On today's BradCast: Rural America is under siege from the coronavirus, as the Mayor of one of the hardest hit small towns in the nation joins us to explain how they are coping with the massive outbreak and an unprecedented lockdown barring all traffic into the town. [Audio link to full show is posted at the end of this summary.]
Vice President Mike Pence announced today that the White House Coronavirus Task Force may be disbanded within the month, due to the "tremendous progress we've made as a country." Actual reality, however --- as represented by statistics, health experts and scientists --- suggests otherwise. For example, a new analysis from Associated Press today finds that, with the New York metro area removed from the statistics, the rate of both infections and deaths across the country are increasing, not decreasing. Another study from the Kaiser Family Foundation also finds that infection and death rates, particularly in rural areas, are spiking. Infection numbers are up in recent days by 115% and the COVID death rate has jumped 169% in rural areas, with many of the worst outbreaks occurring in states where Republican Governors are now foolishly relaxing stay-at-home restrictions and allowing business to reopen prematurely. The increasing numbers are in line with private calculations from the CDC and FEMA obtained yesterday by the New York Times.
Despite all of that, Donald Trump declared today that "It's time to open it up. ... Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open." Opening the country prematurely is likely to costs tens of thousands of lives, but Trump has a re-election to worry about, after all.
Right now, one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the nation is happening in Gallup, New Mexico, in the rural western part of the state bordering the Navajo Nation, the country's largest Indian reservation. "As of Sunday," the Times reports today, "the Navajo Nation had reported a total of 2,373 cases and 73 confirmed deaths from the virus." The infection rate in the area is the third-highest of any metropolitan area in the U.S., following only New York City and Marion, Ohio, where there is a mass outbreaks in a large prison cluster. Over the weekend, Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham invoked, for the first time in state history, the state's Riot Control Act. That has locked down the entire city, including the closure of all roads leading in to the town of 22,000 where the virus, she said "is running amok".
We're joined today by Gallup's MAYOR LOUIE BONAGUIDI, who was sworn into office just five days ago. When I joked about his trial by fire upon becoming Mayor, he quipped: "In fact, the Governor called me and said, 'Congratulations on your win. But, then again, I have to tell you we're locking down your city.'" Nonetheless, Bonaguidi, as well as former Mayor Jackie McKinney and Navajo Nation tribal President Jonathan Nez, all support the extreme measure that includes city, state and county police as well as National Guardsman blocking exits off the freeway and smaller roads into the town from the Navajo Nation, where, on the first of the month, thousands flood into the city for supplies.
"We had to do something," he tells me, in explaining the reasons for the "drastic" action. "The numbers are unbelievable. Between thirty and fifty thousand people come into the community. That's a major influx. We're thinking to ourselves, well, if the virus is here, then they're going to be taking it home to their families. So that's one of the reasons we thought maybe we'd better do it now. We'd better stop it on the first of the month when all of these people are coming into the community."
Bonaguidi says, however, that the community has been very supportive of the roadblocks, bringing drinks, water and food to the officers. A lack of water, however, is perhaps one of the reasons for the outbreak in McKinney County that, by itself, accounts for 30% of the state's infections. Much of the tribal reservation still lacks running water --- a new waterline is under construction, but will take years to be completed --- so careful hygiene amid the epidemic is not easy for many in the Native American community.
The Mayor explains that their two local hospitals are now at capacity and a local high school was converted into a hospital with the help of the U.S. Corps of Engineers. They do not have enough masks or sanitizer, he tells me, and the slow pace of receiving test results has made things much more difficult. "The sad part about it is the tests take so long. They take two, two-and-a-half days before they get back to you whether you're positive or negative. If the tests were quicker, we could get a handle on this virus. But it really makes it rough when you have to wait that long. ... I understand there are faster tests coming out, but we definitely have not been able to get enough of them. There are 70,000 people in the county, and they've basically only tested about 6,000 at this point."
Bonaguidi cautions that many in his community and others around the state and country are not taking the threat seriously enough. "We're doing everything we can. And the Governor has gone way out of her way for us here. It's too bad we had to be as drastic as we are. But, if anything, it's going to get the awareness out to the rest of the communities --- rural, for that matter --- that it's a serious situation, and we've got to address it."
When I ask what, if anything, the rest of us in the country can do to help, he told me: "We're all in this together. The whole world is fighting a virus, and there's just so little known about it. We're doing whatever we can to curb it, to stop it. I guess we can ask for your prayers, if anything."
UPDATE 5/6/2020: The Mayor's office sent along these link to groups that are helping the residents of Gallup and McKinley County right now and welcome your support!...• The Community Pantry: Making sure families in McKinley and Cibola Counties are getting food, with on-site pick up and deliveries.
• Life is Sacred (arm of the Knights of Columbus): Donations here go toward food boxes that are delivered across neighboring reservations.
• Southwest Indian Foundation: Donations support the purchase of clothing, water barrels, school supplies, masks, cleaning supplies and more.
Also on today's program: Apparently Trump is really really REALLY upset by a new :60 second ad called "Mourning in America" from The Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump Republicans touting his disastrous and deadly failures in response to the crisis. And the USDA finally invokes their 1930s-era authority that allows for food purchases to help both farmers and people in need after millions of tons of fresh food and milk has been dumped by food producers unable to sell it to schools, restaurants and other facilities that have been shut down due to the crisis.
While that bailout actually helps both the industry and regular Americans in desperate need of food, the Administration's secretive big bailout for Big Oil is another matter all together, as Desi Doyen reports in our latest Green News Report to close out today's show...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)