Mother Jones Magazine

Marian Hill Is the Coolest Band You Probably Have Heard Of

Samantha Gongol doesn’t mind the mistake. It’s become the running joke of the tour: The lead singer of Marian Hill isn’t named Marian Hill. The band’s name is actually a mashup of two characters from the corny play The Music Man. So, how does it end up sounding so cool?

When Gongol and Jeremy Lloyd, the other half of the band, chose Marian Hill it was more indicative of their sound—personal influences collaged to evoke universal and undeniable hipness—than the claiming of an influence. “We weren’t like, ‘Yes! The themes of The Music Man resonate deeply with the type of music we want to make,” says Lloyd. “It was very much, ‘What are cool word combinations?” It’d be hard to know, with their vibey status that they both acted in the musical in high school together.

Marian Hill exudes a nuanced edginess. They create a well-balanced tincture of electro-pop, old school jazz, and R&B that feels rebellious but controlled. It makes sense Marian Hill’s big break came from a 2017 AirPods commercial that used their song “Down.” Their sound could be labeled “designed by Apple in California.” It is careful but innovative—even chic. That has led to a commercial appeal that has skyrocketed the group onto every curated playlist from Spotify and to your local Target shelf.

Their newest release, Was It Not, delivers on this musical composure. Longtime collaborator, sax master, and school friend Steve Davit is back for the high of the collection, “Eat U Alive” and new-to-the-scene songstress Dounia declares their darker sides on “Take a Number.” “No One Knows” is the throwback indie-emo track made for anyone craving the days of The xx’s Tumblr-ruling era.

Lloyd and Gongol recently chatted with me (from our respective quarantines) about the new EP, being an independent artist in the age of coronavirus, and a musician’s purpose in these trying times. Their answers have been edited for clarity.

You had this infamous Apple AirPod commercial that aired using your song “Down,” launching you into the mainstream right between albums. How did that alter your process and approach to making music?

Jeremy Lloyd: It’s hard for anything to compare to Act One. As our debut album, that was something we were writing towards. For years we were like, “What are we? What is Marian Hill?” Unusual [their third studio album] was written way more in the context of just trying to steal time while we were touring. We were also trying to lean into a little bit more of a pop sensibility due to the spotlight. 

How did writing and producing Was It Not compare?

JL: The EP came from a place of reflection—there’s finally been some calm. Kind of turning around and realizing we’re an established artist. We’ve been in the industry for six years. There’s a lot of exploration of that, reckoning with the past and these adult emotional experiences.

Joupin Ghamsari

Typically after artists drop new music they tour. But you recently had a show canceled, like so many others. How’s coronavirus been affecting you as independent artists?

Samantha Gongol: When you play live shows, when you plan a tour, you get guaranteed [money] from these venues and festivals that make up—depending on how much of your income is made up by streaming—a really significant part [of your pay]. Especially if you’re touring all the time. That allows you to have some sort of financial stability and when that’s taken away, it really does affect things.

JL: I’ve been thinking about how lucky we are. We have different sources of income to fall on back on, but group members we’ve worked with, they’re people who had two or three months of steady work lined up. That was just canceled.

SG: Jeremy and I haven’t been touring as much in the last year, so that’s been interesting to see how that affects us and how much of a financial component it does makeup. When you’re in it and constantly touring, you take that for granted. But when you don’t, it allows you to see how important [touring] really is.

What’re you hoping for out of this new EP?

JL: I hope this reaches people who have both grown with us over time and [they] can share in the emotions of looking back on things, wondering about their significance and find the beauty in the uncertainty.

SG: We’re so lucky to have been able to do this for as long. Anytime we’re able, we’ve got to connect with people and make them feel better.

Was It Not is out now on all streaming platforms.

Can COVID-19 Be Treated? Does Blood From Survivors Help? Experts Answer Our Questions on Antibodies.

On January 20, just a day before the coronavirus officially showed up in the United States and more than a month before the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic, doctors in China launched a small, five-person clinical trial to test whether plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients could help treat others in critical condition. Within days of receiving this plasma, four of the five patients began to recover—and as of late last week, three of the patients had been discharged, and two were in stable condition.

The results are preliminary, of course, but early studies like this, plus the long history of successful plasma treatments, offer a promising option to help some patients with severe cases among the 1 million globally who’ve contracted the coronavirus. “Convalescent plasma,” as plasma from survivors is called, is now being deployed in clinical trials in the US: Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state, which has been overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, would become the first to conduct research with the treatment, and the state is currently collecting blood donations from people who’ve recovered.

Vaccines basically teach your immune system to fight a virus, while antibody treatments help your immune system fight a virus. It’s sort of like, if you wanted to eat a pie, you have two options—learn to bake the pie or buy one that’s already made.

As treatments go, convalescent plasma is low-hanging fruit—it is widely accessible and relatively safe—but it’s actually just one of several antibody-based COVID-19 therapies currently in development. Some researchers, for example, are producing coronavirus antibodies in a lab; others are testing antibody treatments already on the market for other conditions, with potential crossover benefits for COVID-19 patients; and some scientists are even sourcing coronavirus-fighting antibodies from mice. Overall, there are dozens of antibody treatments (and several more that aren’t antibodies) in clinical and preclinical stages of development.

But remember: Nothing is a sure thing here.

There are a lot of possibilities to unpack. To start: How do these various antibody treatments actually work? How are they different from a vaccine? Will receiving plasma from a survivor make you immune to the virus? And what about testing for antibodies in the first place? What does that look like, especially since we know that many infected people don’t show symptoms

Over the past week or so, I joined my colleague James West, himself a COVID-19 survivor looking to help, to dig into these questions and so much more. We spoke with several experts: Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University and co-host of the podcast This Week in Virology; Jesse Goodman, a professor in the School of Medicine at Georgetown University and director of the university’s Center on Medical Product Access, Safety, and Stewardship (COMPASS); Shane Crotty, a professor in the Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research at La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI); and Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious diseases physician and the medical director of the Special Pathogens Unit at Boston University School of Medicine.

Below I’ve distilled our conversations into some key points:

Antibody treatments are different from vaccines. A COVID-19 vaccine would give you immunity to the disease, but antibody treatments won’t.

There is a simple difference between vaccines and antibody treatments: Vaccines basically teach your immune system to fight a virus, while antibody treatments help your immune system fight a virus. It’s sort of like, if you wanted to eat a pie, you have two options—learn to bake the pie or buy one that’s already made. Buying a pie from the store may satisfy your craving immediately. But if you learn to bake, you can make as many pies as you want in the future.

It’s the same with your immune system. If you’re vaccinated against a virus, your body will be trained to fight the virus over and over. Receiving antibodies from someone who has recovered from COVID-19, on the other hand, won’t make you immune to the virus. That’s the job of your own immune system.

The clear consensus is that surviving COVID-19 confers some immunity. And doctors can test to see if you’ve had the coronavirus in the past, even if you weren’t diagnosed at the time. 

Though it hasn’t been proven yet, based on what we know generally about the immune system’s response to viruses, it’s assumed among experts that after you get the novel coronavirus once, you’ll have some immunity to it in the short term. As Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert leading President Trump’s coronavirus task force, told the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah last week, “It’s never 100 percent, but I’d be willing to bet anything that people who recover are really protected against reinfection.” It’s unclear how long that immunity lasts.

“There will always be a low level in the blood that you can detect for years and years after infection.”

With a blood sample, doctors can conduct a test to see whether someone had the coronavirus—even if they were asymptomatic—and is now likely immune. These tests, called “serological tests,” are different from the diagnostic ones taken by more than 1 million Americans.

Widespread testing for immunity could prove crucial as we try to get this crisis under control: People who are immune could, in theory, go back into the workforce, care for the sick, and donate plasma for treating patients. “Doctors and nurses are being exposed to this all the time,” Crotty says. “And if you knew you had a group of people who were immune, you might stratify some of the jobs differently in terms of who takes care of the most severe cases or whatnot.”

Luckily, experts say serological tests are accurate long after someone has recovered

Serological tests, which work by detecting antibodies in the blood, are accurate for a very long time after infection. Your body starts making antibodies against the coronavirus between seven and 21 days after you’re infected, Racaniello says. Those initial antibodies typically stick around in your system for about three months, while other antibodies take a little longer to develop and can be found in your blood years after you’ve had COVID-19. “Their levels go down gradually,” Racaniello says. “But there will always be a low level in the blood that you can detect for years and years after infection.” Serological tests can detect both types of antibodies.

These tests, which are already starting to be rolled out in New York, could be critical in revealing how many total Americans were really infected with the virus.

The tests work by first removing the cells from the blood with the help of a centrifuge and then exposing the remaining liquid to a little piece of the virus. If you had COVID-19 at any point, antibodies in the liquid will attach to the virus fragment, just as they would in your body.

Listen to the Mother Jones Podcast to hear our own James West explain what it was like to live through COVID-19 and detail his attempts to donate plasma as a survivor—which, it turns out, he as a gay man was barred from doing. James also wrote about the experience here.

Not all antibodies are created equal

Some people are capable of producing powerful immune responses. Others, not so much. It’s not exactly clear why, and it could be due to any number of factors, including genetics, diet, and prior infections. “For sure, people differ in their immune responses, right? Some people have great immune systems, and they rarely get infections,” says Racaniello. “And other people get infections all the time.” This variation in immune response includes, but is not limited to, antibodies. “There are lots of places where your immune system can be defective,” he adds.

On one end of the spectrum, some people can’t produce antibodies at all, Racaniello explains. Some people will make antibodies but they won’t be very diverse. Or they’ll be ineffective. That’s why doctors test plasma from recovered patients before giving it to others. In some people “it won’t be very good,” Racaniello says. In “other people, it’ll be better.”

There are several types of antibody treatments in development—all of which have different upsides

Researchers across the world are trying to determine if antibodies can help cure COVID-19 patients. These are three common methods that could potentially use antibodies to help block the coronavirus:

  1. Convalescent plasma: This is what you’ve probably already heard a lot about, as patients in New York are starting to be treated using this method on an emergency case-by-case basis. It relies on plasma sourced from patients—or pooled from many patients—who’ve recovered from COVID-19. The plasma is injected into sick patients intravenously, providing the antibodies that another person created. This approach is generally safe and more than 100 years old.While it “is not proven for COVID-19 or any disease related to COVID-19,” Crotty says, “the overall concept of antibodies being protective is proven to be true for many infectious diseases, but not all of them.” The other potential catch is that for this treatment to be applied at a large scale, it would require tons of recovered patients to donate their plasma.
  2. Synthetic antibodies: This is another option that relies on patients who have recovered from COVID-19, Racaniello explains. It requires taking the cells out of their blood that make these coronavirus-fighting antibodies, called B cells. In a lab, scientists can use the B cells to make tons of antibodies, purify them, and then administer the product to patients. “That’s what we did for Ebola,” Bhadelia says. “We looked at the serum of survivors and we found those antibodies that were particularly effective. And then we created drugs that were basically biological drugs that were clonal copies of those antibodies.” Companies in South Korea, Israel, Canada, and the United States, among others, are working on making antibodies sourced from COVID-19 survivors. Researchers are also testing lab-created antibodies that are already on the market for other conditions, like cancers, arthritis, and HIV. They’re hoping these antibodies may also be effective in COVID-19 patients, to help their immune system in fighting the coronavirus or suppressing their immune system’s over-response to it, which can be deadly. There are several of these drugs already in clinical trials across the world, including in the United States, China, and Italy. Until a vaccine is available for the new coronavirus, these lab-grown antibodies, which can be produced rapidly, might make a better widescale option than collecting blood plasma, Goodman says.
  3. Coronavirus antibodies from animals: This would entail basically the same process as creating human antibodies in a lab—expose an animal, like a mouse, to parts of the coronavirus, collect the animal’s B cells, and create virus-blocking antibodies. The only problem is, humans’ immune systems may reject the antibodies from another animal, Racaniello says. “What people do instead is to try and make the mouse antibody as human as possible. It’s called ‘humanizing’ the antibody. And that will overcome these problems,” he explains. The benefit of this treatment is that it doesn’t require the complex process of screening for human coronavirus-specific antibodies, experts say. In fact, some synthetic antibodies already on the market that are being tested against COVID-19 were sourced from mice or other animals. New York biotech company Regeneron aims to start clinical trials with antibodies from mice in June.
It’s possible that certain antibodies can be administered to prevent, not just treat, COVID-19. “The overall concept of antibodies being protective is proven to be true for many infectious diseases, but not all of them.”

It’s a somewhat complicated distinction: While antibody treatment for sick patients will not directly give them immunity to the coronavirus, it’s possible that administering antibody treatments to people before they get sick could prevent illness temporarily. “When you inject the antibodies into your blood, they end up diffusing into all of your tissues, including your lungs. And so they would prevent infection,” Racaniello says. “That’s how a vaccine would work—except the vaccine would have you make your own antibodies.”

This isn’t the same as being immune, because, as I explain above, your body isn’t making its own response to the coronavirus; you’re still using someone else’s. That’s why, to prevent an infection with antibodies, you’d need an injection every month or two, Racaniello says. While this wouldn’t be considered effective long-term preventive care, this sort of treatment could be especially helpful for health care professionals on the front lines. 

We’re already using antibodies as a prophylactic for some diseases that don’t have a vaccine, Goodman says. Take RSV, a common respiratory virus, especially in babies. “There is no vaccine against [RSV] yet,” he says, “but there is an approved [lab-grown] antibody that, in very high-risk children—for example, children with certain congenital lung and heart disease—can reduce their incidence of what are severe infections that occur in them.”

Additional reporting by James West

Here’s When Your State Will Run Out of Hospital Beds

As of today, more than 239,000 people in the United States are infected with the coronavirus, the most cases of any country in the world. More than 6,000 people have died, which is almost twice the number of people who were killed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

The number of people infected is doubling every six days, a rate higher than that of Italy, Iran, and Germany. The number of deaths is doubling every four days.

From New York to Michigan to Louisiana, hospitals are overwhelmed with new cases. In some states such as New York and Connecticut, there’s already a shortage of hospital and ICU beds. As the virus continues to spread, more states are going to run out of hospital beds.

New projections from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, a research center based out of the University of Washington, have created models that predict when every state would run out of resources including hospital beds, ventilators, and ICU beds in the next four months. Its predictions assume the strict social distancing policies that are already in place will continue in most states. Researchers say they expect the worst of the epidemic to be over by June, but not before it burdens our healthcare systems. 

Using the institute’s data projections, we created maps to show which states will run out of hospital beds, by when and by how much. The darker the shade, the more acute the shortage.

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Tennessee has such an acute shortage of medical supplies and protective gear that the governor asked healthcare workers to repurpose swim goggles and diapers into masks. The state is looking to convert college dormitories, convention centers, and hotels into makeshift hospitals

Many states, such as New York, New Jersey, and Louisiana, are already running out of ICU beds. Many more states will face an acute shortage of ICU beds in the coming weeks.

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Researchers from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation suggest that interventions such as “canceling elective procedures, setting up additional beds, constructing temporary facilities, and using mobile military resources” can ease the burden on hospitals. “Production of ventilators, masks, and other personal protective equipment may need to be scaled up to ensure these resources are available to hospitals as demand grows.”

Yes, Even Health Care Is Losing Jobs to the Pandemic

Earlier today I was surprised that there had been big job losses in the “health care and social assistance” category. You’d think those would be up. I just now got around to looking at the detailed establishment report, and it turns out the losses are concentrated in three areas:

  • Offices of physicians, dentists, and other health care practitioners
  • Home health care services
  • Child daycare services

These three account for virtually all of the 61,000 jobs lost in this sector.

Donald Trump Did Nothing to Stop the Export of Respirator Masks

The 3M mask story keeps getting weirder, and neither 3M nor the Trump administration seems eager to provide details of exactly what their dispute is about. However, it’s been widely reported that 280 million masks were sold overseas in a single day last month even though American health care workers were desperate for them. This number originates from a Forbes story by David DiSalvo, who spent a day in mid-March with a mask broker named Remington Schmidt:

When contacting potential buyers, Remington needs two things to secure a deal with a seller: a letter of intent to purchase and proof of funds. “If you are working with a seller who has masks but you can’t quickly show proof of funds, someone else is going to buy them,” he told me.

And I watched that happen repeatedly throughout the day. Buyers from state procurement departments and hospital systems expressed desperate need for masks, but the deals bogged down when it came to providing proof that they could commit and follow through. In the meantime, another buyer provided proof of funds and the masks were gone, sometimes within the hour.

By the end of the day, roughly 280 million masks¹ from warehouses around the U.S. had been purchased by foreign buyers and were earmarked to leave the country, according to the broker — and that was in one day. To his knowledge none of the masks had been purchased by buyers in the U.S.

Remington told me that his focus now is to try to sell masks to federal agencies like FEMA, responsible for securing PPE so the items can go directly to the states that will distribute to hospitals, but it’s been challenging to close a deal and the number of “middle men” in the negotiations keeps rising.

Somebody please stop me if I’m wrong, but halting these shipments didn’t require use of the Defense Procurement Act. It required two things: (a) an executive order banning the export of masks unless approved by federal authorities² and (b) purchasing authority for FEMA to buy as many masks as it wants. You could add to that guidance from FEMA about which items US companies should and shouldn’t export overseas. These are things President Trump could have done two weeks ago with a stroke of his pen. No new legislative authority would have been required.

So unless I’m missing something, this is all on Trump. 3M has no control over the secondary market. Only Trump does. But apparently he did nothing back when it mattered, and now that it’s too late he’s engaged in a war to make it look like someone else’s fault. That’s typical Trump for you.

Eventually I assume we’ll get more details of exactly what’s going on here. If my take on this is wrong, I’ll update.

¹FWIW, this sounds high. But the precise number doesn’t really matter.

²This is, obviously, not something that states can do. Only the federal government can do it.

Who’s Losing the Most Jobs to the Coronavirus?

As I said earlier, I don’t normally spend a lot of time on the details of the monthly jobs report. This month is an exception since people are understandably interested in the effect that the coronavirus lockdown has had. With that in mind, here’s an excerpt from the household survey:

There are several obvious takeaways:

  • Men and women are losing jobs at about the same rate. Both groups now have an unemployment rate of 4.0 percent.
  • Whites and blacks are losing jobs at the same rate. Asians and Hispanics are losing jobs at a much higher rate.
  • The poorer you are, the more likely you are to lose your job. Among those with no high school diploma, unemployment is up 1.1 points. Among college grads, unemployment is up only 0.6 points.

Keep in mind that these figures only go through mid-March, so they should be considered tentative. Next month’s report will include all ten million (or more) who have lost their jobs and will give us a much better idea of where job losses are concentrated.

Laid Off? You Can Still Sign Up for Obamacare

Roughly 9 million Americans have applied for unemployment insurance in the past two weeks as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the economy. But, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, those who have lost their employer-based health coverage don’t need to go uninsured.

Loss of job-based coverage counts as a qualifying event for a so-called “special enrollment period,” allowing people to sign up for an individual Obamacare plan outside of the annual open enrollment period, which ended on December 15. People typically have 60 days from their loss of coverage to enroll. Lower-income people may also be eligible to enroll in Medicaid.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, which considers the ACA a “substantial health care safety net,” provides a handy calculator for estimating how much a marketplace plan might cost, based on an individual’s location, income, and household details.

For people who were already uninsured before the economy melted down, the picture is more complicated. Twelve states that run their own insurance marketplaces—including coronavirus hotspots like New York, California, and Washington—have opened special enrollment periods in response to the crisis, allowing anyone who lacked insurance prior to the pandemic to get covered. President Donald Trump reportedly considered opening a special enrollment period for residents of the dozens of other states that participate in the federally run insurance marketplace, but he ultimately decided against it.

Trump has been an outspoken critic of Obamacare, siding with Republican attorneys general in a lawsuit that seeks to undo the health care law entirely. The short-term health insurance plans he espouses as an alternative do not have to comply with the ACA, meaning they could deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or refuse to cover services like mental health care.

“Customers Don’t Adhere to the Six Feet of Distance at All”: A Butcher on Working Through the Coronavirus

Sean Krane, a 32-year-old butcher in Los Angeles County, has been working long hours during the coronavirus outbreak as an essential grocery worker at Vons. While some states, including Minnesota, Vermont, Michigan, and Colorado have designated grocery workers as emergency personnel, which qualifies them for emergency child care, California so far has not. Along with his United Food and Commercial Workers union local, Sean has joined an effort to call on Gov. Gavin Newsom to classify grocery workers as emergency personnel and make sanitation protections and crowd control mandatory at stores. I spoke with him about his experience. You can hear Sean on our latest episode of Bite:

I’ve worked at Vons for 15 years. The thing that I like about my job is helping my community and also just my co-workers in general. I’m a butcher, I cut meat; it’s kind of an art, a craft in itself.

I have a girlfriend and a five-year-old son. It’s probably been a week or two weeks since I’ve stopped seeing them because of the whole outbreak, and I’m concerned about getting her grandparents sick.

“Customers don’t adhere to the six feet of distance at all. It makes me feel very uncomfortable.”

I normally work five days a week. The past two weeks, I’ve worked seven days, every single day, because we’ve been doing record sales that we’ve never even seen. Usually the busiest day in the meat department or in the store is two days before Christmas. The past two weeks, we’re beating those sales on a daily basis.

Courtesy Sean Krane

I tried contacting my union about the crowd control within the stores. It says 100 people on the front of the door, but there’s no one at the front door counting people coming in and out. And customers don’t adhere to the six feet of distance at all. It makes me feel very uncomfortable. Pretty much every time I’m going to load the meat case, I’m bringing out a whole dolly of meat or maybe a six-wheeler of ground turkey or chicken. And everyone will turn their head and see what I have on the cart, and they just want to come walk over and grab the cart from me. That’s probably the most scary thing, that people aren’t really observing or acting on the six feet of social distancing. It’s very stressful to work in those kinds of conditions.

My store manager went over today saying that we can wear gloves and masks, but the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] does not recommend it. They are giving us hand sanitizer and they’re allowing us to wash our hands every hour. They actually recommend us to be washing our hands and sanitizing rather than using gloves and masks.

I had a customer today that I politely asked if she could give me my six feet social distance, and she kind of gave me this dirty look. She was on the cell phone with a family member, I’m guessing, and kind of thought I was being rude for asking. It’s just hard to get everyone on board, I guess.

The best thing that a grocery shopper can do is give us a thank you. That’s been the biggest thing that I’ve seen lately within the past few days. There’s not many people that give me a thank you, but when they do, it goes a long way.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

An Interview With Elizabeth Warren: Trump’s $500 Billion Coronavirus “Slush Fund” and More

Few people know more about conducting financial oversight during an economic crisis than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who led the congressional panel that monitored how billions in federal bailout funds were spent—and misspent—following the 2008 crash. This week, she Zoomed with Mother Jones’ Washington, DC bureau chief David Corn from the back porch of her Cambridge home with her golden retriever, Bailey, by her side. Warren, who last month ended her presidential bid, discussed what could go wrong with the Trump administration’s $500 billion coronavirus corporate bailout fund and how best to monitor this “slush fund.” She also recounted her efforts two years ago to get answers from John Bolton after he abruptly disbanded the National Security Council’s global health security unit and talked about whether she is interested in the veep slot on the Democratic presidential ticket.

The Navy Has an Absurd Explanation for Why It Fired Captain Brett Crozier

On Monday, Captain Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt dashed off a four-page letter to his superiors detailing the frightening conditions on his ship, where dozens of sailors had become ill with COVID-19. Because of the confined nature of the aircraft carrier, Crozier said in stark terms that his crew would be unable to safely quarantine infected sailors, a situation that increased the chances of the virus spreading to others. He said 90 percent of the sailors needed to disembark in Guam, where the ship was docked, or risk further infections. “The current plan in execution on TR will not achieve virus eradication on any timeline,” he wrote

Hours later, the San Francisco Chronicle published excerpts from Crozier’s letter. By Thursday, he had been relieved of his command. The Navy offered no detailed rebuttal of his letter. In describing his reasons for firing Crozier, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly sounded at times more like he was giving him a promotion than relieving him of command. “Captain Crozier is an honorable man who, despite this uncharacteristic lapse of judgment, has dedicated himself throughout a lifetime of incredible service to our nation,” Modly told reporters on Thursday. “And he should be proud of that.”

So what did Crozier do wrong? Here’s how Modly explained it:

The letter was sent over non-secure, unclassified email even though the ship possesses some of the most sophisticated communications and equipment in the fleet. And it wasn’t just sent up the chain of command. It was sent and copied to a broad array of other people. It was sent outside of the chain of command. At the same time, the rest of the Navy was fully responding. Worse, the captain’s actions made the sailors, their families, and many in the public believe that his letter was the only reason help from our larger Navy family was forthcoming, which was hardly the case.

That explanation makes it seem like the Navy’s primary problem was not with Crozier’s choice of words, but his method of delivery. Instead of contacting his superiors discreetly, he wrote a memo that—intentionally or not—could have been leaked. Or he leaked it himself. The Navy wasn’t too clear on that, either. 

Earlier in the press conference, Modly took time to note specifically that the Chronicle is Crozier’s “hometown newspaper,” but when pressed later over whether he believed that Crozier leaked the letter, Modly demurred. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever know who leaked the information,” he said, adding that Crozier “sent it out pretty broadly. And in sending it out pretty broadly, he did not take care to ensure that it couldn’t be leaked.”

The Navy is in the midst of one of the more serious peacetime crises in its history, after already enduring turmoil in its top ranks. Modly, formerly the No. 2 civilian in the department, only took over in November after the Navy’s last civilian leader, Richard Spencer, was ousted for insubordination in a convoluted chain of events surrounding President Donald Trump’s intervention in the case of disgraced Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher. Crozier had racked up several major awards for outstanding service since graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1992 and seemed to clearly hold the support of his crew. A video circulating online of him leaving the Roosevelt to cheers from his sailors is one piece of evidence for that. Even Modly acknowledged that Crozier was beloved. 

Wrongfully relieved of command but did right by the sailors. #navy @UncleChaps @katebarstool @ZeroBlog30 @CaptainCons pic.twitter.com/M0aZhHNMXT

— Dylan Castillo (@Sotero269) April 3, 2020

Given the tenuous time and Crozier’s obvious track record, shouldn’t there be a stronger argument for firing him beyond the fact that his letter reached too many people? 

“I have no doubt in my mind that Captain Crozier did what he thought was in the best interests of the safety and well-being of his crew. Unfortunately, it did the opposite,” Modly said. “It unnecessarily raised alarms with the families of our sailors and marines with no plan to address those concerns. It raised concerns about the operational capabilities and operational security of that ship that could have emboldened our adversaries to seek advantage. And it undermined the chain of command who had been moving and adjusting as rapidly as possible to get him the help he needed.”

Rather than raise unnecessary concerns among families, it seems that Crozier’s memo accurately reflected their fears. One mother of a sailor on board the Roosevelt who tested positive for COVID-19 told the Washington Post that the captain’s “letter touched on all the points that us, as family members, were feeling.” The parent of another sailor under Crozier’s command told the Post he “is a hero” who cares “tremendously for the well-being of my daughter and all her shipmates on board TR.”

Even if Navy officials were already responding to Crozier’s concerns in private, their urgency clearly did not match what he felt was necessary. On Tuesday, Modly outlined a possible reason for this in an interview with CNN. “We have been working actually the last seven days to move those sailors off the ship and get them into accommodations in Guam,” he said. “The problem is that Guam doesn’t have enough beds right now and we’re having to talk to the government there to see if we can get some hotel space, create tent-type facilities.” 

But in that same interview, he also said Navy leaders “don’t disagree” with Crozier’s assessment of the threat posed by COVID-19. By Thursday, when speaking with reporters to justify his decision to fire Crozier, Modly seemed to reverse that support. This time around, he said, Crozier’s letter “misrepresented the facts of what was going on on the ship.” When asked to cite a specific example, Modly said, “Well, you raise a particular level of alarm when you say 50 people on the crew are going to die. No one knows that to be true. It does not comport with the data we have.” 

Crozier’s advice to remove sailors quickly from the ship was ultimately heeded. On Wednesday, the Navy announced a plan to remove more than half of the sailors off the ship. In announcing that decision, Modly and Admiral Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, acknowledged a possible misunderstanding with Crozier. “The misunderstanding perhaps was the requirement of the speed to get people off the ship,” Gilday said. “In order to act on a requirement, we have to clearly understand the requirement.”

Crozier’s letter could not have made the timeline more apparent. “Decisive action is required,” he wrote. “Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.”

The only thing decisive about the Navy’s response was the speed with which it fired Crozier. 

Guy Snodgrass, a former Pentagon official under Defense Secretary James Mattis who served with Crozier on the USS Ronald Reagan, said his firing “sets the Navy back significantly as a professional organization, losing trust with both the American public and Sailors.” High-profile Democrats have also latched on to Crozier’s ousting as an example of the Navy’s failure to properly address the accelerating coronavirus crisis among its ranks. In a statement to Reuters, Joe Biden said, “Donald Trump’s Acting Navy Secretary shot the messenger—a commanding officer who was faithful to both his national security mission and his duty to care for his sailors.” Tommy Vietor, an Obama administration national security official who co-hosts the popular liberal podcast Pod Save America, said on Twitter that it was “moving” to watch Crozier’s sailors wish him well, “but infuriating to know that he was fired for refusing to whitewash the disastrous coronavirus response.”

The Navy, in the meantime, expects there will somehow be no deleterious impact stemming from Crozier’s firing. “I trust that it won’t have a chilling effect,” Modly said. “I hope this will reinforce the fact: We have the proper way of handling this.” When time is running out in a crisis of unexpected magnitude, Captain Brett Crozier’s story raises the question of how proper that process really is.

Friday Cat Blogging – 3 April 2020

This is Hilbert a couple of days ago, distracted by some kind of shiny object while he was strolling along the fence. Little does he know that our squirrel flanked him while he was staring upward and made an end run to . . . somewhere. Whatever it is that squirrels go haring off at. After Hilbert was done with his promenade he jumped over into our neighbor’s yard to provide them with some company while they are sheltering in place. What a warmhearted cat!

The Economic Crash Is Going to Be Particularly Awful for Women and People of Color

The 6.6 million Americans who filed for unemployment last week have earned themselves a grim superlative: They, along with the 3.2 million people who filed the week before, mark the fastest-growing unemployment disaster in recorded US history.

These early numbers don’t tell us exactly who these jobless workers are, but we have some clues. Major retailers, which have closed stores after government orders to shelter in place, have furloughed staff without pay. There have been sweeping layoffs in the food service industry, which employs an estimated 15.6 million Americans, as major suppliers cut staff and most states limit restaurants to takeout only.

These layoffs have been especially bad for two groups—namely, the same people who were particularly screwed over in the last recession: women and people of color. National unemployment numbers haven’t been broken down by demographics yet, but state numbers are looking dire for these groups. Minnesota has reported that women make up nearly two-thirds of new unemployment applicants. In pre-pandemic times, they typically accounted for only a third of them.

The retail industry accounts for 10 percent of all private sector jobs, and the retailers most affected employ the most women. Almost half of the workers employed by restaurants are people of color—and those workers are concentrated in the sector’s poorest paid positions. The low pay that accompanies these positions doesn’t really allow for the sort of long-term savings that could soften the blow of a lost job. The median hourly wage for a retail sales worker, for example, is $11.70, and it’s just $10.47 for restaurant servers. Congress passed legislation last month to increase unemployment benefits for the millions of Americans who’d lose their livelihoods as the pandemic raged, but for women and workers of color, that might not be enough. That’s because they’re likely to be among those who were never made whole after the Great Recession 12 years ago.

“Recovery had been uneven,” says Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “The gains of the economy did not really trickle down to women or people of color in the ways that we might have expected.”

The end of the last recession marked the longest sustained stretch of economic growth in US history, but the benefits weren’t reaped universally across all Americans. A report from IWPR in September 2011 found that 39 percent of women—including 52 percent of Black women and 48 percent of Hispanic women—reported difficulties in paying monthly utility bills, compared to just 26 percent of men who said the same. Even as the wider economy improved, those gaps persisted. A 2017 analysis from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found that, adjusted for inflation, Black men and women across all races are earning less than they did in 2007.

What led to such an uneven recovery? Much of it has to do with how the recession reshaped the jobs landscape. Positions in the public sector, which historically were committed to fair and inclusive hiring, faced steep cuts as states committed to austerity measures, and many of those jobs never came back. The gig economy—premised on part-time, low-wage, benefits-free labor—ascended in its place, disproportionately employing workers of color, who, like all women, are also overrepresented in minimum wage work.

Beyond wages, the wealth of those populations also took a tremendous hit during the Great Recession. Both women and people of color have less wealth than white men and were more likely to dip into their retirement or other long-term savings accounts to stay afloat. Crucially, homeownership and property values never fully recovered, particularly for households of color. In 2009, the median Black household wealth dropped 53 percent, compared with just the 17 percent white households lost. “Home equity is used to start a small business, pay for retirement, and pay for college,” Mason says. “The last recession wiped all of that out.”

And so a wealth gap that persisted long before the Great Recession widened in its aftermath. In 2010, for example, the average white household had eight times the wealth of the average Black household. In 2014, white families had 13 times the wealth of their Black counterparts.

Those setbacks now form the fragile foundation for workers weathering this latest crisis. Women, still often relegated to the role of family caretaker, will find themselves particularly squeezed as dwindling workforce meets new demands at home. “This is a gendered crisis,” explains Kate Bahn, director of labor market policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. “They’re facing a double burden of being really strapped in the paid economy as well as trying to care for their family members—maybe children who now need homeschooling, or elderly parents and a spouse at risk of getting sick.”

Disparities in health care coverage put these populations in a precarious position. Roughly a quarter of women delayed or declined medical attention due to costs in 2017, while only a fifth of men did the same, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey. That same year, a third of Black households skipped health care, compare to just 21 percent of white households, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking. “And that was in the good times,” says Christian Weller, an expert in labor and inequality at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “You can imagine what decisions people are making now.”

The natural conclusion of these conspiring circumstances leads to a doomsday scenario. Poverty rates will rise, Weller predicts, as people cut back on utilities, food, and prescription drugs necessary for preventative or long-term care. “Right now, there are a lot of things going wrong at the same time,” Weller says. “All of these inequalities already existed—they’re just magnified right now.”

The emergency relief bill Congress passed last week tried counteract the worst impacts of the current crisis, extending unemployment benefits to gig, freelance, and part-time workers for the first time ever. It also suspended six months’ worth of payments on federally held student loans, a burden that disproportionately affects borrowers of color.

But the experts I spoke with identified key shortcomings. Bahn wishes there had been more of an emphasis on labor standards and compensation, particularly for those who are on the frontlines of the pandemic response. Many of those who are still gainfully employed work in health care, regularly exposed to the deadly virus. Roughly three-quarters of hospital and health care workers are women, and while most of them are white, Black and Latinx workers are vastly overrepresented among home care and nursing home employees. “I’m just horrified thinking about people making $20,000 a year while dealing with the most vulnerable populations,” Bahn says.

Darrick Hamilton, an economist who studies disparities across race, says he’s particularly concerned about the one-time payment of $1,200 most adults will receive from the federal government. He says it’s neither sufficiently large nor sustained enough to keep people whole until the economy recovers. Hamilton also raised concerns about the small business loan program, which is already under scrutiny for how it plans to distribute emergency funds to firms. “Various small businesses—and particularly those that are black owned—are not capitalized to be able to withstand an economic downturn where you shut their business down for an extended period of time,” he says.

“I don’t think we’ve learned the lessons from 2008 at all,” IWPR’s Mason tells me. “We’re still targeting the largest amount of support for big businesses, and we’re doing so little for the people who will be suffering long after those businesses have rebounded.”

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in March

The American economy lost 701,000 jobs last month. We need 90,000 new jobs just to keep up with population growth, which means that net job growth clocked in at—

Ahem. I suppose that accounting for population growth hardly matters at this point, does it? Just for the record, though, here’s the jobs chart for March:

This is for early March, by the way. The full extent of job losses due to COVID-19 won’t show up until next month.

And also just for the record, March was a fairly good month for wages. Average hourly wages for blue collar workers went up about 3 percent after accounting for inflation. That’s pretty good! Assuming you still have a job, that is. Most of you probably do, but there are obvious exceptions. I don’t normally bother showing job losses by category, but it’s worthwhile this time:

The biggest job losses by far came in four areas: retail, temp services, health care, and hospitality (which includes restaurants). I’m a little surprised about the job losses in the health care sector. There must be a specific story behind this, but I’m not sure what it is.

My Sister Has Been a Travel Agent for 30 Years. We Talked About Her Work Life During the Pandemic.

Michelle Mazzie has been a travel agent in Park City, Utah, for 30 years, serving mostly corporate clients and some leisure travelers. She also happens to be my sister. So when the travel industry became one of the first business casualties of the novel coronavirus, I started interviewing her about what that looked like on the ground as the pandemic first took hold.

Our first interview was on March 6. That’s the day Austin canceled its annual music and ideas festival South by Southwest. That’s also the day Vice President Mike Pence announced that 21 people aboard a Princess cruise ship were infected with the virus. President Donald Trump said he wanted to prevent it from docking in California because, “I don’t need to have the numbers [of US cases] double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.” Businesses were canceling work travel; big conferences in Las Vegas and elsewhere were halted. I’d planned to write up the interview and post it soon after. But the travel industry proved to be a moving target. Everything we thought was true on March 6 turned was totally different a few days later. 

Within a week of that first conversation, every major sporting event in the country, from professional hockey to college basketball, got canceled. Schools closed, the economy started slowing, and the airlines were panicking. I couldn’t update my story fast enough to keep up, so we just kept talking. I’ve continued to interview my sister several times over the past month about what it’s been like to be a part of an industry that is imploding, with projected losses of more than $400 billion in 2020. Here’s what she told me. (Our interviews have been edited for clarity.)

Can you describe what it’s been like to be on the frontlines of the travel industry during the pandemic?

It’s been a nightmare. People are just exhausted. We’ve been working night and day to get people home. We’re trying to balance the needs of our clients while following the guidelines that each travel vendor has in place. But the guidelines have been changing multiple times a day. I feel like I need a law degree to figure out the logistics. I really don’t want to make an error that will cost my company money in the long run. It’s not an easy job. When the airlines won’t answer their phones, we’re the ones that are fielding everything. My company did layoffs for the first time in its 35-year history, and it’s my understanding that the largest travel management company in Utah laid off 200 people a few weeks ago. It’s been hard to watch the whole world come down like that.

When I first started talking to you about the industry in early March, you said you had friends in the travel business who were traveling around a lot right now and saying how great it was because there were no crowds. Has that changed?

Yep. Now people are definitely canceling their trips. I feel like there wasn’t a clear direction when all this started happening. I have a friend who was stuck on a ship. She went to Antarctica. They were supposed to disembark on March 17, but no one would let them dock. They sent her to the Falkland Islands. She finally got home on the 27th. 

 

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Look at that there I am! A Signature Travel Expert. I love this conference. I have learned so much over the past year and met some awesome travel advisors along the way. #hesstravel #galavantingtattler #sigsocial #sigtn #travelmatters #lasvegas #mandalaybay #traveleducation #stn2019 @signaturetravelnetwork

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What sorts of issues have your clients run into in the past month?

I had a gal call, and she was actually in Seoul [just before all the travel bans] and was flying to Melbourne. She was worried her flight wasn’t going to go, if she was going to be stuck there. Her flight went, and I think she was wondering if they were even going to let her get off the plane connecting through Sydney. She made it. But in Seoul, she was very concerned she’d be stuck there for 28 days. That would be so interesting because do you stay in a hotel room for 28 days and who pays for that? How much does it cost to stay in a hotel room for 28 days and eat?

Are people pissed off about having to cancel or postpone trips?

Pissed off? No, they’re mostly scared. I haven’t had anybody that’s been pissed off. Leisure travelers, they’re definitely not pissed off. It’s more of a concern thing.

I have heard that getting your travel canceled or changed, especially with the airlines right now is a nightmare. The hold times to call sound really long. Are people freaking out about this?

I feel like I should really point out that this is why you should use a travel agent. We could get [a flight] canceled and get it all figured out for you a lot faster, so you don’t have to wait four hours on hold with Delta. There is actually value in a travel professional. We will sit on hold for four hours for you. People who don’t book with us have actually called and said, “Is there something you can do?” We help them the best we can, but it’s hard when we didn’t do the booking originally.

What sorts of interesting questions are you getting?

Somebody asked me, “Do you think the airports will be empty when I go?” I said, “I sure hope so!” They want to know, “Will I get a whole row to myself?”

The Trump administration has made a number of missteps during this crisis that seem to have had an adverse impact on travel, like when he announced during a March 11 prime-time TV address, with no advance warnings, that travel from Europe to the US would be banned. Lots of people paid ridiculous amounts of money to get home before the ban took effect, and then many got stuck in crowded lines at the airport when they arrived in the US. Have moments like that made things worse for travel agents?

It has gotten worse. After he gave his speech, travelers went into a panic, and they were calling wanting to know what he meant, and we didn’t know. We had no idea what he meant. Nobody knew. On the [after-hours] lifesavers line, it was just panic. When we have all these people who are already in Europe, and then he comes out and says there’s a ban, and now they can’t come home. It’s been a lot. People were upset. They really took it out on the lifesavers line.

You couldn’t pay me enough to go on a cruise, even before the coronavirus outbreak. So I’ve been shocked to see that right up until the companies were forced to shut down people were going on them. Are you seeing any sort of change of opinions about cruise ships now that so many people have gotten sick on them?

Nobody has said they won’t get on a cruise ship. They are more just like, “When do you think we’ll be able to go?” People love cruising.

Have you ever seen anything remotely like this before?

There was 9/11 when all the flights were cancelled, and then people didn’t want to travel. That was interesting. Then there was SARS in 2003 and that cost $50 billion in travel. I think it was SARS that really hit the travel industry. But they say that this is more comparable to 9/11 as far as what the travel industry is going to lose, and that’s a lot.

“I feel like we have to be here for our travelers and the corporations we work with.”

Are you worried about your job?

My company has a contingency plan. I feel pretty confident in their plan, and I honestly believe that travel will come back because it always does. I feel like we have to be here for our travelers and the corporations we work with. I don’t know how long it will go on. That’s the unknown of it, right?

When the outbreak first started to get really serious, people were saying there were travel deals to be had. Were there any deals? And are they now all just a fantasy?

There are a few deals now. I think if you wanted to try to fly tomorrow you could get a really good deal! But then you land in DC or somewhere, and you have to be quarantined for 14 days. I think you can fly from DC to Salt Lake now for like $200 for immediate travel or in June, to Hawaii from SLC is $400. Soooo there are a few deals. But everybody should just stay home.

Is anyone actually traveling anymore?

It’s funny because every day, I’m so busy still doing cancellations. If somebody calls to book a new trip, I’m like, “How do I do that?” We’re like, “You actually want to buy something? Are you sure?” That’s the first question. I am happy to issue a ticket because I know next week I’ll be canceling. It will give me something to do.

One of the hardest things I’ve found about the pandemic is the way it’s put life on hold. I’m a big planner, as you know, and this time of year we’re usually making all sorts of plans: summer camp, vacations, trips to see you. What do you tell people who are in this weird purgatory?

You really have to go on like everything’s fine and make your summer plans. You could interview me now about the Utah toilet paper shortage.

The 2020 Election Is Now About the Coronavirus. Here’s How Progressive Groups Plan to Win It.

On March 8, a group of progressive opinion researchers wrapped up three days of polling American public attitudes on the coronavirus. By March 11, the day Navigator Research released those findings, the World Health Organization officially elevated the crisis to pandemic status, the NBA canceled its season, and Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced they had COVID-19. That night, Trump gave an Oval Office address that failed to quell fears, setting off a market spiral the following morning.

“I remember feeling like we did a survey that is already out of date in four days,” says Bryan Bennett, the director of polling and analytics at the Hub Project, a progressive group that houses the Navigator Research project. “The only comparable experience, at least in my career, was during the initial part of the financial crisis. But this was just a whole other level.” 

“You can’t wait until October to tell the American people about how roundly he screwed this up.” 

As most Americans’ routines were upended by the virus, so was the political landscape. Even though the November elections were still eight months away, the coronavirus made it clear to progressive operatives and advocates that they had an immediate role to play, and that they could make a big difference by launching ad campaigns that define Trump on the election’s new and biggest question. Health care and the economy, already front-and-center on voters’ minds, were now even more urgent, and tied to a larger debate, the outcome of which will likely determine who occupies the White House next year: Whether President Donald Trump has failed in anticipating and responding to the crisis.

“The narrative Democrats set now forms the prism through which future news will be interpreted,” says Daniel Scarvalone, a digital strategist at the Democratic digital firm Bully Pulpit Interactive. “Not all Americans are going to watch the news and come to their own conclusions that Donald Trump is doing a bad job. They need their elected officials, state or city leaders, and campaigns to draw the connection between the Trump administration’s actions and the fact that their kids can’t go to school. And that’s the fundamental challenge Democrats have to deal with.”

Outside group spending has long had a major role to play in campaigns, and never more so given current campaign finance laws that allow super PACs and dark money groups to collect and spend unlimited sums. Often they play the bad cop, going negative and attacking the politician they oppose while allowing their preferred candidate to stay positive and appear above the fray. In 2012, the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA Action laid into Mitt Romney with ads portraying him as a heartless capitalist who shut down midwestern factories to turn a profit that defined the republican nominee for the rest of the election and helped sink his campaign.  

On March 12, a group dedicated to preserving and expanding the Affordable Care Act, called Protect Our Care, released the first political television ad that mentioned the coronavirus. It targeted Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) for his opposition to Obamacare. Montanans already worried about health care were now also worried about coronavirus, the ad’s narrator intoned.

But Protect Our Care quickly realized that as a group focused on health care, they had a larger role to play, and broadened its messaging to include the country’s biggest contest by setting up what it calls its “Coronavirus War Room,” a messaging hub meant to hold Trump accountable for the ways he has made the crisis worse. Last week, it began blasting off memos targeting Trump to the press while also acting as a messaging clearinghouse for other groups. Protect Our Care also started hosting calls three times a week with progressive groups to get everyone on the same talking points. Brad Woodhouse, the group’s executive director, said that last week’s Wednesday call hit its limit of 100 participants. 

“They’re gonna want to crown him the King of Corona.”

“Our focus at Protect Our Care and the Coronavirus War Room is largely on the accountability piece and with that it’s almost exclusively focused on Trump,” says Woodhouse, a longtime Democratic operative. “You can’t wait until October to tell the American people about how roundly he screwed this up.”

Woodhouse sums up the core messages pushed from the war room: “He screwed it up from the beginning, he hasn’t learned from his mistakes, he’s downplayed the crisis, he doesn’t listen to experts, and that continues to make the crisis worse.” You can see the strategy deployed in the emails his team blasts out, often three a day, which attack Trump on a range of issues, including the administration’s failure to prepare by ramping up testing and the manufacture of medical equipment and protective gear; its elimination of key offices and positions charged with pandemic preparedness; and by elevating Trump’s comments, like downplaying the need for ventilators, that contradict medical experts.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign has been churning out press releases with the opposite message. On March 19, the campaign sent out a timeline of the “Trump administration’s decisive actions to combat the coronavirus,” including travel advisories regarding China and the dissemination of tests—though extensive reporting has shown the administration critically bungled testing for months, leading to a deficit that is still crippling the response. In multiple emails from the campaign’s “Trump War Room,” the campaign points a finger at the media, labeling it “dishonest.” In the past few days, the campaign has claimed that the Obama administration failed to stockpile medical equipment and blaming then Vice President Biden.

The president’s message has been embraced by conservative outlets, most notably Fox News. Like Trump, the network initially downplayed the crisis, with Sean Hannity, its most-watched host, calling the pandemic a hoax. (Nine days later, he falsely claimed he never had.) But eventually, it adopted a shift in tone more in line with public health warnings about the severity of the pandemic, but that nonetheless accommodated pro-Trump messaging. The network has aggressively pushed the anti-Malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19 just as Trump has done, without mentioning that there is scant evidence to support their use. In the past few days, Fox hosts and guests have also floated the idea on air and in social media posts  that claims of overwhelmed hospitals are a conspiracy, circulating grassroots reports of purportedly empty local hospital parking lots and emergency rooms. The network also gave cover to an idea floated by Trump, but quickly-abandoned, that older Americans would be proud to sacrifice their lives to protect the economy for younger people.

“It’s absolutely crucial that voters hear the facts about Trump’s inaction and misleading statements.”

“One thing has been clear from the last five years of Trump, which is that he has enough right-wing information channels that even when we think he will implode, he rarely does,” says Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic consultant. “They’re gonna want to crown him the King of Corona like Eisenhower was after D-Day no matter what happens.”

To fight pro-Trump narratives, Democratic message warriors are looking for fresh data on how his words and actions are hitting home amid the crisis. For nearly two years, Navigator Research, which is operated by two progressive polling firms, Global Strategy Group and GBAO Research and Strategy in consultation with the Hub Project, has put out monthly polls to help guide progressive messaging on a variety of issues. Two weeks ago, the project decided to scrap the monthly poll and set up a daily tracker to understand people’s attitudes toward the coronavirus and Trump’s handling of the crisis. “We can’t handle this appropriately in real time as a progressive movement, as Democratic leaders, if we don’t understand how the public is processing it—because it is uncharted territory,” said Ian Sams, a Democratic strategist who consults with the Hub Project and Navigator Research. “We’ve never had 3 million people file for unemployment in a week.” Recent numbers show the situation is even more unprecedented: 10 million jobless benefit claims in two weeks.

Over the last two weeks, the project’s poll has captured data uncovering areas where Trump remains out of step with American opinion. When Trump floated the idea of prioritizing the economy over public health, the tracking poll released last Friday showed that people were more worried about their health and the health of those they know than the economy. Over the course of its first week, the poll showed Americans’ view of Trump’s overall handling of the crisis was trending downward. Small majorities last week believed Trump’s response has been “unprepared” and “chaotic.”

“Voters have deep concern about the character flaws of Donald Trump,” says Ferguson, who, in his work on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign saw such opinions shape that election cycle. “They identify that he’s selfish, that he’s dishonest, and that he’s chaotic. But up until now, those flaws have never had a cost. Up until now people wrote those flaws off as ‘He tweets too much.’ Now, the fundamental character flaws of Donald Trump are having real consequences. That more than anything else may be his undoing.”

Multiple Democratic super PACs have begun to run advertisements on Facebook and on television to hammer this message, though campaign finance law prohibits them from coordinating with progressive groups that are subject to fundraising restrictions. Pacronym, a Democratic super PAC affiliated with the digital firm Acronym, announced on March 17 that it would spend $2.5 million through April on Facebook ads to educate voters about “how the Trump administration’s chaos and incompetence have weakened the nation’s ability to respond to the coronavirus crisis.” The effort is focused on battleground states.

“The fundamental character flaws of Donald Trump are having real consequences.”

Priorities USA Action, another Democratic super PAC, began running television ads last Tuesday in the swing states of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The ad splices clips of Trump downplaying the crisis with a growing chart showing the rising number of infections in the United States. The Trump campaign issued a cease and desist letter to TV stations asking them to remove the ad; the group responded by putting it on the air in Arizona as well. A version with updated numbers went up this week. On Wednesday, the group spent another $1 million on a television ad that contrasts Trump’s response with remarks Biden has made about how he would handle the crisis. It also began running a Facebook ad juxtaposing Trump and Biden.

“This is the most important issue in the country today,” says Katie Drapcho, Priorities USA Action’s director of research and polling. “I think it’s a defining moment for Trump’s presidency and the country. And our view is that it’s absolutely crucial that voters hear the facts about Trump’s inaction and misleading statements.” 

Last week, Unite the Country PAC, a super PAC started in 2019 to support Biden’s campaign, spent $1 million to broadcast an ad accusing Trump of failing in this time of crisis, and added another TV spot on the same theme on Tuesday. “We have a lot of partnerships with organizations on the IE side,” says Drapcho, referring to independent expenditures made by other super PACs, though not naming them. “[We] are making sure that we’re synced up with them as best that we can.” Protect Our Care, the group behind the Coronavirus War Room, launched new ads across Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania this week targeting Trump his unprepared response to the crisis.

As this new deluge of ads hits Trump in key states, America First Action, the main super PAC set up to defend Trump, appears to have been caught flat footed. After Trump aides and allies expressed concerns about the lack of air cover backing the president, America First Action announced it would spend $10 million to run television and digital ads attacking Biden in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, set to begin in mid-April, nearly a month after Democrats began pounding the president.

Messaging is only one piece of what Democratic groups must address to compete effectively through the coronavirus crisis. Earlier in March, the calls run by Protect Our Care included legislative updates from Congress alongside information on public health. Looking forward, the logistics of campaigning during a pandemic loom. It’s one thing to figure out how to attack Donald Trump, it’s another to do so without rallies or door knocking. It’s a problem for the Democratic nominee, but also for organizers behind voter registration and get-out-the-vote programs. 

“You have a lot of progressive Democratic groups both rethinking their plans for events over the spring and summer and beginning to write Plan B for their canvas programs and door knocking in the fall,” said a Democratic consultant. “No one is implementing Plan B yet. But lots of people are putting pen to paper, because no one really knows.” Just as social gatherings have transitioned to FaceTime and Zoom, it seems certain that new forms of political organizing will be digitized.

But for now, working from their homes, many Democrats allies see the political response as urgent. Scarvalone, the digital strategist, points to Navigator Research’s finding that over 60 percent of Americans believe Trump was unprepared for the crisis. “But it isn’t yet translating into an equal percentage of people who hate how he’s handling it,” he says.

“We lose if we don’t make the consequences of his actions tangible to everyday people.”

Stimulus Checks Coming Soon for Low-Income Workers

If the IRS has direct deposit information for you, you’ll get your $1,200 stimulus payment in a couple of weeks:

Then, starting the week of May 4, the IRS will begin issuing paper checks to individuals, says the memo obtained by AP Thursday. The paper checks will be issued at a rate of about 5 million per week, which means it could take up to 20 weeks to get all the checks out. That timeline would delay some checks until the week of Aug. 17.

Hmmm. I suppose it’s too much to ask that they at least get the money out to the poorest folks first. Hell, knowing how they usually operate, they’ll probably—

The checks will be issued in reverse order of adjusted gross income, meaning that people with the lowest income will get payments first.

Oh. Well, good job.

I wonder why they’re issuing only 5 million checks per week? Is that literally the limit of the check printers they have? Or what?

Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: April 2 Update

Here’s the coronavirus growth rate through April 1. France had a big jump today and is now right on the Italian track. Spain continues to skyrocket. Britain is now above the Italian track. And the United States recorded its first day with more than a thousand deaths. On the bright side, Italy now looks like it’s definitely starting to decline from its peak.

I’ve gotten a few questions about death rates recently. As you recall, a while back I switched from tracking cases to tracking deaths because the case numbers were too inaccurate. Now, however, there are questions about whether countries are even counting deaths accurately. And if they aren’t, how does that affect the charts?

Not much, I think. There’s been no suggestion that different countries are counting deaths differently, nor that the counts have changed over time. It’s mostly a matter of people dying at home and not getting counted. There are also legitimate questions of what “counts” as a coronavirus death. In any case, I don’t think any of this shows up as a systematic difference either between countries or over time, so the charts are still reasonably accurate. But it’s something to keep an eye on.

How to read the charts: Let’s use France as an example. For them, Day 0 was March 5, when they surpassed one death per 10 million by recording their sixth death. They are currently at Day 28; total deaths are at 900x their initial level; and they have recorded a total of 80.6 deaths per million so far. As the chart shows, this is exactly where Italy was on their Day 28.

The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here.

Activists Are Still Taking to the Streets—in Cars

Downtown San Francisco should have been quieter than ever, since most of the city has been quarantining for weeks due to COVID-19. But on Tuesday morning, the streets echoed with more noise than a typical rush hour, as a long caravan of cars blaring their horns inched toward the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building, demanding the release of immigrant detainees who are highly at risk during the pandemic.

Noisy caravans simultaneously moved through Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego, employing a tactic that has caught on nationwide as a safe way to voice political dissent in a time of social distancing: protesting from your car.

Many activists credit Never Again Action, the national network of Jewish people and allies, with inspiring the idea after they mobilized as many as 100 cars to surround ICE’s Hudson County detention center in New Jersey on March 22. Since then, protest caravans have appeared in Philadelphia, Chicago, and throughout California, calling for rent forgiveness, freedom for prisoners in overcrowded jails, better funding for health care workers on the pandemic’s front lines, and removing President Trump from office. 

Yesterday we surrounded an ICE Detention Center in NJ. We won’t let COVID turn detention centers into death camps.

We need your help to do this across the country. We have to pressure 50 Governors to act to protect ALL of the people in their states, no exceptions #ReleaseThemNow pic.twitter.com/9KeCo500eL

— Never Again Action (@NeverAgainActn) March 23, 2020

The tactic isn’t necessarily new—automobiles were used to hold up traffic during Black Lives Matter protests throughout the last decade, and even played a role in the Montgomery bus boycotts of the 1950s. But by insulating passengers at a safe remove from others, cars have taken on new relevance in the age of the coronavirus, when people can’t otherwise be in the streets.

“Of course there are digital actions,” says Sam Tunick of Never Again Action, which organized the recent San Francisco protest. “But there’s something about an in-person action that wakes people up to the urgency. We wanted to protest in a way that couldn’t be ignored, since detention facilities aren’t in broad daylight and we don’t alway know what goes on inside.” 

Never Again Action draws parallels between modern immigrant detention and the historic persecution of Jews, a connection they say grows more pressing by the day as overcrowded and unsanitary conditions threaten to turn ICE facilities into “death camps.” 

An activist on San Francisco’s waterfront prepares for a car protest.

Molly Stuart

“We’re doing what we wish that bystanders had done for our ancestors, which would have prevented a lot of death and suffering if a critical mass of people had noticed and taken action,” says Tunick, whose car blasted Beyoncé’s “Freedom” repeatedly throughout the two-hour protest. I trailed somewhere behind, alone in my Ford. Snaking through city streets in such a long caravan felt chaotic, but the dozens of cars attained critical mass at times, such as when they circled the block around City Hall.

Though the group defied stay-at-home orders, “I’d argue that protest is an essential activity,” Tunick says. “We’re ringing the alarm about something that could become a greater public health emergency.”

“Anne Frank didn’t die in a gas chamber,” said a sign taped to one car at the protest. “She died of typhus in a detention camp.”

Besides the danger they pose to people inside, infection hotspots like ICE facilities, prisons, and jails can rapidly spread the virus to local communities, through guards and others who move in out of such places.

Related concerns inspired Norma Orozco to attend a car protest in Oakland last week. After noticing that the Alameda County sheriff added an $85 million request to expand the police force at around 8 p.m. on the night before a county Board of Supervisors meeting, Orozco, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and other local anti-incarceration groups mobilized to have a car-based presence when the meeting started at 9 a.m. the next day.

As county supervisors met in person to vote on their agenda, Orozco circled the building with a dozen other cars before parking in a place visible through the meeting room’s windows.

“We wanted to let the supervisors know that we were still watching and paying attention to what’s going on,” says Orozco, calling the sheriff’s last-minute request a “cash grab” made strategically while advocates were busy trying to provide sanitary supplies to inmates and release as many as they could. The sheriff’s office said that his request was not coronavirus-related; the protestors called for money to be diverted to local hospitals instead.

Cars circled the Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting to protest a budget increase for their sheriff.

Brooke Anderson

That car protest seemed to be a success, as the supervisors postponed their vote to allow for weeks of public comment on the sheriff’s request. Those driving against ICE, however, continue to play the long game.

Tuesday’s statewide protest in California dovetailed with earlier pleas by San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to use emergency powers during COVID-19 to suspend ICE facility contracts and release detainees. The governor’s office replied that only the federal government could do so. Yet organizers with Never Again Action say they will keep applying pressure at all levels of government. 

“We are trying to stop preventable deaths before it’s too late,” said Tunick, adding that the turnout of more than three dozen cars, and even more in other cities, was a pleasant surprise. “When we’re all feeling isolated, it’s really important to express dissent in a collective way,” he says.

Ruth Robertson, who is 67, drove out to represent the Raging Grannies Action League, who have protested immigrant detention policies for years. But “the last time we were in the streets was March 7,”  says Robertson, before the pandemic became grave. “We’ve been itching to get out in the streets again, and this is the best way to do it while still being safe.”

Wearing an N95 mask behind the wheel, and a matronly apron overflowing with buttons, Robertson said she was taking pains not to contract the virus. “I’ve been getting my food and produce delivered,” she said. “I’m staying inside, except for today.”

Outside the Los Angeles Metropolitan Detention Center where anti-ICE protesters are staging a car horn protest to demand ICE release all of its detainees for fear of coronavirus outbreaks while in custody.

Signs say, "Release them all," "Detention is deadly," and "Fuck ICE" pic.twitter.com/wyIrxDXrsP

— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) March 31, 2020

Expired Respirators. Reused Masks. Nurses Offer Sobering Accounts of What Could Come

This story was originally published by ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Nurses at one hospital in southeastern Washington state have alleged that, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they were ordered by supervisors to use one protective mask per shift, potentially exposing themselves to the novel coronavirus.

At another hospital, just east of Seattle, nurses had to use face shields indefinitely.

At a third hospital, on Washington’s border with Oregon, nurses reported that respirators were expired. The hospital responded, the nurses said, by ordering staff to remove stickers showing that the respirators might be as much as three years out of date.

The accounts these nurses provided are drawn from nine complaints filed by the Washington State Nurses Association with the state Department of Labor & Industries since March 11. They paint a picture of how the first state hit by COVID-19 continues to struggle to provide adequate safety measures for medical workers.

Their struggle may well preview what medical providers in other states could face amid a national shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE. The complaints from Washington also show the increasing sense of fear, frustration and powerlessness many nurses and other medical workers feel as COVID-19 pummels the health care system.

As of this weekend, the Washington Department of Health has reported 3,700 known COVID-19 cases in the state and 175 deaths.

ProPublica contacted all nine hospitals that were the subject of a nursing association complaint. Four responded. They said they were taking measures to protect their employees, but emphasized the unprecedented crisis in which their hospital staffs are now working. In a press briefing Thursday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the federal government had supplied the state with “significant shipments of personal protective equipment” but added that he had “profound long-term concerns about being able to procure these necessities.” Inslee, a vocal critic of the Trump administration, reportedly clashed with the president in a conference call with governors Thursday, according to the Washington Post, pleading with him to take more action.

Some nurses in Washington state told ProPublica that they feel caught between their responsibility to care for patients and their own safety. They believe they have no choice but to keep working, at great personal risk and with limited means to raise concerns within their chains of command. They could be disciplined for talking to the media, and some said they had been explicitly warned about that in emails sent by hospital administrators. To refuse an assignment on safety grounds, they said, could find them ostracized by colleagues or, worse, fired for insubordination.

“It’s a health care war zone,” said a critical care nurse who works at one of the nine hospitals named in the complaints and, like all nurses interviewed for this story, asked to remain anonymous.

She told ProPublica that she has had to reuse masks and other PPE, if she can obtain it at all. She uses a simple surgical mask—a paper cover with ear loops, no eye cover—even when working with patients waiting for COVID-19 tests, because that’s all that’s available. Community members have been asked to donate handmade masks. She wears one over her surgical mask; it doesn’t protect from viruses but at least is one more layer. Every night when she comes home, she strips down in the garage and throws her dirty hospital scrubs in the washer before rushing in to take a shower.

“Never in a million years did we think when we were in nursing school that our employer would not provide us with the PPE they are legally obligated to provide us with, to care for those patients,” she said.

Her supervisors acknowledge the shortage, she said, but have told staff members that unless they make do, they could run out of all protective gear, making their situation even more precarious.

“We take an oath of ‘do no harm,’” the nurse said. “Would we be willing to take care of these patients with nothing?” She has a family, some of whom would be especially susceptible to the disease.

“I don’t know what I would do,” she said. “We are continuing to reuse this equipment so hopefully we don’t have to make that choice.”

“This Is What You Signed Up For”

Nurses in Washington, where the virus first surfaced in the U.S., believe their early experience can help prepare health care workers elsewhere. The Washington State Nurses Association has even produced a list of recommendations for other states, called “Lessons learned from the front lines.” Those lessons include, “Know your employer’s plan for PPE (personal protective equipment),” and “Know the testing and treatment protocols now.”

When the novel coronavirus spread across Washington in February and March, the lack of supplies in hospitals, coupled with uncertainty over what protective measures were needed, presented many nurses with a difficult choice. Nurses given a dangerous job could accept the assignment and its attendant risks, or refuse and face possible discipline. The WSNA, a union that represents more than 17,000 nurses, advised members who refused an assignment to stay and do other jobs. For those nurses who accepted an “abnormally dangerous” assignment, the union advised filling out what is called an ADO form. ADO stands for Assignment Despite Objection.

When ProPublica mentioned ADO forms to some nurses in Washington, they did not react with enthusiasm. “It’s the stuff of fairytales,” said one nurse in the Seattle area who specializes in mental health. “Nurses, administratively, are strongly discouraged to use the forms or outright shamed for documenting what they are uncomfortable with in a caregiving situation.”

Under collective bargaining agreements, nurses disciplined for refusing an assignment can push back, arguing that the discipline lacked “just cause.” But the WSNA has warned its members that given the current national and state emergency declarations, the resolution of any such objection “would likely be delayed and the outcome may be uncertain.”

Ruth Schubert, the association’s communications director, said the WSNA has received about 70 Assignment Despite Objection forms related to the coronavirus. She declined to provide copies, citing confidentiality, but did share excerpts, including one that said: “Continue to be asked to reuse single use masks for COVID-19 modified droplet patients and wear ill-fitting gowns that fall off shoulders. Goggles not available.” Some nurses are unlikely to fill out an ADO for fear “that management will see them as complainers,” Schubert wrote in an email.

The WSNA said nurses fear being disciplined for talking with the media. A doctor from PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, close to the Canadian border, told the Seattle Times on Friday that he was fired after he raised multiple concerns about the hospital’s lack of protective measures against COVID-19. A spokesperson for PeaceHealth St. Joseph confirmed the doctor was fired but had no comment because the physician was employed by another company, called TeamHealth.

PeaceHealth St. Joseph is one of the nine hospitals the state nursing association has filed a complaint against, for allegedly asking nurses to reuse and share their protective equipment without proper cleaning. As of Saturday morning, PeaceHealth had not responded to ProPublica’s inquiries about this incident or the complaints. TeamHealth, the doctor’s primary employer, told ProPublica that the physician has “not been terminated,” and that TeamHealth is “committed to engaging with him to try to find a path forward. Now more than ever, we need every available doctor, and we will work with [him] to find the right location for him.”

A Seattle nurse who specializes in oncology said her hospital’s administration initially downplayed the risks: “I had a manager come in and tell me, ‘This is just like the common cold.’” The nurse added, “We’re being told, business as usual, this is what you signed up for.”

Some nurses in Washington have turned to Facebook to express their frustrations. (ProPublica isn’t identifying the nurses in these threads, but did confirm their nursing credentials through state licensing records.)

Commenting on a Facebook post that warned against using cloth masks, one registered nurse wrote, “We need to be able to wear something!!!”

A different post linked to a Bloomberg story about hospital workers making masks from supplies bought at craft stores and Home Depot, including industrial tape and foam. “No offense but I’m not wearing someone’s arts and crafts project with this thing,” wrote one registered nurse.

Facebook posts linking to a Tacoma News Tribune story about nurses reusing disposable masks generated multiple me-too threads. “We are doing this,” wrote a nurse in Everett. “Our hospital … also,” wrote a nursing assistant southeast of Seattle. “It’s everywhere,” one RN wrote, followed by a second RN, “This is everywhere,” followed by a third RN, “Yep.”

One nurse told ProPublica that she wrote on Facebook that she had decided to take a break from her job because she could no longer deal with what she considered an unsafe environment.

She was met with criticism by another nurse, who commented that they didn’t get into this field to “cut and run.” That devastated the nurse who spoke to ProPublica, who responded she didn’t “sign up to die.”

The nurse, who works in an eastern Washington hospital, started to get concerned when, on March 10, her hospital loosened some of its PPE guidelines. She is now using up all her vacation and sick leave because she’s nervous to return to work. If she isn’t approved for an extended leave of absence, she said, she is “100 percent prepared to resign.”

“These Are Not Normal Times”

The most recent complaint filed by the state nurses association was on March 23 against Overlake Medical Center. Based in Bellevue, just east of Seattle, Overlake has had dozens of patients with COVID-19 on any given day. On Friday, the number was 40, said Morgan Brice, a hospital spokeswoman. At least 11 patients have died at Overlake from COVID-19, according to Brice. A number of them arrived at the hospital under “comfort care,” meaning their death was imminent and the hospital made efforts to keep them comfortable in their final days.

The complaint filed with the Department of Labor & Industries said nurses were being required to reuse face shields “indefinitely.” “They must clean them themselves and … store in their own locker for reuse day after day, until the chinstrap is loose,” the complaint says, adding: “RNs report the chinstrap is loose after one 12-hr shift.” The complaint also said the hospital was failing to make sure that notification of exposure was reaching nurses on their days off, “thus prompting additional community and family exposure.”

Brice, in an email, told ProPublica that Overlake had yet to receive a copy of the complaint and would not respond to the specific allegations until it has. But the hospital, she wrote, is “committed to investigating the facts related to any complaint and acting appropriately.” She outlined some steps Overlake has taken during the outbreak, including having a team of nurses “committed to the health of our employees.”

“We have dedicated extensive resources to training staff on how to use and maintain their PPE,” Brice wrote. “We have posted videos, daily FAQs for staff, formed a PPE float team to help guide employees, along with our managers rounding the floors on a consistent basis. We know we have taken extraordinary and proper measures to protect the health and safety of our staff, while we respond to the medical challenges being presented on a daily basis.”

The complaints filed with Labor & Industries use a fill-in-the-blank form, with a narrative section to describe alleged hazards.

On March 11, the nurses association filed a complaint against St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, saying nurses were being directed to reuse and share protective equipment. The complaint also alleged that nurses weren‘t being fit-tested for N95 masks, a protective respiratory device worn over the face. Masks that aren‘t properly fitted to a person‘s face can admit contaminated air.

CHI Franciscan, the medical system that includes Tacoma‘s St. Joseph, said it is cooperating with the investigation but was told by the Department of Labor & Industries that no action is required at this time. The system denied that nurses “have been or will be asked to use PPE in a manner not in compliance with CDC, FDA and DOH guidelines,” according to an emailed statement from Cary Evans, the company‘s vice president for communications and government affairs.

The hospital is operating with “7-12 days of PPE” and said it has not had a situation where demand for PPE exceeded supply. Administrators have expanded fit testing for N95 masks. They are also accepting donations of PPE gear from the community. Normally, a 30-day PPE supply is preferred, according to the Washington State Hospital Association.

“These are not normal times,” Evans‘ statement said, “and we are doing everything we can to keep our staff and patients safe, while also conserving masks under the latest local CDC guidelines.”

The same day it filed the St. Joseph complaint, the nurses association submitted seven others, two against hospitals within the same medical system: Multicare Tacoma General Hospital and Multicare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, a community southeast of Tacoma. A spokesperson for the system wrote that all employees “have the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) they need today to do their jobs safely” and noted that hospital staff are allowed “to preserve PPE resources needed to care for our most critical patients.”

“Due to supply chain disruptions, health systems worldwide are dealing with shortages of PPE,” the statement read.

Another complaint, filed against PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, a hospital in Vancouver, across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon, said nurses were reporting lack of access to masks and respirators. When the nurses reported that respirators were outdated, the hospital “directed staff to remove outdated 2017 and 2019 ‘service by‘ stickers on equipment,” the complaint said.

The hospital did not respond to requests for comment from ProPublica as of Saturday morning.

Beth Zborowski, senior vice president of membership engagement and communications for the Washington State Hospital Association, said a lack of PPE is probably the medical community‘s top problem in the state, in terms of its efforts to fight COVID-19. The association advises hospitals to follow Department of Health and CDC recommendations, though many nurses say the latter keeps changing.

“Prior to the pandemic, masks were available on carts outside of rooms,” Zborowski said. “What started happening is those things started disappearing pretty quick. People had to put conservation measures in.” It‘s one reason the state canceled elective procedures in recent weeks.

It‘s unclear how many health care workers in the state may have become ill as a result of COVID-19, though a doctor at EvergreenHealth near Seattle has been infected and Schubert, of the state nursing association, said she knows of nurses who have become sick. Zborowski said the state hospital association does not have a formal record but added she has not heard about many front-line medical workers becoming ill, as they have in New York and Italy. She hopes that means the conservation and safety measures hospitals are taking are working. The goal is to preserve the PPE; otherwise, “I think we will start to see health care workers getting sick.”

Eileen Ravella, a physician assistant at an urgent care facility in Olympia, said her employer is doing well under the circumstances, trying to keep COVID-19 cases cordoned off from other patients and using a drive-through testing area they set up to meet the need. This is helping them preserve PPE, but she knows the system is breaking under the weight of the pandemic.

“I think we all have to step up and do our best despite the obstacles,” Ravella said. “Those patients need us.”

A nurse who works in a western Washington emergency room said that a few weeks into the pandemic, the crisis conditions had begun to feel normal, “which is kind of horrible, too.”

Now she‘s advising nurses in other states about what she‘s experienced. Initially, many of them refused to take her seriously.

She admits that she downplayed COVID-19 at first. Then, in mid-March, she found out about the EvergreenHealth doctor who had contracted the virus.

“It became really real then that some of us may not make it out of here alive,” she said.

A few days later, she and her colleagues received a message from their hospital administrator, advising them to complete their advanced directives—basically a living will.

“[N]ow with COVID-19 making who gets sick an unpredictable event,” the message read, “it‘s an important time to get this done.”

“The Officers Were Taking Our Toilet Paper”: One Woman’s Life In Prison Right Now

Earlier this week, lawyers representing the state of California notified a panel of federal judges that the state’s corrections department intends slow the spread of coronavirus in its facilities by freeing about 3,500 inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes who were already due to be released within 60 days. Those early releases won’t affect Stacey Dyer, who is currently serving life without parole after she was convicted of murdering a 19-year-old in a small city in California’s Central Valley. Sixteen years into her sentence at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, the 40-year-old works as a peer drug and alcohol counselor and sees her children once a month at most. Survived and Punished, a prison abolition group that advocates for prisoners who are survivors of sexual and domestic violence to be released, has petitioned Gov. Gavin Newsom to commute her sentence.

I spoke with Dyer by phone last week. Her prison currently has zero confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to data published by the state corrections department—but just one inmate there has been tested for the virus. With the prison on a modified schedule to promote social distancing, Dyer has been spending up to 22 hours a day in a shared cell with four bunks, watching TV news to glean information about the pandemic outside. What follows is a condensed and edited transcript of her comments based on phone and email correspondence.

Stacey Dyer

Courtesy of California Coalition for Women Prisoners

Stacey Dyer: In the beginning, the officers were taking our toilet paper. I don’t know if they’re still hoarding toilet paper out there or not, but this was at the time everybody had first started going to the grocery store and there was, like, no toilet paper.

We have boxes of toilet paper, gloves, and sanitary wipes, stuff like that, that the janitors use to clean up. They keep an inventory of everything, from the toilet paper to the cleaning chemicals to the pads and tampons. They check it frequently and pass it out weekly to each room. A couple of boxes came up missing, and there was no other way it could have disappeared but staff, because it’s locked up. We kind of joked about it, because our toilet paper is horrible. It’s not really even toilet paper; it’s like this one-ply sandpaper. It has, kind of, a smell to it. It’s the worst of the worst of toilet paper. So we laughed and said they must be really desperate.

The staff that was here that day agreed that the remaining toilet paper in the closet would be safer if we passed it all out and started hoarding it in our rooms. So there wasn’t any toilet paper for staff to steal unless they came in our rooms and got it, which—then we would know who they are.

“Everybody kind of panicked and started hoarding toilet paper and pads.”

Once the boxes came up missing, everybody kind of panicked and started hoarding toilet paper and pads, and sanitary napkins, and stuff like that. The same with the groceries at the canteen. The canteen supervisor said that she has a couple thousand dollars worth of canteen left, and after that, she didn’t know if the next shipment was coming in. So everybody was basically buying up everything in the canteen. We’re hoarding things like people were hoarding things out there. The big difference is we can’t go to the grocery store any time we want.

I’m a drug and alcohol counselor for the drug program here. [With programs cancelled,] I’m missing my support network, and my pay. Everybody that I work with is positive. They’re all mentors, they’re all drug and alcohol counselors, and they’re my support system. And even though I live in a good room and a good unit, there are a lot of people that are on a different page—a lot more negativity. People are taking drugs and drinking to try to cope with the lockdown, which in turn usually ends in some type of conflict among roommates. It’s basically pruno, fermented juice or fruit that they let sit. It’s really unhealthy, pretty risky, but they do get drunk off of it and usually end up fighting.

You definitely have to have a good room right now. There’s four bunks, and I’m not sure the dimension of the cell, but it’s a pretty tight squeeze. It’s definitely less than six feet apart from one bunk to the next. We share the bathroom, the shower, and the sink. We’re pretty much with each other all day, except for our hour and a half out and in the dayroom.

A lot of people I see are having problems. A lot of conflict, a lot of arguing, a lot of fighting. Some people don’t handle being locked down all day well. I don’t think they handle it mentally and emotionally, so they start lashing, taking it out on each other, or they start trying to complain or control things. If somebody’s not washing their hands enough, they might start bullying them to wash their hands, calling them dirty or nasty. People are getting bullied if they sneeze, cough, or sniffle.

“We are used to being locked up, while the rest of the world is getting a small bitter taste of what we go through.”

Officers are really grumpy and angry and taking it out on us. I got a lot of comments from some of the officers in passing, saying, “Oh, you better not have the coronavirus,” stuff like that. There’s been a lot of rumors. Like if things got really bad, the officers could abandon us. That they don’t have to, legally, help us or save us or do anything for us. They can leave us for dead. I don’t think it’s going to get that bad. But my first thought was feeling sort of a desperation. Like, oh god, how am I going to survive? If worse came to worst, and there was nobody there to feed us or to even unlock our doors? Being trapped in the cell and not having food, or what if they stopped running the water or the electricity?

Thinking about it, and just seeing the tone of the officers and their attitudes, it just really made me feel like I was basically worthless, like I’m not worthy of being saved.

Watching the news and seeing things on TV, seeing how people are reacting out there to being isolated from each other, it’s like watching the whole world get locked up in prison with us. Watching the news, I’m seeing them struggle emotionally from not having a connection with people, missing their family, and loved ones. I see it’s taking a toll on people. They’re depressed, in the free world. And it’s just interesting to me because we’ve been going through that since we’ve been in prison. Going through these emotions, feeling isolated, and trying to find creative things to do with our time. Most of us are used to entertaining ourselves and have games, puzzles, and adult coloring books to keep ourselves occupied. We are used to being locked up, while the rest of the world is getting a small bitter taste of what we go through.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says no toilet paper has gone missing from the Central California Women’s Facility, and that allegations of increased drug use, drinking, and fighting there are unfounded. “We understand that the inmate population is watching the news and are experiencing the same kinds of uncertainty and anxiety that many might be experiencing in the public,” CDCR press secretary Dana Simas said in a statement. “We have contingency plans on top of contingency plans to address any situation where COVID-19 might significantly impact our operations, including ensuring we always have enough staff to continue operations at each institution.”

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