‘Pivotal moment’: CDC chief issues stark warning over surge in Delta Covid variant – as it happened

2 months ago

‘Pivotal moment’: CDC chief issues stark warning over surge in Delta Covid variant – as it happened

The Guardian

Summary

  • Dr Rochelle Walensky warned that the country is at a “pivotal” moment in fighting the spread of Covid-19. Walensky, speaking at a briefing on Thursday, said of the Delta variant is “is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of and that I have seen in my 20-year career”.
  • House speaker Nancy Pelosi floated appointing congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois to the committee charged with investigating the 6 January mob attack on the Capitol. “We’ll see” Pelosi said, adding “it’s not even bipartisan; it’s nonpartisan. It’s about seeking the truth and that’s what we owe the American people.” Pelosi also said it would be “ridiculous” to have congressman Jim Banks and Jim Jordan on the panel investigating the mob attack.
  • The Biden administration announced it would impose new sanctions on Cuban regime officials. “This is just the beginning – the United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people,” he said.
  • Mississippi’s attorney general urged the supreme court to overturn Roe v Wade, saying it was “egregiously wrong”. In a new brief, she asked the court to allow a controversial law that bans abortions after 15 weeks to go into effect in Mississippi.

Updated

‘Nowhere is safe’: heat shatters vision of Pacific north-west as climate refuge

The recent heatwave that broiled the US Pacific north-west not only obliterated temperature records in cities such as Seattle and Portland – it also put a torch to a comforting bromide that the region would be a mild, safe haven from the ravages of the climate crisis.

Unprecedented temperatures baked the region three weeks ago, part of a procession of heatwaves that have hit the parched US west, from Montana to southern California, over the past month. A “heat dome” that settled over the area saw Seattle reach 108F (42.2C), smashing the previous record by 3F (1.7C), while Portland, Oregon, soared to its own record of 116F (46.7C). Some inland areas managed to get up to 118F (47.8C).

The conditions in a corner of the US known for its moderate, often lukewarm, summers bewildered residents.

Roads cracked and buckled in the heat, power cables melted, restaurants shut down. Hospitals suddenly found themselves overwhelmed, with several hundred people believed to have died in the heat. Slightly north, off the coast of Vancouver, an estimated 1 billion marine creatures perished, as helpless mussels and clams cooked in their own shells.

“We saw the forecasts and it was hard to believe as we don’t really have heatwaves like that. In Seattle it’s usually so overcast during June we call it Juneuary,” said Kristie Ebi, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington who knew the heatwave was serious when she woke up at 6am with the temperature already at 80F (26C). “You see the heatwaves hit other places and you know it’s bad but there’s not the sense of urgency until it hits you.”

An old joke in Seattle is that you will know more people with a boat than people with air conditioning and the latest figures show just 44% of households in the city are fitted with air conditioning. The Pacific north-west’s image as a place of rugged natural beauty, comfortable climes and forward-thinking politics has helped draw plenty of newcomers – Seattle was the fastest-growing major US city last year – but the freakish heatwave has provided a sobering reality check to its blossoming status as a refuge.

“There are a lot of people moving up from California with the idea there’s a lot of natural amenities and a lot of cheap space but all of these factors are changing,” said Jesse Keenan, an expert in climate adaptation at Tulane University. “It’s becoming less affordable and is increasingly burdened by forest fires, terrible smoke, flash floods and these heatwaves that suddenly make things a matter of life or death.”

The Pacific north-west has heated up by an average of 2F (1.1C) over the past century, with growing wildfires, failing coastal fisheries, receding snowpack and increasing heat taking its toll upon a region historically unprepared for such extremes. The recent heatwave would have been “virtually impossible” without human-induced climate breakdown, scientists have said.

Read more:

Updated

‘It’s too late’: US doctor says dying patients begging for Covid vaccine

Sarah Betancourt reports:

What the US government is calling “the pandemic of the unvaccinated” is playing out in painful ways as some realize too late that they wish they had had the shot, while others hold out even as they suffer in hospital amid a national surge of new Covid-19 infections, primarily caused by the Delta variant.

At least 99% of those in the US who died of coronavirus in the last six months had not been vaccinated, Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has said.

Meanwhile vaccination rates have slowed down nationwide and are especially low in some of the more conservative, southern parts of the country, despite more than 610,000 people in the US dying of the virus since the pandemic hit in early 2020.

In places such as Alabama, only 33% of people who can receive the vaccine had been fully vaccinated, as of 20 July.

On Monday, a doctor in a Birmingham, Alabama, hospital, Brytney Cobia, said that all but one of her Covid patients at Grandview medical center didn’t receive the vaccine, with the one who had expected to make a full recovery after receiving oxygen, she told the Birmingham News. Several others are dying.

“I’m admitting young, healthy people to the hospital with very serious Covid infections,” wrote Cobia in a Facebook post on Sunday.

“One of the last things they do before they’re intubated is beg me for the vaccine. I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late,” she added, referring to patients who have to be put on a ventilator.

Alabama public health officials recently reported 96% of Alabamians who have died of Covid since April were not fully vaccinated.

Among the people succumbing to the deadly disease are those who are increasingly catching the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which is far more contagious than the original.

The variant now makes up 83% of new cases in the US, according to Walensky.

“This is a dramatic increase, up from 50% for the week of July 3,” she said.

Read more:

‘My savings were gone’: millions who lost work during Covid faced benefit system chaos

Unemployed workers are pushing for reforms and changes to America’s unemployment insurance system after millions of workers experienced severe problems in receiving benefits throughout the pandemic.

Workers across America faced long delays in receiving unemployment benefits as state systems were quickly overwhelmed with the mass influx of applications that caused months-long backlogs. Meanwhile, workers who made errors on their applications, had missing records or had their claims flagged had their benefits stopped – and often had difficulty restarting them once problems were resolved.

About 9 million Americans are estimated to have lost work due to the pandemic but received no unemployment benefits.

Sharon Corpening, 60, a freelance writer in Roswell, Georgia, lost all her work contracts when the pandemic shutdowns occurred throughout the US in March last year.

As a gig worker, Corpening’s initial unemployment application was denied by the Georgia department of labor, until the Cares Act provided pandemic unemployment assistance for gig workers a few weeks later. She spent weeks trying to process her application and encountered issues with the unemployment website, and would sit on the phone for hours daily failing to reach a service representative.

Like thousands of Americans having trouble with their unemployment applications, Corpening joined a Facebook group and got involved in helping others through the unemployment process, advocating for systemic reforms and countering narratives that try to portray unemployed workers as “lazy” and “not wanting to work”.

Corpening took offense at these characterizations and a push from Republican governors to prematurely cancel federal unemployment benefits while unemployment systems remain broken.

“We still have people who applied eight months ago who have not received a dime,” said Corpening. “Georgia is one of the 26 states that cut off federal benefits, and a week out I will tell you all my bank accounts are overdrawn.”

The impacts were detrimental to workers around the US, who fell behind on rent or mortgage or car payments, experienced utility shutoffs and relied on food banks and assistance programs to feed themselves and their families.

In the wake of the mass unemployment caused by the pandemic, several organizations, including the Economic Policy Institute and National Employment Law Project, created a report with unemployed workers outlining reforms needed to fix the widespread issues to unemployment insurance that were exposed by Covid-19.

Read more:

Mississippi attorney general urges supreme court to overturn Roe v Wade

Mississippi’s attorney general urged the supreme court to overturn Roe v Wade, saying it was “egregiously wrong”. She asked the court to allow a controversial law that bans abortions after 15 weeks to go into effect in Mississippi.

“The conclusion that abortion is a constitutional right has no basis in text, structure, history, or tradition,” said attorney general Lynn Fitch in a brief.

The court will hear arguments on 15 weeks ban in the fall, when the new conservative iteration of the court will decide whether Americans have the right to end pregnancies.

“The constitution does not protect a right to abortion,” Fitch wrote. “The constitution’s text says nothing about abortion. Nothing in the constitution’s structure implies a right to abortion or prohibits states from restricting it.”

Here’s more background on the case, from my colleague Jessica Glenza:

Updated

Evening summary

That’s it for me. I’m passing the blogging baton over to my capable colleague Maanvi Singh on the west coast. To review, here’s what happened today:

  • Dr Rochelle Walensky warned that the country is at a “pivotal” moment in fighting the spread of Covid-19.
  • House speaker Nancy Pelosi floated appointing congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois to the committee charged with investigating the 6 January mob attack on the Capitol.
  • The Biden administration announced it would impose new sanctions on Cuban regime officials.
  • Pelosi also said it would be “ridiculous” to have congressman Jim Banks and Jim Jordan on the panel investigating the mob attack.

Updated

Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, warned that the US is at a “pivotal moment in this pandemic” because of the spread of variants of Covid-19, my colleague Joanna Walters writes.

Walensky made the comments amid increasing numbers of cases across the country and as lawmakers and public figures urge Americans with increasing urgency to get vaccinated.

Inside the White House there is reportedly an ongoing debate over whether to start a new push urge to Americans to wear masks like in the earlier days of the pandemic.

Walensky, speaking at a briefing on Thursday, said of the Delta variant of Covid that it “is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of and that I have seen in my 20-year career”.

She added: “We are at another pivotal moment in this pandemic, with cases rising again and some hospitals reaching their capacity in some areas.”

Updated

Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to Joe Biden, praised Republicans who have been encouraging Americans to get vaccinated. He made those comments in an interview with The Hill newspaper.

In particular Fauci praised Congressman Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a member of House Republican leadership, for encouraging Americans to get vaccinated.

“I was very pleased to hear Congressman Scalise ... make that statement about vaccines,” Fauci told The Hill. “That was very helpful.”

Fauci also said “I think when they see a Republican leader like Congressman Scalise lean strongly towards people getting vaccinated, I think that’s a very positive thing.”

The White House press pool has passed along the guest list for the bill signing, which should start soon. It’s a long list:

  • The Vice President
  • The Second Gentleman
  • Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta
  • Acting Assistant Attorney General Amy Solomon, Office of Justice Programs, DOJ
  • Kristina Rose, Director, Office for Victims of Crime, DOJ
  • Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh
  • Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring
  • Senator Tammy Baldwin
  • Senator Richard Blumenthal
  • Senator Shelley Capito
  • Senator John Cornyn
  • Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
  • Senator Joni Ernst
  • Senator Dianne Feinstein
  • Senator Lindsey Graham
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar
  • Senator Patrick Leahy
  • Senator Cynthia Lummis
  • Senator Lisa Murkowski
  • Senator Chris Van Hollen
  • Representative Deborah Dingell
  • Representative Brian Fitzpatrick
  • Representative Sheila Jackson Lee
  • Representative Ann McLane Kuster
  • Representative James Langevin
  • Representative Lucy McBath
  • Representative Gwen Moore
  • Representative Jerrold Nadler
  • Representative Ayanna Pressley
  • Representative Mary Gay Scanlon
  • Representative Jackie Speier
  • Representative Ann Wagner
  • Representative Jennifer Wexton

Updated

Even as some of the most famous Republicans in the country urge Americans to get vaccinated, half of all Republicans in the House of Representatives won’t say whether they’ve been vaccinated or not. That’s according to a new report from CNN:

Nearly half of House Republicans still won’t say publicly whether they are vaccinated against Covid-19, even as new cases rise nationwide.

Some of the 97 Republicans who aren’t sharing their vaccination status told CNN they don’t have a responsibility to model behavior to their constituents.”I don’t think it’s anybody’s damn business whether I’m vaccinated or not,” Republican Rep Chip Roy of Texas told CNN. “This is ridiculous, what we’re doing. The American people are fully capable of making an educated decision about whether they want to get the vaccine or not.”

Over the past few months, CNN has sent multiple inquiries to members of Congress and reviewed public statements but is unable to confirm the vaccination status of almost half the Republican conference.

Still a few of them offered some explanations during hallway interviews with CNN this week.

Republican Rep Matt Gaetz of Florida told CNN “that’s very nosy of you,” when CNN started asking about his vaccination status, but the congressman cut off the question before it got to whether or not he was vaccinated.

More here.

Updated

President Biden is due soon to deliver remarks at a bill signing for “H.R. 1652, the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021” as the White House press pool noted earlier today.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, one of the signatories of a letter expressing concern to the FBI about its investigation into now supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh. Whitehouse’s tweets illustrate the sense of dissatisfaction he and the other Democratic senators feel about the FBI’s response to tips about Kavanaugh and its probe of his past conduct years before he became a judge.

The Biden administration just released a new statement confirming earlier reports about incoming sanctions on new sanctions targeting specific Cuban regime officials.

Here’s the key passage:

“Today, my Administration is imposing new sanctions targeting elements of the Cuban regime responsible for this crackdown—the head of the Cuban military and the division of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior driving the crackdown—to hold them accountable for their actions. This is just the beginning–the United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people.”

Asked about the president’s filibuster comments last night Jen Psaki digressed. First she said that the Senate makes the decisions on the filibuster. She said that Biden was only addressing what the process would look like to change the filibuster and not weighing in one way or another.

But she also said she Biden’s position had not changed.

“What he was referring to was simply to what that process would look like,” Psaki said, going on to say that Biden would “continue to advocate for the For the People Act...and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.”

That’s in reference to two major voting rights bills Democrats want to pass into law. Psaki stressed though that Biden did not want to weigh in closely on Senate procedure though.

“He alone doesn’t have a role in making these changes in the Senate,” Psaki said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki just said there would be more from the State Department and the Treasury Department on the sanctions against Cuban officials later today.

Background on that here.

The White House’s daily press briefing is under way and commerce department secretary Gina Raimondo is addressing the country’s semiconductor chip shortage.

The country’s semiconductor chip shortage is an ongoing problem that nevertheless has been under the radar to much of the population.

Democrats criticize inquiry into Brett Kavanaugh in new letter

A number of Senate Democrats are questioning the FBI’s handling of tips into Brett Kavanaugh during the now Supreme Court justice’s confirmation process. Per The New York Times:

Nearly three years after Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s tumultuous confirmation to the Supreme Court, the F.B.I. has disclosed more details about its efforts to review the justice’s background, leading a group of Senate Democrats to question the thoroughness of the vetting and conclude that it was shaped largely by the Trump White House.

In a letter dated June 30 to two Democratic senators, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Chris Coons of Delaware, an F.B.I. assistant director, Jill C. Tyson, said that the most “relevant” of the 4,500 tips the agency received during an investigation into Mr. Kavanaugh’s past were referred to White House lawyers in the Trump administration, whose handling of them remains unclear.

The letter left uncertain whether the F.B.I. itself followed up on the most compelling leads. The agency was conducting a background check rather than a criminal investigation, meaning that “the authorities, policies, and procedures used to investigate criminal matters did not apply,” the letter said.

Here’s the letter from the senators to the FBI. Here’s a statement from Whitehouse’s office on the letter:

Washington, DC – Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) wrote to FBI Director Christopher Wray last evening requesting additional information on the FBI’s 2018 supplemental background investigation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The senators’ request follows a letter from the Bureau to Whitehouse and Coons revealing new details on the Kavanaugh background investigation, including that the FBI gathered over 4,500 tips in relation to the investigation without any apparent further action by FBI investigators. The Bureau also confirmed that tips from the tip line were instead provided to the Trump White House Counsel’s office, where their fate is unknown.

Updated

Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who is on the panel to investigate the 6 January mob attack, thinks it would be a good idea for Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, another outspoken anti-Trump Republican, to join the panel.

Pelosi is weighing her options. She said as much during a news conference on Thursday.

“We’ll see” Pelosi said, adding “it’s not even bipartisan; it’s nonpartisan. It’s about seeking the truth and that’s what we owe the American people.”

Biden administration to impose sanctions on Cuban officials

The Biden administration is planning on imposing new sanctions on Cuban officials who are directly linked to human rights violations in the country, according to The Washington Post.

Here’s more:

Imposed under the Global Magnitsky Act, the sanctions will initially affect what officials said were a small number of individuals from Cuba’s Interior Ministry and military forces.

The measures come as President Biden faces increasing pressure from Congress, activist groups and Cuban Americans to take decisive action in support of the protesters.

The administration had been making its way toward implementing a new policy toward Cuba that would reverse many of the actions taken by President Donald Trump to restrict travel, trade and other forms of outreach. The Obama administration had expanded contacts when it reestablished diplomatic relations with Havana in 2015.

The sanctions come during ongoing unrest and amid protests in Cuba. The Cuban government has sought to organize counter protests as well.

The Biden administration has also looked into taking steps to increasing staffing at its Cuban embassy, according to the Associated Press.

The House of Representatives just passed legislation increasing the number of Afghan interpreters who have helped U.S. troops to immigrate to the United States.

It’s a move the Biden administration has acted on in increasing urgency.

Here’s more from The New York Times’ Luke Broadwater:

Under the legislation, applicants would no longer have to provide a sworn statement that they faced a specific threat or proof that they held a “sensitive and trusted” job. Instead, the measure would in effect stipulate that any Afghan who helped the U.S. government by definition faces retribution, and should be able to apply for a visa.

Last night Joe Biden quashed any question that he’s moving on abolishing the filibuster. Speaking at a CNN townhall in Cincinnati the president warned that “there’s no reason to protect it other than you’re going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done. Nothing at all will get done. And there’s a lot at stake. The most important one is the right to vote.”

He continued “Wouldn’t my friends on the other side love to have a debate about the filibuster instead of passing the recovery act?”

Biden’s comments come amidst increasing pressure from progressives to gut the filibuster. But the president is not alone in being a holdout. Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, two of the most moderate Democrats in Congress, have been outspoken holdouts as well.

That’s despite arguments from other influential Democrats to at least allow a workaround for voting rights legislation.

Speaking of the committee investigating 6 January, the chairman of the committee, Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, said it’s possible that Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois could join the panel.

Kinzinger is one of the most outspoken opponents of Donald Trump in the House of Representatives. He’s also a staunch ally of Congresswoman Liz Cheney, the target of much of Donald Trump’s fury these days.

Pelosi has also floated bringing on former Congressman Denver Riggleman of Virginia as an adviser.

Pelosi says it would be 'ridiculous' to include Republican duo

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has gotten push back in some quarters for blocking two Republicans from joining the select committee charged with investigating the 6 January mob attack on the Capitol.

Pelosi, speaking at a press conference today, pushed back on that criticism. She said it would be “ridiculous” to include them on the committee.

More background here.

Updated

The Wall Street Journal got its hands on a memo from attorney general Merrick Garland reinforcing guidelines for the department of justice’s investigations, a move that is clearly in contrast to how critics saw the work of the department under the last administration. Here’s the Journal’s report:

In a memo addressed to all department personnel, Mr. Garland said the Justice Department “will not advise the White House concerning pending or contemplated criminal or civil law enforcement investigations or cases unless doing so is important for the performance of the President’s duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.”

The memo said those limits—which it said didn’t apply to matters of national security or foreign relations—were necessary to “promote and protect the norms of Departmental independence and integrity.”

That language closely tracked a 2009 memo issued by then-Attorney General Eric Holder, which remained in effect throughout the Trump presidency, according to a former Justice Department official. But Mr. Trump’s repeated public comments and criticism about pending criminal investigations and cases involving his allies—some of which the Justice Department appeared to heed—led Joe Biden to stress restoring independence to the department in his successful campaign for the presidency.

There’s no uniform consensus among Republican governors (who control the majority of governor’s mansions) over what to do about the coronavirus pandemic. In Missouri for instance, Governor Mike Parsons unveiled a new set of incentives for people to get vaccinated, following the example of other Republican governors like West Virginia’s Jim Justice or Ohio’s Mike DeWine.

But in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott, who is up for reelection, is refusing to impose a statewide mask mandate even though cases are on the rise. Via the Texas Tribune:

Gov. Greg Abbott says he will not impose another statewide mask mandate, despite COVID-19 cases being on the rise again.

“There will be no mask mandate imposed, and the reasons for that are very clear,” Abbott told KPRC-TV in Houston on Tuesday. “There are so many people who have immunities to COVID, whether it be through the vaccination, whether it be through their own exposure and their recovery from it, which would be acquired immunity.”

It would be “inappropriate to require people who already have immunity to wear a mask,” Abbott said.

But the Tribune also notes that as of Sunday, just 43 percent of Texans were vaccinated. That’s well behind other states in the region and across the country.

It’s a rare sign of the times and specific moment for Trump supporters: former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, the former Republican presidential nominee, who endorsed Donald Trump now says the 45th president lost fair and square to Joe Biden. Here’s the key line from the USA Today report:

“He lost the election, and I regret that he did, but they did,” Dole said. “He had Rudy Giuliani running all over the country, claiming fraud. He never had one bit of fraud in all those lawsuits he filed and statements he made.”

“I’m a Trumper,” Dole said at one point during the conversation. But he added at another, “I’m sort of Trumped out, though.”

White House considers new masking push

Goodmorning, Daniel Strauss here. Let’s get started.

At the White House, officials are debating whether to urge Americans to wear masks more often to curb the spread of coronavirus. That’s according to a new report in The Washington Post detailing the still preliminary deliberations:

The talks are in a preliminary phase and their result could be as simple as new messaging from top White House officials. But some of the talks include officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who are separately examining whether to update their masking guidance, according to a Biden administration aide and a federal health official.

Officials cautioned that any new formal guidance would have to come from the CDC, and they maintained that the White House has taken a hands-off approach with the agency to ensure they are not interfering with the work of scientists. But the high-level discussions reflect rising concerns across the administration about the threat of the delta variant and a renewed focus on what measures may need to be reintroduced to slow its spread.

Those discussions come as governors across the country offer increasingly creative means to incentivizing people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Some of the most high profile -and at times bombastic- Republican figures in recent days have begun urging Americans to get vaccinated as well, amidst the ongoing spread of deadlier coronavirus variants. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida made one such plea earlier this week.