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Trump resuming pandemic rallies shows how little he’s learned about coronavirus

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President Donald Trump is rushing to get back on the campaign trail just one week after leaving the hospital, and before it’s even clear that he’s tested negative for the coronavirus. (Minutes before this story was published, Trump’s physician released a letter claiming that Trump “has tested NEGATIVE, on consecutive days, using the Abbott BinaxNOW antigen card.”)

With polling showing the presidential race trending toward a Biden landslide, Trump is scheduled to hold a rally on Monday evening in Sanford, Florida. It will be his first since a trip to Minnesota on September 30 during which White House aide Hope Hicks fell ill with Covid-19, and marks the beginning of what is shaping up to be an extraordinarily intense three weeks of campaigning for the president. Trump has reportedly asked his campaign to schedule in-person events for him every night between Monday and Election Day. One adviser expressed worry to Axios that Trump is “going to kill himself.”

While Trump’s recent TV and radio interviews indicate he’s at least feeling better physically than he was in the days immediately following his October 2 announcement that he tested positive for the coronavirus, the president wants people to believe he’s the first person in the world to test positive and then actually feel better a week later.

During a Sunday morning appearance on Fox News, for instance, Trump claimed without evidence that he’s “immune” to the virus, but didn’t answer a question about what precautions his campaign will take to try to keep people safe at his rallies. Along the same lines, during a separate Fox News appearance, Trump campaign official Lara Trump deflected questions about the safety of Trump holding in-person events.

The fact of the matter is it doesn’t appear Trump’s campaign plans to do much. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says large gatherings where it’s hard to maintain physical distance from others (like political rallies) present the “highest risk” of becoming spreading events, but the campaign’s response to questions about how they’re flouting government guidance has been to suggest the right of assembly trumps public health.

Rally attendees are still required to sign a waiver absolving the campaign of any responsibility if they contract Covid-19. And early images from Sanford indicate that there won’t be much social distancing or mask-wearing.

While Trump’s event on Monday is scheduled to take place outdoors, that doesn’t mean it’s totally safe. Consider, for instance, the fallout from Trump’s September 18 rally in Bemidji, Minnesota.

Trump’s latest Minnesota rallies left a trail of Covid-19 in their wake

The Bemidji rally is perhaps best remembered for Trump praising his almost entirely white audience for their “good genes,” and for the fact that it began right as news broke of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. But it was back in the news late last week after the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) announced that nine coronavirus cases — including two requiring hospitalization, and one that put a person in the ICU — were linked to it.

While it’s impossible to know for sure that the nine infections were contracted at the rally, MDH spokesperson Doug Schultz told Politico that all nine people “attended the rally during the time when they were likely to have been exposed to the virus that made them ill (i.e. 14 days prior to illness onset).” He added that it’s likely at least one person was infectious at the rally.

Trump’s last rally before he announced his coronavirus diagnosis was held about three hours away from Bemidji in Duluth, Minnesota, on September 30 — about 48 hours before Trump ended up in the hospital with his own coronavirus diagnosis. The MDH sounded the alarm about the Duluth event as well, releasing a statement noting that “Community transmission of COVID-19 was high in St. Louis County prior to this week’s rally, and people attending the rally may have been infectious without realizing it.”

“People should consider getting tested even if they do not have symptoms because some people may not develop or recognize symptoms and people can spread the virus even without displaying symptoms,” the statement added.

Yet on Monday night, the Trump campaign is using unreliable temperature checks to try to identify possible coronavirus carriers. Put it all together and you can understand why Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN on Monday that Trump’s pandemic rallies are a bad idea from a public health standpoint.

“We know that that is asking for trouble when you do that. We’ve seen that when you have situations of congregate settings where there are a lot of people without masks, the data speak for themselves,” Fauci said, adding that the rallies are an extra bad idea right now since new coronavirus cases are again on the rise throughout the country.

Trump is still selling false hope about the coronavirus magically going away

If you hoped Trump’s coronavirus hospitalization might cause him to rethink the wisdom of holding rallies during a pandemic, he dispelled that even before he left Walter Reed medical center with a tweet in which he advised people, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”

But that talking point is cold comfort to loved ones of the nearly 215,000 Americans who have lost their lives to Covid-19, not to mentions the thousands of others who survived with damaged health. And as CNN detailed on Monday, the latest case numbers indicate things are trending in the wrong direction:

The virus is now trending up in 31 states and is receding in only three, according to Johns Hopkins University. On Saturday alone, there were more than 54,000 new infections recorded with a further 618 deaths. The high baseline of cases means that a coming spike could be even more serious than the viral storm that raged through the northeast and the south in the spring and summer.

The latest forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine projects that there could be nearly 395,000 US coronavirus deaths by February 1.

Voters are blaming Trump. A new Washington Post-ABC poll indicates that the failed coronavirus response is a major headwind for his campaign, with nearly two-thirds of respondents saying they don’t think Trump took appropriate precaution to reduce the chance he’d get the disease himself.

But instead of engaging with that reality, Trump on Saturday falsely insisted the coronavirus is “disappearing.”

And on Sunday, Trump compared his response favorably with a projection from the early days of the pandemic based on a model in which the US government did nothing to slow the spread of the virus.

While it’s debatable whether it’s good politics for Trump to hit the campaign trail to recklessly hold rallies fresh off a bout with the coronavirus that he likely contracted in the course of holding reckless events, it’s certainly not good public health practice.


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FDA says there is no timeline for a Covid-19 vaccine

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A health worker works in a lab during clinical trials for a Covid-19 vaccine at Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida, on September 9.
A health worker works in a lab during clinical trials for a Covid-19 vaccine at Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida, on September 9. Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg/Getty Images

US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said Wednesday that the agency does not have a set timeline to review a Covid-19 vaccine.

The goal, he said, is that everyone could get a vaccine by spring. But it “really depends on a number of factors.”

“We want to expedite it,” Hahn said at a conference sponsored by the Milken Institute, a nonpartisan think tank founded by ex-banker Michael Milken.

“We’ve said that we will schedule a vaccine advisory committee to review those data. We have committed for every application to have a vaccine advisory committee,” Hahn said.

“We will make that public, as I mentioned. Our scientists will make an initial determination, will ask specific questions about the product from the vaccine advisory committee. And then we will incorporate that in our decision making,” Hahn said.

“At the end of the day, only our career scientists in the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research will be making this decision, and they will be making it solely upon the science and data that come from the clinical trials.”

To speed up the process, Hahn said the FDA has been working with manufacturers from day one and have stayed in touch throughout the manufacturing process, rather than reviewing everything at the end of the process. 

“We need to make sure that there’s quality and consistency and that every lot has the same ability to provide protection to all of Americans,” Hahn said. “We have a lot of confidence in the manufacturing of these developers, and we will be doing our part with respect to working with them to make sure that manufacturing can be ramped up as quickly as possible.”

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Trump slams US stimulus deal on Twitter as talks continue

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Trump’s evening tweets came hours after all three major stock indexes fell over the ongoing stimulus deadlock.

United States President Donald Trump expressed scepticism that an agreement could be reached with Democratic leaders on a new round of coronavirus aid relief, seemingly torpedoing hopes for a stimulus plan even as talks continue between Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary Treasury Steve Mnuchin.

“Just don’t see any way Nancy Pelosi and Cryin’ Chuck Schumer will be willing to do what is right for our great American workers, or our wonderful USA itself, on Stimulus,” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday evening. “Their primary focus is BAILING OUT poorly run (and high crime) Democrat cities and states….Should take care of our people. It wasn’t their fault that the Plague came in from China!”

The tweets came after all three financial indexes fell on Wednesday amid dwindling hopes of a stimulus plan before Americans head to the polls on Election Day November 3.

Pelosi has proposed $2.2 trillion to help struggling businesses and families, while the White House rolled out a $1.8 trillion proposal, which Trump has since said he would be willing to go beyond. But Pelosi and Mnuchin are reportedly getting closer to a deal, with the pair due to speak again on Thursday, Pelosi’s spokesman said in a tweet.

Experts have warned the US needs another round of financial relief for struggling businesses and families in order to recover from the pandemic’s economic downturn. The last round of aid expired at the end of July, including an additional $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits meant to shore up workers in addition to state aid.

Earlier this month, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned that the country’s entire economic recovery is in danger of derailing if the government does not step up to the plate.

“Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses,” Powell said during an October 7 event with economists and strategists.

Trump has frequently used Twitter to weigh in on the continuing stimulus talks. On the same day Powell spoke, Trump tweeted that he had told his representatives to halt stimulus negotiations with Democrats until after the election – before making an about-face hours later and urging Democratic legislators to cast targeted financial lines to businesses and households.

Last week, he tweeted: “STIMULUS! “Go big or go home!!!” even as Senate Republicans expressed support for a pared-down aid package.

On Wednesday, Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, told Fox Business “the president’s willing to lean into this” with Republican senators if a deal is reached.

Talks are continuing as the timeframe for a pre-Election Day vote narrows, with investors around the world closely watching what comes out of Pelosi and Mnuchin’s discussions Thursday.

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Obama says Trump treats presidency ‘like a reality show he can use to get attention’

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Scott Olson/Getty Images/FILE
Scott Olson/Getty Images/FILE

Businessman Andrew Yang will join Young Americans for Biden and youth-focused organizations Student Debt Crisis and Rise, as well as the student loan start-up Savi, for a town hall and phone bank Wednesday.

Yang, a former Democratic presidential candidate and CNN contributor, ran on a platform that emphasized Universal Basic Income and student debt relief for young Americans.

During the virtual event with Yang, Student Debt Crisis, Rise and Savi will announce the launch of a new joint initiative between the groups, which includes a student loan education tool and hotline for student loan borrowers.

“With 45 million student loan borrowers, it’s a massive bloc of voters who could easily tip the election and Rise’s work with Student Debt Crisis is the first concerted effort to define ‘student loan voter’ as a category with political power,” Rise CEO Maxwell Lubin told CNN.

In September, Rise and Student Debt Crisis teamed up to endorse the Biden-Harris ticket. Wednesday’s virtual event with Yang marks the first time the student-focused groups will partner with Savi.

Rise, a student-led advocacy group with chapters on college campuses across the country, has mobilized more than 80,000 students in battle ground states with a get out the vote campaign since the summer, Lubin said. 

Student Debt Crisis is a national organization dedicated to teaching young people how to manage their student loans. They regularly hold clinics to help young people understand their loans and work nationally to reform student debt and higher education policies. 

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