to make a couple 20-minute phone calls.
  51. And block out an hour each week for sending/responding to emails with friends.
  52. Start sending people voice memos, a wildly underrated communication tool.
  53. Play video games together while talking on the phone.
  54. If staying in touch with family is feeling overwhelming, start sending a weekly email—sort of like those end-of-year Christmas card letters—instead.
  55. Or “assign” yourself one thing (your dinner, something you read, a funny meme, etc.) that you’ll share with your parents and siblings each day as a low-level check-in.
  56. Send people whatever postcards or greeting cards you have lying around. (It doesn’t matter if they are seasonally inappropriate!!!)
  57. And if you’re feeling sentimental, do the 36 questions that lead to love with someone you care about.

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Rachel Miller is the author of The Art of Showing Up: How to Be There for Yourself and Your People, coming May 2020. Follow her on Twitter.



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InShaneee
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The fantastic fantasy miniatures game, Frostgrave, is currently free!

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Osprey Games has made the PDF version of their popular game, Frostgrave, free in a gesture of support for self-isolating gamers who might be interested in the award-winning skirmish-level fantasy miniatures game.

Frostgrave is normally a two-player game of wizards and their warbands duking it out over treasure and other spoils in the ruins of the frozen city of Frostgrave. But there have been some solo adventures in the Dark Alchemy supplement and the recent Perilous Dark supplement. As part of their shut-in bundle, Osprey is also giving away Dark Alchemy for free, along with the three solo scenarios from Perilous Dark. You use the code FGV2020 on check-out to get the free deal.

Frostgrave is one of my favorite tabletop miniature games and I can't say enough good things about it. I've never played solo, but I became tempted when Perilous Dark was released. Now that we're all trapped in our wizard's towers, under siege from tiny, glowing invisible monsters, it seems like a good time to give solo Frostgrave a roll. I've got an Explosive Rune spell with "COVID-19" written all over it.

Here's a bit more about the free PDF deal from Frostgrave's creator, Joseph McCullough.

Image: Cover art for Frostgrave: The Wizard's Conclave

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InShaneee
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99-year-old West Vancouver man recovers from COVID-19 in retirement home

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Reuben Huva

A 99-year-old West Vancouver man who tested positive for COVID-19 has recovered completely and is back to his "cheerful old self," his daughter says.

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dreadhead
2 hours ago
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Vancouver Island, Canada
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