On today's BradCast: President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are ramping up efforts to pretend, lie and try to distract their way out of the coronavirus crisis in advance of their re-election rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Saturday. The virus doesn't care. As our guest today notes, "the virus is non-partisan." [Audio link to full, must-listen show is posted below.]
Even as COVID-19 cases are spiking around the country --- including in OK, where new cases surged 68% in the second week of June and where Tulsa's top health official and major newspaper are both begging Trump to call off this Saturday's planned campaign rally --- both men are now lying about both the growth in infections and in hospitalizations since states have begun reopening for business over the past several weeks.
They are both falsely explaining away the rise in confirmed infections in more than a dozen states as due to increased testing. It isn't. What epidemiologists are worried about is the rise in the percentage rate of positives tests, no matter the increase or decrease in the number of tests performed and about rising hospitalization rates, which are the best indicator of the increasing virulence of the pandemic in various parts of the country.
Pence reportedly instructed Governors, during a phone call on Monday, to lie about both matters, stating "the magnitude of increase in testing" explains the rise in positive cases and that increased hospitalizations are only because "people are going back to hospitals and elective surgery." But hospitalizations for elective procedures are decidedly not what infectious disease specialists are worried about, nor are they included in the spiking and often record rates of hospitalizations being seen right now for COVID-19 infections.
As we have been explaining on the show in recent days, as rates rise in Texas and Florida and Arizona (all three hit records for single day increases today) and elsewhere since Governors in those states prematurely reopened and are now seeing skyrocketing rates of illness since doing so, there is still no treatment, no cure, and no vaccine for the coronavirus. Lifting lock-down orders, failing to wear masks, and ignoring social distancing as many have now done, is little different than had we all done so in March and April as the virus first emerged.
In fact, as one of the very conservative COVID models --- one cited by the White House --- was adjusted today to predict more than 200,000 deaths in the U.S. by the first of October, our guest today explains why she believes "we are in a worse situation now" than we were back in March and April.
"We have a lot of infectious people in the community that we didn't have earlier on," notes DR. PURNIMA MADHIVANAN, infectious disease epidemiologist and Associate Professor at the University of Arizona's Zuckerman College of Public Health. "I would say it's Phase 2 in that regard. We have a lot more people who are infectious, who are shedding the virus, than when we had started earlier on."
Describing ICU beds, particularly in Phoenix, at near-capacity rates just one month after reopening, Madhivanan, Director of her school's Global Health Training Program, says the state of Arizona is in "crisis mode. We need to be doing something, like, yesterday." That, as Republican Governor Doug Ducey --- who abruptly announced reopening plans early last month on the same day as a visit to the state by Donald Trump --- continues to downplay the state's worsening predicament, despite a 76% increase in cases since the end of May and records of new cases and hospitalizations being consistently topped in recent days.
Madhivanan tells me she sees the state running out of ICU space within a week. "We have a crisis situation right here in Phoenix. And if [Ducey] were smart, he would close off the borders to Phoenix yesterday." This is not a so-called "second wave," she cautions. "We haven't even peaked with the first wave yet. We are number 42 among all states in terms of testing rates. So we haven't even gotten to the level where we can say our testing rates are good. And we've not even mentioned contact tracing yet. That's practically non-existent, and a huge concern."
It didn't have to be this way, Madhivanan explains, but for Ducey's abrupt reversal in early May. "What we had actually projected and predicted was we would get to the peak around the end of June, if everything had gone the way we had predicted with all the physical distancing in place, stay-at-home orders. But when the stay-at-home orders were not followed through, that peak came much, much earlier, and we are still continuing up on that wave. We have not come down yet."
This is an important, must-listen, detailed conversation which extends well beyond Arizona. I couldn't even begin to adequately summarize it here. We discuss the denialists and claims from mostly non-epidemiologists and ideologists who charge that lock-downs have made the situation worse, asserting that allowing for "herd immunity" to develop would have been a smarter strategy. She details why she strongly disagrees, explaining that it would have taken years and resulted in exponentially more deaths, in the millions, here in the U.S. Madhivanan further says containment, unlike during the SARS crisis of 2003-2004, became impossible "because we have an uncoordinated and poorly managed COVID response" at the federal level.
That means the only option left is shutdowns, mask wearing (which, she argues, makes a huge difference in mitigating spread of the virus), hand-washing and physical distancing. But, she laments, there is now very little, if any, of that being done in her state. Ducey has never mandated masking, for example, even as "masks are our lowest-hanging fruit and one of the most economical interventions. If all of us did it, we can dramatically bring down the number of infections."
She warns things are going to get much worse before they get better anytime soon. "If we had used the period of the shutdown to put comprehensive testing and tracing protocols in place, this investment would have paid off in the long run. But we failed to do that. So we only delayed the day of reckoning for us."
"At some point people need to start believing in science, is all I can say. We have the data, we have the evidence, and the science is pretty clear about this. We were not ready and we should not have opened," Madhivanan insists.
Finally, after a bit more news on the 28 states in the U.S. where infection rates are decidedly NOT falling, no matter how hard the Administration and his supporters are still trying to pretend it all away, we've got a bit of breaking news that came just before air time on Donald Trump hoping to sue John Bolton's upcoming new book away.
Then, Desi Doyen joins us for the latest Green News Report. That, of course, as usual, includes nothing but lots of much-needed sunshine and flowers! (Hey, if Trump and Pence can lie about absolutely everything, we can too, right?)
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)