The two most important realities Friday remained the incrementally greater death tolls every day and the fundamental wisdom of distancing, while other less important considerations included a new, somewhat half-hearted recommendation for everyone to wear masks.
There was also new confusion about a number of topics and the beginning of government forgivable loans to small business.
One part of the confusion was about medical supplies, their availability, their distribution and the policy that governs their distribution.
Another part was about the pace of virus spread, how well the stay-at-home guidelines are working, if the number of carriers without symptoms is larger than thought and whether millions of undocumented immigrants can get free virus testing and treatment. NBC reported some fake testing sites in Kentucky are charging $240.
Some banks reported processing more applications for loans in one day than in a normal year as the Paycheck Protection Program kicked off. Others had a hard time processing any. Independent contractors and the self-employed learned they’ll have to wait another week to apply for government money.
Looming over the foothills of confusion were the mountainous numbers. The total US dead from the virus topped 7,000. New York reported 562 deaths in 24 hours, the most yet for one day.
The Corona Virus Task Force’s Deborah Birx Friday evening said the projected ultimate total was still around 93,500. If there’s another New York, though, that number goes up. The latest projections are updated daily and can be found at healthdata.gov/projections.
If there was nothing else to remember from the week’s six briefings, it was Tuesday evening’s projected death toll of 100,000 to 250,000 if there is strict social distancing and up to 1 million or more if there’s not.
Birx had said Wednesday night, the adherence to the guidelines is still far from perfect. As to the speed of spread, Friday evening she said, “We continue to watch in addition the Chicago area, the Detroit area and have some developing concerns around Colorado, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania.”
Why the new recommendation to voluntarily wear a mask? Surgeon General Jerome Adams said, “We have always recommended that symptomatic people wear a mask because if you’re coughing, if you have a fever, if you’re symptomatic you could transmit disease to other people.”
He continued, “What is changed in our recommendation? Well, it’s important to know that we now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms.” You might be a carrier and not know it, or get sneezed upon by a carrier who is unaware.
That was confusing because reporters could remember hearing about asymptomatic carriers soon after the first virus cases were reported. There was no opportunity for follow-up.
Surgeon General Adams stressed, as have Birx and top expert Tony Fauci before him, a mask can be a source of false security and in no way is equivalent in effectiveness to staying away from those possibly infected. And any mask should only be a simple cloth covering, not the N95 high filtration masks that medical personnel need to protect themselves.
President Trump said he is not inclined to wear a mask himself. “I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens? I don’t know. Somehow I don’t see it for myself.”
No-one on the dais was wearing a mask and even Centers for Disease Control director Robert Redfield, who earlier said masks for the general public were not needed, did not express any great enthusiasm for them. One of the arguments against masks had been that affixing them means touching the face, something to be discouraged.
Trump also said he doesn’t see a national stay-at-home order is necessary, especially given that 90% of the population is already under some type of answer. “Some states are not in jeopardy,” he said, once again asserting the opposite of medical expert advice, that all states are in jeopardy.
On the subject of medical supplies, which nurses and doctors continued Friday to complain are in short supply, there was much discussion in the briefing of the mission of the government’s national security stockpile. On Thursday, the stockpile’s website described its mission as being the emergency source of pharmaceuticals and medical gear for the states.
Sometime Friday the site was changed to describe the mission in terms that agreed with the novel description Thursday night given by Trump’s advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner when he said it is “our stockpile,” not the states’.
The task that can fall to reporters of having to transcribe Trump’s answers can illustrate the word clouds and digressions that often obscure his answers. To wind through the back and forth discussion about the meaning of the word “our” would be a long tedious journey.
To condense, Trump said Kushner was right, “We need it for the federal government,” and the word “our” meant “our country”. Finally. losing patience with what he said were “gotcha” questions on the subject, Trump added the reporter to those he has verbally assaulted during the week, saying she “ought to be ashamed of herself” for asking.
Of the states, “They should have had more ventilators,” he said.
Readers who believe Trump is seldom wrong might detect what seems like more “lamestream” media bias in the questions and its descriptions. Readers who believe he is seldom right conclude it’s all just one more of his innumerable obfuscations. Those who don’t care either way might still want to know who the national stockpile is intended to help. So far, no answer.
A retired lieutenant general who knows something about supply line management, former commander of Joint Task Force Katrina Russell Honore, said in a long MSNBC interview it’s time for FEMA to hand off its distribution responsibilities to the armed forces that is expert in logistics.
Speaking from Baton Rouge, he said, “Right now New Orleans is the next epicentre” and is running out of ventilators. “Who’s going to be next?” He added, “The government does not know what the hell they have where.”
On another subject, Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said they decided to pay health providers for virus-related care given to the 30 million or so people who have no health insurance. The providers are prohibited from charging.
On another question, whether the 10 million or 11 million or 7 million – no one’s quite sure – of undocumented aliens without insurance will also get free care, Trump replied, “We’ll talk about that later.”
Birx, asked if the stay-at-home mitigation is having a positive effect on blunting the curve of infection, she said there were many ways to approach that question. The pathway to a solid answer never quite arrived.
Asked if he could guarantee that anyone who needed a ventilator would get one, Trump chose not to answer, instead repeating his accusation that some governors, particularly New York’s Andrew Cuomo, are overstating their need for the life-sustaining equipment.
On the subject of oil, which has fixated traders in several markets since the price rocketed up as much as 33% Thursday, Trump said he had indeed discussed the subject of US tariffs on Saudi imports in his afternoon meeting with nine CEOs of major oil producers. There’s an emergency OPEC meeting next week and the Saudi-Russian battle to lower prices when everyone else in the industry wants to raise prices could hang in the balance.
It was Trump’s declaration that he was told the two countries are going to find a way to agree to stop saturating the world in oil that sent the price suddenly higher. So is he considering imposing tariffs, raising the price of imported Saudi oil?
Once again the word clouds descended and eventually Trump said “no”. He will help out by letting oil firms store their super-cheap oil in the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve until they can sell it at a higher price.
“They told me they want to get it resolved,” he said of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The oil executives, incidentally, got a bonus gift in the White House, free coronavirus testing using the new process that returns results in minutes.