Donald Trump Wants You to Know He Has the Coronavirus Totally Under Control

Erin Banco, Asawin Suebsaeng
The Daily Beast

President Donald Trump is frantically trying to quell criticism that he and his team were caught off guard by the growing number of coronavirus cases worldwide, fearful that a narrative of dysfunction could complicate his reelection bid.

Advisers to President Trump have for weeks tried to gather data about how quickly the virus spreads, how it can be stopped, and how to contain an outbreak in the future. But those efforts have largely remained behind closed doors, leaving the public wondering what—if anything—the administration has been doing to address the outbreak. Meanwhile, as cases doubled, then tripled, across the globe, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have increasingly called out top administration officials to be more transparent and to declassify their briefings, accusing them of mixed messaging on the severity of the virus.

The situation came to a head Wednesday morning when Alex Azar, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, was grilled by lawmakers about the adequacy and breadth of the administration’s response. Azar, defended the effort and beat off suggestions that he would soon be replaced with a formal czar for coordinating the coronavirus response. Officials say that they don’t believe such an appointment will happen–despite reports to the contrary—citing the president’s support for the secretary both publicly and privately.

The Terrifying Reality of Trump’s Coronavirus Promise

Nevertheless, harsh criticism from Capitol Hill over the administration’s handling of the virus—dubbed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Shumer (D-NY) as “towering and dangerous incompetence”—prompted panic in the halls of the White House early this week that the administration was losing grip on the narrative. The fear, according to two senior administration officials, was that not only lawmakers but the general public were becoming increasingly wary of the discrepancy between the president’s statements and those of the health officials leading the task force.

Trump and his closest advisers tried to downplay fears about the virus in an attempt to correct the market, which fell more than 1,900 points over Monday and Tuesday, according to two senior administration officials. White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow appeared on CNBC Tuesday, urging people to remain calm and insisting that the virus was contained to an “airtight” degree. At the same time, though, officials of the Centers for Disease Control, were pushing a different story: The coronavirus was contained but would soon spread more widely in the U.S.

Several senior officials told The Daily Beast that the State Department was in the midst of drafting new travel advisories for several countries, including Japan. The department issued an advisory for Mongolia Wednesday morning, which will allow for the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees from the country.

With the varying lines of messaging, the administration attempted to correct course—holding press calls and conferences—in an effort to assuage any concern that members of his team were behind the ball or at odds with one another. According to two national security officials, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien along with his deputy Matt Pottinger are coordinating the interagency efforts on the task force, additionally relying on several other NSC officials from the weapons of mass destruction directorate to draft ideas for prevention and containment.

Dow Plunges Amid Global Freakout Over Coronavirus Outbreaks

The scramble to get out in front of the story shows the degree to which Trump administration officials fear domestic political blowback for a response that has been increasingly questioned for its lack of clarity. While the president increasingly focused on downplaying fears about the virus spreading to fend off more economic repercussions, scientists and academics studying the virus have begun warning in more dire terms about the human cost of the virus spreading and the need to stockpile resources for the future.

As Trump tries to reassure the public that the virus—and the markets—are under control, the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services are aggressively advocating that lawmakers on Capitol Hill approve more funding for preventative measures. The administration requested additional funds to help handle the coronavirus response and prevention.

But Democrats in Congress have criticized the request as woefully inadequate as medical and political officials in some of their home states have already begun warning that they are, potentially, dramatically shorthanded for the coming pandemic. On Wednesday morning, Schumer requested $8.5 billion in coronavirus funding—more than three times the funding requested by Team Trump.

According to multiple doctors and administrators at three hospitals across the country, the need for more equipment—such as masks, gowns and gloves—has grown more dire by the day. At Bellevue Hospital in New York City, one of the country’s only designated coronavirus centers, the stockpile of masks dipped by hundreds over the course of a day when news broke in January that the virus had landed in the U.S. They’ve since been replenished but there are fears that the supply could dwindle again.

In New Jersey, an official with Gov. Phil Murphy’s office said the guidance from the federal government was “coming in fast and furious”, particularly over the last few days. “It is the nature of the outbreak,” the official said, who said the federal government had given the New Jersey team guidance on quarantining individuals in hotels or state facilities if needed. But there was no definitive promises to date for resources and only vague assessments as to how big the administration expected the pandemic to get.

“It is a complete guess,” the official conceded, when asked just how much money they would need.

Complicating matters is the seemingly disjointed approach that the White House has taken to addressing the evolving crisis. While top health agencies warned that it was merely a matter of time before it spread in the United States, President Trump seemed focused on controlling the narrative to prevent a financial crisis.

Over the past three weeks, Trump has, on multiple occasions, asked administration officials about the different effects the spread of coronavirus could have on the world and U.S. economies, according to two people present for the conversations.

“He referenced [concerns about] the stock market at least two times,” said one of these sources, recalling a discussion that occurred roughly two weeks ago.

A third source who spoke to Trump in the past few weeks said that the president mused about how his enemies could use pandemic fears against him. “Remember recession, recession, recession?” Trump said, the source recalled, referencing the media and cable news coverage late last year about the growing recession fears in the country.

Trump has privately said many times that his perceived adversaries in the press would “love it” if a recession occurred on his watch, thus crippling his chances at reelection, those close to the president say. Reached for comment Wednesday afternoon, the president’s White House comms apparatus made a point of sticking it to those alleged foes in the media.

“Unfortunately what we are seeing is a political effort by the Left and some in the media to distract and disturb the American people with fearful rhetoric and palace intrigue,” White House spokesman Judd Deere wrote in a statement. “The United States economy is the strongest in the world thanks to the leadership and policies of President Trump. The virus remains low risk domestically because of the containment actions taken by this administration since the first of the year.”

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How deadly is new coronavirus? It’s still too early to tell

LAURAN NEERGAARD

WASHINGTON (AP) — Scientists can’t tell yet how deadly the new virus that’s spreading around the globe really is — and deepening the mystery, the fatality rate differs even within China.

As infections of the virus that causes COVID-19 surge in other countries, even a low fatality rate can add up to lots of victims, and understanding why one place fares better than another becomes critical to unravel.

“You could have bad outcomes with this initially until you really get the hang of how to manage” it, Dr. Bruce Aylward, the World Health Organization envoy who led a team of scientists just back from China, warned Tuesday.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE DEATH RATE?

In the central China city of Wuhan, where the new coronavirus first exploded, 2% to 4% of patients have died, according to WHO. But in the rest of hard-hit China, the death rate was strikingly lower, 0.7%.

There’s nothing different about the virus from one place to another. Instead, the never-before-seen strain of coronavirus struck Wuhan fast — before anyone knew what the illness was — and overwhelmed health facilities. As is usual at the beginning of an outbreak, the first patients were severely ill before they sought care, Aylward said.

By the time people were getting sick in other parts of China, authorities were better able to spot milder cases — meaning there were more known infections for each death counted.

And while there are no specific treatments for COVID-19, earlier supportive care may help, too. China went from about 15 days between onset of symptoms and hospitalization early in the outbreak, to about three days more recently.

Still, Aylward expressed frustration at people saying: “’Oh, the mortality rate’s not so bad because there’s way more mild cases.’ Sorry, the same number of people that were dying, still die.”

WHAT ABOUT DEATHS OUTSIDE OF CHINA?

Until the past week, most people diagnosed outside of China had become infected while traveling there.

People who travel generally are healthier and thus may be better able to recover, noted Johns Hopkins University outbreak specialist Lauren Sauer. And countries began screening returning travelers, spotting infections far earlier in places where the medical system wasn’t already strained.

That’s now changing, with clusters of cases in Japan, Italy and Iran, and the death toll outside of China growing.

Aylward cautioned that authorities should be careful of “artificially high” death rates early on: Some of those countries likely are seeing the sickest patients at first and missing milder cases, just like Wuhan did.

HOW DOES COVID-19 COMPARE TO OTHER DISEASES?

A cousin of this new virus caused the far deadlier severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003, and about 10% of SARS patients died.

Flu is a different virus family, and some strains are deadlier than others. On average, the death rate from seasonal flu is about 0.1%, said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

That’s far lower than what has been calculated so far for COVID-19. But millions of people get the flu every year around the world, leading to an annual death toll in the hundreds of thousands.

WHO’S MOST AT RISK FROM COVID-19?

Older people, especially those with chronic illnesses such as heart or lung diseases, are more at risk.

Among younger people, deaths are rarer, Aylward said. But some young deaths have made headlines, such as the 34-year-old doctor in China who was reprimanded by communist authorities for sounding an early alarm about the virus only to later succumb to it.

In China, 80% of patients are mildly ill when the virus is detected, compared with 13% who already are severely ill. While the sickest to start with are at highest risk of death, Aylward said, a fraction of the mildly ill do go on to die — for unknown reasons.

On average, however, WHO says people with mild cases recover in about two weeks, while those who are sicker can take anywhere from three to six weeks.

There’s been a huge spike in the number of seniors smoking pot and taking cannabis edibles By Nicole Lyn Pesce

Cannabis use among older Americans jumped 75% in just three years, new research finds, especially among women, minorities and diabetics

manonallard/iStock
More adults over 65 are getting high, a new study finds.

These seniors don’t fear the reefer.

In fact, the number of Americans ages 65 and up who smoke marijuana or take edibles spiked 75% in just three years, according to a new study published in JAMA this week.

Researchers analyzed the data from just under 15,000 adults in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and found that the number of those 65-plus who had smoked or ingested “marijuana, hashish, pot, grass and hash oil” jumped from 2.4% in 2015 to 4.2% in 2018. A decade earlier, just 0.4% of people in this age group copped to using cannabis in any form.

Related: Seniors at this upscale retirement community are really into cannabis-infused products

The new analysis found that the rise in marijuana use was highest among women (up 93%) and racial and ethnic minorities (up 336%) in particular. There was also a significant increase among Americans over 65 who were married (up 100%), college educated (up almost 114%), those who had been treated for mental health issues in the past year (up 157%), as well as those who reported incomes of $20,000 to $49,000 (up almost 139%) and $75,000 or higher (up 129%).

What’s more, a surprising number of diabetics are going to pot, with a 180% relative increase in marijuana use among those with diabetes between 2015 and 2018.

The survey didn’t ask subjects why they used cannabis products, however, so lead author Dr. Benjamin Han, assistant professor of geriatric medicine and palliative care at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, couldn’t definitely explain why these specific groups of people reported higher rates of marijuana use. In fact, the report notes that these numbers could be even higher, as there is still some stigma around cannabis use despite the fact that 11 states and the District of Columbia have already passed laws legalizing recreational cannabis use, so many subjects could have been hesitant to report their weed habit.

Related: Cannabis experts are hoping 2020 will be the year that New York finally legalizes weed

“Certainly the passing of medical marijuana laws in many states for a variety of qualifying conditions and diseases has played a role, and gotten the attention of older adults who are living with chronic diseases or symptoms that are difficult to treat,” Han told MarketWatch. “Also we have a large baby boomer cohort who has more experience with cannabis compared to generations before them now entering their 60s and 70s.”

Indeed, marijuana delivery platform Eaze has reported that boomers are its “biggest spenders by a fairly wide margin,” dropping more than $95 a month on weed, which is 53% more than Gen Zers ages 21 to 24 years old.

Related: They’re over 60, selling marijuana — and say it’s ‘pretty damn cool’

The new analysis also didn’t ask seniors whether they had conditions like arthritis, Parkinson’s disease or chronic pain. And using cannabis products for pain management is one reason why many seniors might consider trying weed, especially since a 2019 Health Affairs report found that 65% of people who use medical marijuana in the U.S. use it to treat chronic pain. The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine also reported evidence that cannabis and/or cannabinoids could help with conditions like pain, chemotherapy-related nausea and multiple sclerosis-related muscle spasms.

Related: More baby boomers use medical marijuana, but they want their doctors to get wise to the risks and benefits

But Han also cautioned that there is still a lot that we don’t know about the risks of cannabis, especially for older adults with more chronic medical diseases who take more prescribed medications. The report warned that there is an urgent need to better understand the benefits and risks of those 65-plus using marijuana products, especially since there was also an increase in cannabis use among older adults who use alcohol — and binge drinking among Americans over 50 has also been on the rise.

“As a clinician, I worry about how cannabis (depending on the dose of certain cannabinoids, route of administration) may interact with existing chronic disease or medications. I also worry about the psychoactive properties of THC that could predispose older adults to dizziness or falls,” he said. “While cannabis may be beneficial for certain medical conditions, we need well-done clinical trials to better understand the benefits and the risks for older adults.”

Nicole Lyn Pesce

 

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