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🤮 Coronavirus (Community Thread)

More from Dr. Fauci…and he’s right in their face with this. But he has too much integrity to ever stoop to considering leaving his position. He knows he’s the expert and America is relying on him. T’s hamfisted, highly politicized handling of the Coronavirus left the rest of the country flat footed, and Fauci stays because he knows he is essential to our future health.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci demanded that the Trump campaign refrain from using him in future campaign ads, saying Monday that it would be “outrageous” and “terrible” if he was featured in another commercial and it could “come back to backfire” on Team Trump.

Asked by The Daily Beast if his comments were a thinly-veiled threat to leave his post if he ended up in a new campaign spot, Fauci: “Not a chance.”

Not in my wildest freakin’ dreams,” he said, “did I ever think about quitting.

From there, Fauci went on to explain what he meant by “backfire.”

“By doing this against my will they are, in effect, harassing me,” Fauci said. “Since campaign ads are about getting votes, their harassment of me might have the opposite effect of turning some voters off.”

Fauci comments underscore the heightened level of tension that has erupted between the White House and the president’s COVID task force as the election comes to a dramatic close and with COVID infections spiking across the country.


A 25-year-old man becomes first in the U.S. to contract coronavirus twice, with second infection ‘more severe’

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NYTimes: Coronavirus Reinfections Are Real but Very, Very Rare


Normally I would say “you can’t make this up”, except, well, they did.

White House Cites Herd-Immunity Petition Signed by Fake Experts Including ‘Dr. Johnny Bananas’

The White House has reportedly embraced a declaration by a group of scientists arguing for a “herd immunity” strategy to deal with America’s coronavirus pandemic—days after the validity of the declaration came under question due to a number of apparently fake names among its expert signatories, including “Dr. Johnny Bananas.” According to The New York Times , on a call convened Monday by the White House, two anonymous administration officials cited the petition, titled The Great Barrington Declaration, which argues that COVID-19 should be allowed to spread through the population. The declaration’s website claims the petition has been signed by more than 15,000 scientists, but, last week, Sky News found dozens of fake names on the list of medical signatories, including Dr. I.P. Freely, Dr. Person Fakename, and Dr. Johnny Bananas.


Is Bill Barr truly missing if nobody misses him?


And when you add in this administration’s “Herd Immunity” adherence, it is even more frightening. Most people do not die, BUT the ‘wild card’ aspect to it, it some suffer and die
in greater rates than the average flu incident, and depending on comorbidities Just

During this pandemic, people in the United States are currently dying at rates unparalleled elsewhere in the world.

A new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that over the last 5 months per capita deaths in the U.S., both from COVID-19 and other causes have been far greater than in 18 other high-income countries.

“It’s shocking. It’s horrible,” says Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, a professor of health policy and medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the authors of the study.

“The United States really has done remarkably badly compared to other countries,” he says and then adds, “I mean, remarkably badly.”

The study looks at per capita death rates in 2020 in 18 countries with populations larger than 5 million people and per capita gross domestic product levels above $25,000 per year. It breaks out deaths attributed to COVID-19, but also examines how total deaths in the U.S. are higher than normal this year. This so-called “all-cause” mortality takes in to account fatalities that may have been due to the coronavirus but were never confirmed or were due to other factors such as people not seeking medical care during the crisis.

Overall deaths in the United States this year are more than 85% higher than in places such as Germany, Israel and Denmark after adjusting for population size. Deaths in the U.S. are 29% higher than even in Sweden, “which ignored everything for so long,” Emanuel says. Sweden made a point of refusing to order strict social restrictions and never went in to a full lockdown. “We have 29% more mortality than we should have if we’d followed Sweden’s path and Sweden virtually did nothing.”

Even looking just at confirmed COVID-19 deaths, the number of people dying since May 10th — again after adjusting for population size — is on average 50% higher than every other country in the study. In addition the rate people are dying in the U.S. has stayed far above everywhere else. Emanuel says the current elevated mortality rates are important because they eliminate the chaotic early months of the pandemic when testing, treatment and reporting varied dramatically around the globe.

The rate of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. since June 7th is 27.2 per 100,000 people. In contrast in Italy the death rate is down to 3.1 per 100,000.


How Republicans will try to destroy a Biden presidency

As you’ve heard, Wolf Blitzer and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had a very contentious exchange on Tuesday, in which the CNN anchor demanded to know why the House Speaker was not prepared to support the White House’s offer of a $1.8 trillion stimulus package.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Blitzer told Pelosi, thus seeming to suggest that the real holdup to any deal is Democratic opposition.

But new reporting from Bloomberg News strongly suggests another angle worth investigating, if the goal is to truly get to the bottom of what might end up holding up an agreement.

And this angle points to an even bigger story: how Republicans may already be laying the groundwork to try to destroy a Joe Biden presidency, should he win the election.

The short version: A Senate GOP strategist privately confided to Bloomberg that a key Republican goal right now is to lay the groundwork to revert hard to austerity, should Biden prevail, crippling the possibility of any serious stimulus efforts next year, even amid continued economic misery.

As of now, Senate Republicans are hostile to supporting a deal even if the White House and House Democrats can reach one. The White House’s $1.8 trillion offer includes some things Democrats want, such as $1,200 checks to individuals, but Pelosi wants more money for aid to states and a national strategy against the novel coronavirus, among other things.

Senate Republicans may not even accept spending levels that the White House is proposing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is planning a vote on a far smaller package — $500 billion for extended assistance for the unemployed and small businesses, among other things.

The Senate bill appears designed to do the minimum while giving vulnerable GOP senators a way to say they’re doing something at a moment of deep economic peril, in hopes of salvaging McConnell’s majority.

But Trump undermined that strategy by tweeting: “Go big or go home!” Now Senate Republicans risk getting split between the conservative impulse to spend as little as possible (at least on aid to distressed Americans) and Trump’s demand (for now, anyway) for more spending.

But, given that spending more now would likely boost Trump’s reelection chances, why aren’t Senate Republicans on board?

The Bloomberg report offers this remarkable clue:

A GOP strategist who has been consulting with Senate campaigns said Republicans have been carefully laying the groundwork to restrain a Biden administration on federal spending and the budget deficit by talking up concerns about the price tag for another round of virus relief. The thinking, the strategist said, is that it would be very hard politically to agree on spending trillions more now and then in January suddenly embrace fiscal restraint.

This is an anonymous source. But it accords with what all our intuitions and our understanding of recent U.S. political history tell us. Republicans almost certainly suspect Trump will lose even with a big stimulus and already hope to put an incoming President Joe Biden in a fiscal straitjacket, saddling him with the terrible politics of a grueling recovery.

A big package now under a GOP president would make that harder to get away with. That’s bad enough, but the evolving strategy here may be worse than this suggests. The calculation is probably not just about avoiding the hypocrisy of spending big now and embracing austerity under a Democratic president.

It’s also likely that a big package now would put the economy in a somewhat better position early next year, when Biden (should he win) would take over. This, too, is probably what Republicans want to avoid.

Indeed, as Eric Levitz points out, if Republicans can scuttle a robust package now, that would hand Biden a “deepening recession.” If Republicans hold the Senate and can block big stimulus measures at that point, Levitz continues, “Biden’s presidency would be over before it starts.”

And so, when McConnell chortled with glee at this week’s debate in Kentucky about the failure to pass more aid at a desperate national moment, it telegraphed what’s coming. And we’ve already lived through what happened when Republicans, led by McConnell, tried to cripple the recovery from a previous economic calamity that a Democratic president inherited from a Republican one.

Back then, McConnell calculated that if Republicans adopted a strategy of openly tailoring everything around the overarching goal of denying Barack Obama bipartisan support, Obama would take the blame for it. It’s likely McConnell is already thinking the same.

Obviously Republicans might theoretically oppose more spending to address a recession during a Biden presidency out of adherence to principle, however egregiously misguided. But notably, the GOP strategist above also telegraphs a strategy of constraining Biden by suddenly claiming to care deeply about deficits.

That’s particularly galling, given that Trump and the GOP passed a massive corporate tax giveaway that lavished enormous benefits on top earners while helping to explode the deficit. Now concern over that deficit will be used to try to cripple a Biden presidency through austerity.

Which leads to a final point. As I’ve noted, Trump campaigned in 2016 on a (fraudulent) promise to break with orthodox conservative economics, including opposition to big expenditures in the public interest, vowing to preserve safety nets and invest in job-creating infrastructure.

In many ways Trump tossed that vow aside and embraced GOP plutocracy. But now he’s suddenly desperate to secure another huge spending infusion, because he needs one to salvage his reelection hopes. So it would constitute a perverse form of poetic justice if a GOP refusal to go along — one rooted in a strategy of hamstringing a Democratic president from addressing deep national challenges — ends up contributing in some small way to Trump’s political demise.

Trump’s Grip on Senate Republicans Slipping With Stimulus Ploy

  • Declining polls have Republicans in Congress bracing for Biden
  • Lawmakers gingerly move to create distance with White House

Documentary ‘Totally Under Control’ Recounts Bungled Response To COVID-19

Since we don’t have social calendars anymore, a big part of my day has become deciding how much of it I am going to spend being terrified and sad versus how long I’ll allow myself to get so angry my ears bleed. I could probably do the latter 24/7 most days, but in the interest of self-care, I try to ration it out a bit. “Totally Under Control,” the infuriating new documentary from directors Alex Gibney, Suzanne Hillinger and Ophelia Harutyunyan, is the kind of movie that really messes with your rage ratio. Shot in secret over the past few months and rushed into theaters (well, virtual ones anyway) ahead of Election Day, it’s a sober, step-by-step recounting of the Trump administration’s catastrophically bungled response to COVID-19. There are no big revelations here, the movie’s mostly stuff we already knew. Yet seeing it all laid out end-to-end like this made me so furious I had to go walk it off for a little while.

Gibney and company begin the picture by showing the safety protocols under which it was shot, with some of the interviewees shipped hi-def cameras they operated themselves at home while others were spoken to from behind giant tents and shower curtains of PPE like Elliott’s house at the end of “E.T.” It’s a striking contrast to the sequences filmed in South Korea with a regular crew, and a lot of the movie is structured as a comparison between the two nations’ responses to the crisis. Both discovered their first patient on the same day back in January. One country trusted their scientists and medical professionals to trace, track and contain the virus. The other bragged, blustered and massaged the markets. South Korea lost 434 of its citizens to COVID-19 and life there has returned nearly to normal. We’re at 215,000 dead with no end in sight.

“Totally Under Control” covers a lot of the same ground as Frontline’s excellent “The Virus: What Went Wrong?” which aired in June, and during certain segments, the timeline can feel a little hurried or incomplete. This sometimes happens with first drafts of history, cranked out after the news has already broken but without much perspective in the rearview. Where the movie excels, however, is in the individual testimonies of its interview subjects, personalizing a crisis that’s too often overwhelmed by numbers and statistics, importantly reminding us that there are still decent people out there trying to do good, even as they’re undercut every step of the way by an incompetent and avaricious administration.

My heart went out to Dr. Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority who blew up his career and became the target of presidential harassment for opposing the administration’s snake oil salesmanship regarding hydroxychloroquine. Former Trump voter Michael Bowen is the executive vice president of America’s leading manufacturer of N95 masks, who spent decades warning one administration after another about an impending shortage, only to watch the CDC simply alter their recommended guidelines to say masks weren’t necessary when the crisis finally hit. “At some point, you’ve got to blame the manager,” he says, providing the movie with its mantra.

But by far the most staggering segment follows idealistic young Max Kennedy — RFK’s grandson — volunteering to assist Jared Kushner’s supply chain task force. Turns out Max and a handful of other 20-year-old novices were actually the entire task force, locked in a basement office all day surrounded by multiple TVs blaring Fox News, untrained and assigned to buy personal protective equipment using their own laptops and personal email accounts. The entire chunk of the film devoted to the PPE debacle is the most effective and infuriating, detailing how savvily these hucksters blamed federal failures on the individual states, drove up prices in bidding wars to benefit private companies and demanded humiliating acts of obeisance from local officials in exchange for life-saving supplies. Gov. Baker makes a cameo via speakerphone, while the smirking president gloats to “Charlie” that he’s never going to be outbid.

It’s a stomach-turning moment, but if anything I’m surprised by how easy the movie otherwise takes it on Trump, perhaps out of interest in appearing “fair and balanced” to imaginary audiences that would never watch a movie like this anyway and probably jam their fingers in their ears and shout “FAKE NEWS!” if you even tried to tell them about it. “Totally Under Control” very clearly aspires to be a portrait of businessmen in over their heads whose free market solutions are woefully inadequate for a medical emergency. Yet the film leaves out some of the most bizarre examples of this behavior, like Trump shoving aside scientists in favor of insane infomercial press conferences with CEOs like the My Pillow guy, or his hijacking of daily task force briefings that culminated in his infamous inquiries about injecting disinfectants and shining UV light inside patients’ bodies. But then I guess maybe the filmmakers figured that if they tried to include every time Donald Trump said something stupid the movie would be longer than “The Irishman.”

The staggeringly prolific Gibney — this is the third film he’s directed in 2020, with his 239-minute “Agents of Chaos” having just aired on HBO three weeks ago — gets a bad rap from a lot of folks I know in the documentary community for his factory-like output. Indeed, most of his movies aren’t really much more than the books or magazine articles they’re based on read aloud with some slick animated graphics and an ominous, bleep-boop synth score. (I’m still baffled that his 2015 “Going Clear: Scientology & The Prison of Belief” was hailed as a bombshell exposé while containing nothing I hadn’t already read in The New Yorker several years before.)

But he is very good at organizing data, and during a deafeningly noisy time in American life when every day is an information blitzkrieg, sometimes it’s refreshing to have someone just lay out the facts clearly and in chronological order. “Totally Under Control” might not tell you anything you don’t already know, but it does so cogently and with compassion. This is a film worth watching, even if you’ll have to go walk around for a while afterward.


Christie says he was ‘wrong’ about not wearing masks. #filedUnderDayLateDollarShort


Sturgis, was super spreader which could not be followed up with any tracing. Because the exponential growth, it would get out of hand pretty quickly with the numbers who must have been exposed.

More than 330 coronavirus cases and one death were directly linked to the rally as of mid-September, according to a Washington Post survey of health departments in 23 states that provided information. But experts say that tally represents just the tip of the iceberg, since contact tracing often doesn’t capture the source of an infection, and asymptomatic spread goes unnoticed.

In many ways, Sturgis is an object lesson in the patchwork U.S. response to a virus that has proved remarkably adept at exploiting such gaps to become resurgent. While some states and localities banned even relatively small groups of people, others, like South Dakota, imposed no restrictions — in this case allowing the largest gathering of people in the United States and perhaps anywhere in the world amid the pandemic and creating huge vulnerabilities as tens of thousands of attendees traveled back home to every state in the nation.

Many went unmasked to an event public health officials pleaded with them to skip, putting themselves and others at risk, because they were skeptical about the risks, or felt the entreaties infringed on their personal liberties. Rallygoers jammed bars, restaurants, tattoo parlors and concert venues; South Dakota officials later identified four such businesses as sites of potential exposure after learning that infected people had visited them.

Despite the concerns expressed by health experts ahead of the event, efforts to urge returnees to self-quarantine lacked enforcement clout and were largely unsuccessful, and the work by state and local officials to identify chains of transmission and stop them was inconsistent and uncoordinated.

Those efforts became further complicated when some suspected of having the virus refused to be tested, said Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious-disease epidemiology at the Minnesota Department of Health.

Such challenges made it all but impossible to trace the infections attendees may have spread to others after they got home. Several infections tied to a wedding in Minnesota, for instance, “linked back to someone who had gone to Sturgis,” Ehresmann said. Those were not tallied with the Sturgis outbreak because “the web just gets too complicated,” she said.

CNN reporting…

Yes, Dr. Fauci - stopped from speaking. WTF

And sadly because of T’s rhetoric…Fauci is unsafe.

On 60 minutes

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The Washington Post deep dive into Scott Atlas is disturbing. The man is a menace to the health of every American, and the Trump regime has entirely given up fighting the coronavirus to embrace a policy of mass-infection.

Given I am one of the vulnerable, I take this personally.

Trump’s den of dissent: Inside the White House task force as coronavirus surges

As summer faded into autumn and the novel coronavirus continued to ravage the nation unabated, Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist whose commentary on Fox News led President Trump to recruit him to the White House, consolidated his power over the government’s pandemic response.

Atlas shot down attempts to expand testing. He openly feuded with other doctors on the coronavirus task force and succeeded in largely sidelining them. He advanced fringe theories, such as that social distancing and mask-wearing were meaningless and would not have changed the course of the virus in several hard-hit areas. And he advocated allowing infections to spread naturally among most of the population while protecting the most vulnerable and those in nursing homes until the United States reaches herd immunity, which experts say would cause excess deaths, according to three current and former senior administration officials.

Atlas also cultivated Trump’s affection with his public assertions that the pandemic is nearly over, despite death and infection counts showing otherwise, and his willingness to tell the public that a vaccine could be developed before the Nov. 3 election, despite clear indications of a slower timetable.

Atlas’s ascendancy was apparent during a recent Oval Office meeting. After Trump left the room, Atlas startled other aides by walking behind the Resolute Desk and occupying the president’s personal space to keep the meeting going, according to one senior administration official. Atlas called this account “false and laughable.”

Discord on the coronavirus task force has worsened since the arrival in late summer of Atlas, whom colleagues said they regard as ill-informed, manipulative and at times dishonest. As the White House coronavirus response coordinator, Deborah Birx is tasked with collecting and analyzing infection data and compiling charts detailing upticks and other trends. But Atlas routinely has challenged Birx’s analysis and those of other doctors, including Anthony S. Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, with what the other doctors considered junk science, according to three senior administration officials.

Birx recently confronted the office of Vice President Pence, who chairs the task force, about the acrimony, according to two people familiar with the meeting. Birx, whose profile and influence has eroded considerably since Atlas’s arrival, told Pence’s office that she does not trust Atlas, does not believe he is giving Trump sound advice and wants him removed from the task force, the two people said.

In one recenet encounter, Pence did not take sides between Atlas and Birx, but rather told them to bring data bolstering their perspectives to the task force and to work out their disagreements themselves, according to two senior administration officials.

The result has been a U.S. response increasingly plagued by distrust, infighting and lethargy, just as experts predict coronavirus cases could surge this winter and deaths could reach 400,000 by year’s end.

This assessment is based on interviews with 41 administration officials, advisers to the president, public health leaders and other people with knowledge of internal government deliberations, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide candid assessments or confidential information.

Atlas defended his views and conduct in a series of statements sent through a spokesperson and condemned The Washington Post’s reporting as “another story filled with overt lies and distortions to undermine the President and the expert advice he is being given.”

Atlas said he has always stressed “all appropriate mitigation measures to save lives,” and he responded to accounts of dissent on the task force by saying, “Any policy discussion where data isn’t being challenged isn’t a policy discussion.”

On the issue of herd immunity, Atlas said, “We emphatically deny that the White House, the President, the Administration, or anyone advising the President has pursued or advocated for a wide-open strategy of achieving herd immunity by letting the infection proceed through the community.”

The doctor’s denial conflicts with his previous public and private statements, including his recent endorsement of the “Great Barrington Declaration,” which effectively promotes a herd immunity strategy.

On Saturday, Atlas wrote on Twitter that masks do not work, prompting the social media site to remove the tweet for violating its safety rules for spreading misinformation. Several medical and public health experts flagged the tweet as dangerous misinformation coming from a primary adviser to the president.

“Masks work? NO,” Atlas wrote in the tweet, followed by other misrepresentations about the science behind masks. He linked to an article from the American Institute for Economic Research — a libertarian think tank behind the Barrington effort — that argued against masks and dismissed the threat of the virus as overblown.

Trump and many of his advisers have come to believe that the key to a revived economy and a return to normality is a vaccine.

“They’ve given up on everything else,” said a senior administration official involved in the pandemic response. “It’s too hard of a slog.”

Infectious-disease and other public health experts said the friction inside the White House has impaired the government’s response.

“It seems to me this is policy-based evidence-making rather than evidence-based policymaking,” said Marc Lipsitch, director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “In other words, if your goal is to do nothing, then you create a situation in which it looks okay to do nothing [and] you find some experts to make it complicated.”

These days, the task force is dormant relative to its robust activity earlier in the pandemic. Fauci, Birx, Surgeon General Jerome Adams and other members have confided in others that they are dispirited.

Birx and Fauci have advocated dramatically increasing the nation’s testing capacity, especially as experts anticipate a devastating increase in cases this winter. They have urged the government to use unspent money Congress allocated for testing — which amounts to $9 billion, according to a Democratic Senate appropriations aide — so that anyone who needs to can get a test with results returned quickly.

But Atlas, who is opposed to surveillance testing, has repeatedly quashed these proposals. He has argued that young and healthy people do not need to get tested and that testing resources should be allocated to nursing homes and other vulnerable places, such as prisons and meatpacking plants.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews defended Trump and the administration’s management of the crisis.

“President Trump has always listened to the advice of his top public health experts, who have diverse areas of expertise,” Matthews said in a statement. “The President always puts the well-being of the American people first as evidenced by the many bold, data-driven decisions he has made to save millions of lives. Because of his strong leadership, our country can safely reopen with adequate PPE, treatments, and vaccines developed in record time.”

Yet 10 months into a public health crisis that has claimed the lives of more than 219,000 people in the United States — a far higher death toll than any other nation has reported — a consensus has formed within the administration that some measures to mitigate the spread of the virus may not be worth the trouble.

The president gave voice to this mind-set during an NBC News town hall Thursday night, when he declined to answer whether he supported herd immunity. “The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself,” Trump told host Savannah Guthrie.

But medical experts disagreed, saying it is dangerous for government leaders to advocate herd immunity or oppose interventions.

“We’d be foolish to reenter a situation where we know what to do and we’re not doing it,” said Rochelle Walensky, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “This thing can take off. All you need to do is look at what’s happened at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue over the last two weeks to see that this thing is way faster than we’re giving it credit for.”

‘The cure’

After Trump came home from the hospital this month, he all but promised Americans that they could soon be cured from the coronavirus just as he claimed to have been. In a video taped at the White House on Oct. 5, he vowed, “The vaccines are coming momentarily.”

Then, at a rally last Tuesday night in Johnstown, Pa., Trump told supporters, “The vaccines are coming soon, the therapeutics and, frankly, the cure. All I know is I took something, whatever the hell it was. I felt good very quickly . . . I felt like Superman.”

Trump’s miraculous timeline has run headlong into reality, however. On the same day that he declared “the cure” was near, Johnson & Johnson became the second pharmaceutical giant, after AstraZeneca, to halt its vaccine trial. A third trial, a government-run test of a monoclonal antibody manufactured by Eli Lilly & Co., was also paused. Each move was prompted by safety concerns.

And on Friday, Pfizer said it will not be able to seek an emergency use authorization from the FDA until the third week of November, at the earliest, seemingly making a vaccine before Election Day all but impossible.

Trump’s notion of a vaccine as a cure-all for the pandemic is similarly miraculous, according to medical experts.

“The vaccines, although they’re wonderful, are not going to make the virus magically disappear,” said Tom Frieden, a former CDC director who is president of Resolve to Save Lives. “There’s no fairy-tale ending to this pandemic. We’re going to be dealing with it at least through 2021, and it’s likely to have implications for how we do everything from work to school, even with vaccines.”

Frieden added: “Remember, we have vaccines against the flu, and we still have flu.”

Still, Trump has ratcheted up his push for vaccines over the past several months, intensifying the pressure on government scientists, federal regulators and pharmaceutical executives. He has had one end date in mind: Nov. 3, which is Election Day.

Trump has envisioned a greenlit vaccine as the kind of breakthrough that could persuade voters to see his management of the pandemic as successful and thus upend a race in which virtually all public polls show him trailing Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Earlier this fall, Trump called Albert Bourla, the chief executive of Pfizer, and asked whether a vaccine could be ready for distribution by late October, before the election. Pfizer spokeswoman Sharon Castillo said executives have regular communications with administration officials on a wide range of health policy issues but that she could not comment on private conversations.

On a call in August with Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, Trump accused the agency of moving too slowly to approve a vaccine or other treatments, including convalescent plasma, according to two officials familiar with the conversation. The NIH, which declined to comment, is a biomedical research agency and does not approve treatments or vaccines.

Matthews denied that Trump sees the vaccine timetable through the prism of the campaign calendar. “This is not about politics; it’s about saving lives,” she said. She added, “any vaccine approval will maintain the FDA’s gold standard for safety and efficacy and be proven to save lives.”

The relationships between FDA officials and White House staffers have grown more acrimonious since September, when details of stricter FDA vaccine guidance were reported by The Post. Trump and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows — who has involved himself in the work of health agencies to a degree other officials consider inappropriate — have repeatedly challenged Hahn over his agency’s proposals and rules, much to the FDA commissioner’s frustration.

Trump is asserting control over the messaging campaign around a vaccine. His politically minded aides in the White House have taken over the government’s communications effort, as opposed to health or scientific communicators at the relevant agencies.

For example, White House aides have sought to persuade Moncef Slaoui, head of “Operation Warp Speed,” the government’s initiative to mass-distribute an eventual vaccine, to speak more positively about the vaccine, and sometimes he has pushed back on their talking points, two officials said.

Trump routinely has told his political advisers that a vaccine would be ready by the time he stands for reelection. And he has plotted with his team on a pre-election promotional campaign to try to convince voters a vaccine is safe, approved and ready for mass distribution — even if none of that is true yet.

These are some of the ingredients of a public health disaster, experts say.

“The one thing you can’t do — and it’s what everybody fears, it’s what the pharmaceutical companies fear, it’s what everybody on the inside fears — is that the government would, because of political purposes or because other countries put a vaccine out before us, truncate the normal process you’d accept for a safe and effective vaccine,” said Paul A. Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory council.

Trump’s view of the FDA has darkened considerably in recent weeks. The president now believes — despite the absence of any such evidence — that officials there are working against him to slow-walk vaccine approval as “some sort of ‘deep state’ push to keep him from winning reelection,” according to an administration official.

Trump has said as much himself.

“New FDA Rules make it more difficult for them to speed up vaccines for approval before Election Day. Just another political hit job! @SteveFDA,” the president wrote in an Oct. 6 tweet, tagging Hahn’s Twitter handle.

Trump’s conspiratorial view of the FDA is shaped in part by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro and others in the president’s orbit, both inside and outside the government.

Saad B. Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, said the atmosphere of pressure and recrimination, nurtured by the president, is “very concerning.”

“These are people who have dedicated their lives to working in public health and medicine and research,” he said. “To think that in the biggest public health event of their lives they would sleep an extra hour or slow-walk this for any reason is absurd.”

He added, “It’s like how an ambulance drives faster than a regular car because it’s an emergency, but even an ambulance driver is not foolhardy. They don’t want to drive over the bridge.”

‘A lot of political pressure’

The distrust in Washington has trickled down to the states, where friction has increased between several governors and the administration over the vaccine process.

Some governors and officials close to them privately have expressed alarm about Trump and his aides laying the groundwork for a rushed vaccine announcement. The president has delegated much of the state outreach to Pence, who in regular calls with governors has come across as a smooth salesman for Trump’s speedy approach. The vice president has encouraged governors to help build confidence for eventual vaccines among their constituents.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), whose state is the site for vaccine trials, said in an interview, “I certainly fear there is a lot of political pressure being applied.” He said his state is preparing for a vaccine rollout, but would carefully evaluate the integrity of any announcement emanating from the White House.

“Nobody has told me that it’ll be ready by November 2nd or anytime before the election,” Pritzker said. “But [Trump] will no doubt claim such a thing because of the cocktail of drugs that he seems to be on now. He’s liable to say anything that isn’t true.”

The concerns are not limited to Democrats. One Republican state official who works with the Trump administration and spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve that relationship, said, “It’s what I would call soft power. Pence comes on these calls and sounds normal and upbeat, and basically says, ‘Stand with us.’ ”

The official added, “We all want a vaccine, right? We obviously want it. We’ll take it. But we don’t really know if they’ll do this right.”

The politicization of the process has damaged public credibility in an eventual vaccine. A Gallup poll released this month found that 50 percent of Americans said they would be willing to take a coronavirus vaccine approved by the FDA “right now at no cost.” That is a sharp decline from 61 percent in August and 66 percent in July.

During a virtual task force meeting led by Pence on Sept. 21, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said, “There is a substantial concern,” according to an audio recording of the meeting. “A significant part of that problem is the president’s continued anti-science statements that are contradictory to his medical advisers in so many different ways.”

Inslee asked Pence directly, “Have you discussed with the president how he’s been eroding public confidence in our efforts, including the vaccine approval? Have you discussed that with him? Have you urged him to stop this behavior?”

Pence did not directly answer the question. Rather, he replied, “We think you and all the governors on this call have a great responsibility to make sure the public knows while we’re moving rapidly and while there may be differences in opinion about various events, we just don’t want any undermining of confidence in the vaccine.”

The vice president added, “I can assure you the president will continue to speak clearly about that process.”

Inslee later said in an interview that Pence was anything but assuring.

“There is a pressure campaign,” Inslee said. “We need to follow science and not this distortion campaign . . . The people are on to [Trump]. They know he is trying to turn this into an electoral issue.”

‘A magic dust’

As the election nears, one of Trump’s biggest vulnerabilities with voters is his handling of the pandemic — which he increasingly has sought to blame on others. For instance, the president has complained bitterly about Hahn and Redfield, pointing to congressional testimony and other public comments they have made as undermining his chances for reelection, according to multiple administration officials.

Trump also has vented about the slow pace of vaccine trials and has fumed privately about the pharmaceutical industry, even though he speaks highly of some industry executives. Lately, he has expressed particular concern that the absence of a vaccine announcement has been hurting him with early voting, according to an administration official.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, a former Eli Lilly president who has close ties to the pharmaceutical industry, has sought to cool Trump’s temper and assure him that the process is sound.

Also whispering optimism in the tempestuous president’s ear has been Atlas, who is said to be operating with the full confidence of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser overseeing key aspects of the pandemic response, and Hope Hicks, the president’s counselor and confidante.

This is in part because Atlas has sought to spin the public with what others deride as “happy talk” that the outbreak is close to over. “Everybody looks for what Atlas is giving them,” one official involved in the response said.

Offit said, “This administration, like it does with everything, is overselling vaccines. They make it sound like a magic dust they’ll distribute over the country and the disease will go away . . . What could happen is people think, great, I just got my vaccine, I can throw away my mask, I can engage in high-risk activity, and then we’d actually take a step back.”

Most controversially, Atlas has pushed a baseless theory inside the task force that the U.S. population is close to herd immunity — the point at which enough people become immune to a disease either by becoming infected or getting vaccinated that its spread slows — despite a scientific consensus that the United States is nowhere close.

Given the transmissibility of the coronavirus, experts estimate about 60 to 70 percent of the population would need to become infected to reach herd immunity, a course that they warn would probably result in hundreds of thousands of excess deaths. A recent CDC study, about which Redfield testified to the Senate, showed about 9 percent of people in the United States had antibodies against the virus.

But Atlas publicly contradicted Redfield last month, telling reporters that more of the population was protected against the virus because of so-called T-cell immunity, in which people with exposure to previous coronaviruses — such as the common cold — have T cells that also protect them against covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

No credible scientific study has proved this theory, and Atlas’s advocacy of it dismayed other task force officials.

At a task force meeting late last month, Atlas stated that there was herd immunity in much of the country because of a combination of high infection rates in cities such as New York and Miami and T-cell immunity, according to two senior administration officials. He said that only 40 to 50 percent of people need to be infected to reach the threshold. And he argued that because of this immunity, all restrictions should be lifted, schools should be opened and only the most vulnerable populations, such as nursing home residents, should be sheltered.

This resulted in a fierce debate with Birx and Fauci, who demanded Atlas show them the data that backed up his assertions, one of the officials said.

“It is not the case there’s extra immunity around in T cells,” Lipsitch said. “The vast, vast majority of infectious-disease epidemiologists in this country don’t believe several of the key points these people are arguing for and don’t believe it because the evidence isn’t there and points in the other direction.”

Regardless, Trump has used Atlas to back up his own rejection of medical expertise. At Thursday’s NBC News town hall, a Florida voter asked the president whether after contracting covid-19 he now believed in the importance of mask-wearing.

Trump equivocated.

“I’ve heard many different stories on masks,” he said.

When Guthrie challenged him by noting that all of his health officials were united in advocating masks, Trump countered by invoking Atlas.

“Scott Adkins,” Trump said, mispronouncing the doctor’s name. “If you look at Scott, Dr. Scott, he’s from — great guy — from Stanford, he will tell you.”

“He’s not an infectious-disease expert,” Guthrie said.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Trump replied. “Look, he’s an expert. He’s one of the experts of the world.”


And this ‘Herd Immunity’ idea lacks the safety measures to allow spread of Covid across multiples of population, even if a few are supposed to be protected and leads to quite a bit of death.

No matter their politics, people nearly always listen to those who say what they want to hear.

Hence, it is no surprise that the White House and several governors are now paying close attention to the “Great Barrington Declaration,” a proposal written by a group of well-credentialed scientists who want to shift Covid-19 policy toward achieving herd immunity — the point at which enough people have become immune to the virus that its spread becomes unlikely.

They would do this by allowing “those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally.” This, they say, will allow people “to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.”

These academics are clearly a distinct minority. Most of their public health colleagues have condemned their proposal as unworkable and unethical — even as amounting tomass murder,” as William Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor who now heads a global health foundation, put it to CNN last week.

But who is right?

The signers of the declaration do have a point. Restrictions designed to limit deaths cause real harm, including, but by no means limited to, stress on the economy, increases in domestic violence and drug abuse, declines in tests that screen for cancer and on and on. Those living alone suffer real pain from isolation, and the young have every reason to feel bitter over the loss of substantive education and what should have been memories of a high school prom or the bonding friendships that form in a college dorm at 2 a.m. or on an athletic team or in some other endeavor.

So the idea of returning to something akin to normal — releasing everyone from a kind of jail — is attractive, even seductive. It becomes less seductive when one examines three enormously important omissions in the declaration.

First, it makes no mention of harm to infected people in low-risk groups, yet many people recover very slowly. More serious, a significant number, including those with no symptoms, suffer damage to their heart and lungs. One recent study of 100 recovered adults found that 78 of them showed signs of heart damage. We have no idea whether this damage will cut years from their lives or affect their quality of life.

Second, it says little about how to protect the vulnerable. One can keep a child from visiting a grandparent in another city easily enough, but what happens when the child and grandparent live in the same household? And how do you protect a 25-year-old diabetic, or cancer survivor, or obese person, or anyone else with a comorbidity who needs to go to work every day? Upon closer examination, the “focused protection” that the declaration urges devolves into a kind of three-card monte; one can’t pin it down.

Third, the declaration omits mention of how many people the policy would kill. It’s a lot.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, whose modeling of the pandemic the White House has used, predicts up to about 415,000 deaths by Feb. 1, even with current restrictions continuing. If these restrictions are simply eased — as opposed to eliminating them entirely, which would occur if herd immunity were pursued — deaths could rise to as many as 571,527. That’s just by Feb. 1. The model predicts daily deaths will still be increasing then.

Will we have achieved herd immunity then? No.

**Herd immunity occurs when enough people have immunity either through natural infection or a vaccine so the outbreak eventually dies out. By Feb. 1, even with eased mandates, only 25 percent of the population will have been infected, by my calculations. The most optimistic model suggests herd immunity might occur when **43 percent of the population has been infected, but many estimate 60 percent to 70 percent before transmission trends definitively down.

Those are models. Actual data from prison populations and from Latin America suggest transmission does not slow down until 60 percent of the population is infected. (At present, only about 10 percent of the population has been infected, according to the C.D.C.)

And what will be the cost? Even if herd immunity can be achieved with only 40 percent of the population infected or vaccinated, the I.H.M.E. estimates that a total of 800,000 Americans would die. The real death toll needed to reach herd immunity could far exceed one million.

As horrific a price as that is, it could prove much worse if damage to the heart, lungs or other organs of those who recover from the immediate effects of the virus does not heal and instead leads to early deaths or incapacitation. But we won’t know that for years.

Some aftereffects of the 1918 influenza pandemic did not surface until the 1920s or later. For instance, children born during its peak in 1919 had worse health outcomes as they grew older, compared with others born around that time. There is speculation that the influenza caused a disease called encephalitis lethargica, which became almost epidemic in the 1920s and then later disappeared, and which affected patients in Oliver Sacks’s book “Awakenings. Both the 1918 pandemic and other viruses have been linked to Parkinson’s disease.

Proponents of herd immunity point to Sweden. Swedish officials deny having actively pursued that strategy, but they never shut down their economy or closed most schools, and they still haven’t recommended masks. Its neighbors Denmark and Norway did. Sweden’s death rate per 100,000 people is five times Denmark’s and 11 times Norway’s. Did the deaths buy economic prosperity? No. Sweden’s G.D.P. fell 8.3 percent in the second quarter, compared with Denmark’s 6.8 percent and Norway’s 5.1 percent.

Finally, the Great Barrington Declaration aims at a straw man, opposing the kind of large, general lockdown that began in March. No one is proposing that now.

Is there an alternative? There was once a simple one, which the vast majority of public health experts urged for months: social distancing, avoiding crowds, wearing masks, washing hands and a robust contact tracing system, with support for those who are asked to self-quarantine and for selected closures when and where necessary.

Some states listened to the advice and have done well, just as many schools listened and have reopened without seeing a surge. But the Trump administration and too many governors never got behind these measures, reopened too many states too soon, and still haven’t straightened out testing.

Worse, the White House has all but embraced herd immunity and has also poisoned the public with misinformation, making it all but impossible to get national, near-universal compliance with public health advice for the foreseeable future.

As a result, the United States is not in a good place, and achieving near containment of the virus — as South Korea (441 deaths), Australia (904 deaths), Japan (1,657 deaths) and several other countries have done — is impossible. We can, however, still aim for results akin to those of Canada, where there were 23 deaths on Friday, and Germany, which suffered 24 deaths on Friday.

Getting to that point will require finally following the advice that has been given for months. That will not happen with this White House, especially since it is now all but openly advocating herd immunity, but states, cities and people can act for themselves.

Nothing, including monoclonal antibodies, rapid antigen testing, or even a vaccine, will provide a silver bullet. But everything will help. And hundreds of thousands of Americans will keep living who would otherwise have died under a policy of herd immunity.

John M. Barry is a professor at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and the author of “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.”


And guess what Sweden now opts for Shutdowns…



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