Pandemic Journal (# 26): Reflections on Life During the Pandemic  

Here are my latest reflections on living through this pandemic.

The morning news on July 1 reported that there have been 10,483,100 people in the world who have been sickened with the coronavirus with 511,540 deaths, all occurring in nearly every country in the world. For the U.S. the numbers are 2,653,200 cases and 127,461 deaths. The recent hotspots are Arizona, Florida, California, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Washington and Mississippi.[1] My state of Minnesota has had 36,338 cases and 1,476 deaths.[2]

On June 30 in testimony to a U.S. Senate committee, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said  the rate of new coronavirus infections could more than double to 100,000 a day if current outbreaks were not contained, warning that the virus’s march across the South and the West “puts the entire country at risk.” He added, ““I can’t make an accurate prediction, but it is going to be very disturbing, I will guarantee you that [3]because when you have an outbreak in one part of the country, even though in other parts of the country they are doing well, they are vulnerable.”

These are grim statistics and predictions that are endlessly noted in newspapers and television and radio news programs. As an 81-year-old who has been isolated in his downtown Minneapolis condo building since March 19, all I can do is continue to spend time in my condo with my wife, wear a face mask and “physical distance” at least six feet from other people when I leave the condo to buy groceries, walk in nearby parks and go biking.

While in the condo most of my time is spent reading multiple newspapers on my computer and writing blog posts, usually watching MSNBC at night and occasionally other programs. I have to make time to read books for my men’s book group. Within the last week our building’s swimming pool, hot tub and exercise facilities have re-opened to one or two persons at a time, and I have started to use them again.

I have noted the reports that on June 28, Gilead Sciences announced the pricing for the drug remdesivir, the first drug authorized by the U.S. for treatment of COVID-19. The prices were $3,120 for commercially insured U.S. patients (for the shorter treatment course at $520 per dose) and $5,720 for the longer treatment course. For certain U.S. government programs (but not Medicare or Medicaid) and the rest of the world, the price will be $2,340 (for the shorter course at $390 per dose) and $4,290 (for the longer treatment course).These prices were deemed reasonable by the supposedly independent Institute for Clinical and Economic Review on the basis that use of the drug was expected to enable earlier discharge from the hospital and thereby “save” additional hospital expenses. Gilead’s shares suffered a small decline after the announcement based on certain analysts’ belief that the prices for the drug would be higher.[4]

In my opinion, this is a strange way to assess whether a price is reasonable. The proper method, I thought, was to calculate the cost of producing the drug or other product, after subtracting any costs that had been paid for by the government (or by converting that financial contribution into common or preferred stock and paying dividends to the government), and then adding a percentage of the cost as profit, whose reasonableness could then be assessed.

On May 25th I was shocked to hear the news that George Floyd, an African-American man, had been killed by Minneapolis police in south Minneapolis about 3.5 miles from our condo building. To see the teenage bystander’s video of the last minutes of this human being’s life was excruciating. I did not attend any of the immediate protests at this site, but a couple of weeks ago on a pleasant weekday morning, my wife and I visited the site, which felt like visiting the memorial to a martyred saint. As a result, most of my blog posts since then have been about this killing and the related issues of reforming the Minneapolis and other police departments.

Although I believe that the Minneapolis Police Department needs various reforms, I do not support the City Council’s proposed amendment to the City Charter, which will be discussed in a future post.

I also worry about the U.S. and world economy and the financial struggles of so many people, small businesses, political campaigns and our many worthy nonprofit organizations. This concern was voiced in the June 30th testimony of  Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell before the House Financial Services Committee. He stated that although May employment and sales numbers were better than expected, the path forward would depend on both how the virus evolved and a willingness at all levels of government to provide policy support as long as necessary.[5]

I continue to be grateful that I am retired and not worried about keeping or finding a job. Instead I sort through the many requests for contributions and notices of webinars and other ZOOM meetings. I try to respond as I am able.

My church, Westminster Presbyterian in downtown Minneapolis, is shut down because of the pandemic. But every Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m.it has a worship service on ZOOM that is broadcast in the afternoon on local TV station KSTP. Also available on ZOOM are other services on Sundays at 5:00 p.m. and on Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m. Adult education is available on Sundays at 9:15—10:15 a.m. on Zoom. Check the church’s Livestream button for details.

Especially enriching have been Westminster’s conversations with other pastors and theologians about important issues. A future post will discuss the June 21st “Conversation on Big Questions for a Changing Church” between Westminster’s Scholar for Adult Education, Rev. Dr. Matt Skinner, who is a Professor at Luther Seminary, with Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

I also continue to be shocked by the incompetence and outrageous comments from the mouth of President Trump and have to restrain myself from letting them distract me.

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[1] Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak, N.Y. Times (July 1, 2020, 9:32 am (EDT)); Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y. Times (July 1, 2020, 9:32 am (EDT).

[2] Minnesota Coronavirus Map and Case Count, N.Y. Times (July 1, 2020, 9:32 am (EDT)); Carlson, Minnesota deaths up 6, to 1,441, in COVID-19 pandemic, StarTribune (June 30, 2020).

[3] Stelberg & Weiland, Fauci Says U.S. Could Reach 100,000 Virus cases a Day as Warnings Grow Darker, N.Y. Times (June 30 & July 1, 2020)/

[4] Walker, Covid-19 Drug Remdesivir to Cost $3,120 for Typical Patient, W.S.J. (June 29, 2020); Grant, Gilead Is Wise to Leave Remdesivir Money on the Table, W.S.J. (June 29, 2020); Carlson, COVID-19 drug price deemed ‘reasonable,’ StarTribune (June 29, 2020).

[5] Rappeport & Smialek, Mnuchin and Powell Offer Mixed Views of Economic Recovery, N.Y. Times (June 30, 2020).

 

 

Pandemic Journal (#18): Colorado’s Successful Voting by Mail

A previous Pandemic Journal (# 10) and seven comments thereto discussed the turmoil over Wisconsin’s April  primary election and yet its successful implementation of voting by mail so long as such votes were postmarked on or before the actual date of the election.[1]

Another state, Colorado, has had a successful system for voting by mail since 2013, as documented by a recent academic study.[2]

The study’s overall conclusion: “A huge expansion of mail voting is one way to ensure that participating in democracy won’t undermine public health.” The authors continue, “The idea of ‘all-mail voting’ is straightforward: Every registered voter gets sent a ballot via mail to their home address, then after making their choices, voters mail it back; and those who want to still travel to vote in person can do so. In the midst of this pandemic, it’s an adjustment that every state legislature should try to make.”

Our new research, published yesterday, shows that elections with all-mail voting increase turnout among everyone, especially groups that tend to vote less frequently. Those results merit permanent, wide-scale shifts. Currently, registered voters automatically get a ballot by mail in five states: Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado and Hawaii. A few other states have all-mail voting in small jurisdictions, and California has been gradually rolling it out.”

Our findings show, however, that low-turnout groups are the very groups that stand to benefit most from all-mail voting. Focusing on Colorado’s recent switch to vote-by-mail in 2013 and using the voter file — a comprehensive record of who turns out in American elections — we find that turnout goes up among everyone, especially the historically disenfranchised: young people, voters of color, less-educated people and blue-collar workers.”

In fact, “all-mail voting has a tremendously large effect, boosting overall voting rates in Colorado by more than 9 percentage points.” Moreover, “ youth turnout increases by 16 percentage points. Blue-collar workers see a 10 percentage-point jump in turnout. People without a high school diploma are 9.6 percentage points more likely to vote. And voters of color benefit immensely: Our research finds a 13 percentage-point turnout boost for African-Americans, a 10 percentage-point boost for Latino voters and an 11 percentage-point increase for Asian-Americans.”

In addition, with such voting, “Households with less than $10,000 in wealth see a 10 percentage-point turnout boost from all-mail voting, while the effect for those with $250,000 or more in wealth is about half that size.”

“In Colorado, a traditional swing state, ballots are mailed to all registered voters, who can then choose to mail back their completed ballot or drop it in one of many secure collection boxes. (Denver alone has about 30 throughout the city.) Or voters take it to a county vote center, staffed with personnel, to cast their ballot in person. Vote centers are open during an early voting period as well as on Election Day.”

In addition, Colorado “also allows for same-day registration. This ensures that people who miss the state’s registration deadline for mail voting can still register and vote in person. (Colorado also proactively updates voter addresses using the United States Postal Service’s National Change of Address database and, as of 2017, provides automatic voter registration throughout the state.)”

Finally, the authors state, “fraud is exceptionally rare, hard to commit without getting caught and nearly impossible to do on the scale necessary to affect election results. And because mail voting leaves behind a paper trail — which election officials can audit to verify that votes were counted as cast — it may actually be even more secure than in-person voting.”

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[1] See these entries on dwkcommentaries.com: Pandemic Journal (# 10): Wisconsin Primary Election (April 10, 2020); Comment: More Criticism of Republican Strategy of Limiting Voting (April 12, 2020); Comment: More Comments on Wisconsin Election (April 13, 2020); Comment: Surprising Results in Wisconsin Election (April 14, 2020); Comment: George F. Will’s Opinion on Voting by Mail (VBM) (April 15, 2020); Comment: Emerging Battles Over Changing State Election Laws (April 15, 2020); Comment: New York Times Editorial on Wisconsin Election (April 20, 2020); Comment: Thousands of Wisconsin Ballots Counted After Election Day (May 3, 2020).

[2] Hill, Grumbach, Bonica & Jefferson, We Should Never Have to Vote in Person Again, N.Y. Times (May 4, 2020) The authors are Charlotte Hill, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Berkeley; Jacob Grumbach, a professor of political science at the University of Washington; and Adam Bonica and Hakeem Jefferson, both professors of political science at Stanford. Some of these points also were voiced by former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (now a candidate for U.S. Senate). (Hickenlooper, We’ve been voting at home for six years in Colorado. It’s time to do it nationally, Wash. Post (April 8, 2020).)

 

 

 

 

Another Update on States’ Consents to Refugees Resettlement 

President Trump on September 24, 2019, issued Executive Order 13888, entitled “Enhancing State and Local Involvement in Refugee Resettlement” that required state and local governments to submit to the Department of State written consents for resettlement of refugees as a precondition for such resettlements.[1]

The deadline for providing those consents, however, has been confusing in the primary and secondary sources. But it now appears that the key date is January 21, 2020, which is the deadline for local refugee resettlement agencies to submit applications for funding of those efforts by the State Department’s Bureau of Population Refugees and Migrations (PRM) and that such funding applicants must submit to PRM such “consent letters from state and local officials on a rolling basis both before and after submission of their proposals.”  (Emphasis added.)  Thus, there is no explicit deadline for submitting the consents.[2]

List of Consenting State & Local Governments

PRM now is publishing on its website a list of state and local governments that have submitted letters of consent, copies of most of which are hyperlinked to the list.[3] However, there is no “as of” date for the PRM’s list which will be updated from time to time. In any event, here is the latest PRM list consolidated with lists from other sources identifying 34 states (15 Republican governors and 19 Democrat Governors)  that have consented.[4]

State PRM Other

Sources

Local

Entities

PRM Other

Sources

Arizona (Rep. Gov.)   X    X Phoenix (City), Tucson (City)

Maricopa (County), Pima (County)

   X
Arkansas (Rep. Gov.)    X
Colorado (Dem. Gov.)   X
Connecticut (Dem. Gov.)   X    X New Haven (City)   X
Delaware (Dem. Gov.)   X    X
Illinois (Dem. Gov.)   X    X DuPage County, Chicago (City)   X     X
Indiana (Rep. Gov.)    X
Iowa (Rep. Gov.)   X
Kansas (Dem. Gov.)   X     X
Louisiana (Dem. Gov.)     X
Maine (Dem. Gov.)   X
Massachusetts (Rep. Gov.)   X     X Easthampton (City)   X
Holyoke (City)   X
Northampton (City)   X
Salem (City)   X
West Springfield (City)   X
Michigan (Dem. Gov.)   X     X
Minnesota (Dem. Gov.)   X     X Minneapolis (City)    X
Montana (Dem. Gov.)   X     X
Nebraska (Rep. Gov.)     X
New Hampshire (Rep. Gov.)   X
New Jersey (Dem. Gov.)   X    X
New Mexico (Dem. Gov.)   X    X
North Carolina (Dem. Gov.)   X    X Durham County    X
North Dakota (Rep. Gov.)   X     X Burleigh County    X
Ohio (Rep. Gov.)     X
Oklahoma (Rep. Gov.)
Oregon (Dem. Giov.)   X    X
Pennsylvania (Dem. Gov.)   X     X
Rhode Island (Dem. Gov.)   X
South Dakota (Rep. Gov.)    X
Tennessee (Rep. Gov.)    X
Texas (Rep. Gov.)   X[i] Bexar County   X
Utah (Rep. Gov.)   X    X
Vermont (Rep. Gov.)    X
Virginia (Dem. Gov.)   X    X Alexandria (City)   X
Richmond (City)   X
Roanoke (City)   X
Washington (Dem. Gov.)   X    X
West Virginia (Rep. Gov.)    X
Wisconsin (Dem. Gov.)    X

Finally no state so far has affirmatively rejected such resettlements although there is no requirement to do so. Rejection is implicit if there is no affirmative consent.

Conclusion

Many of the current letters of consent contain inspiring words about welcoming refugees that will be discussed in a subsequent post while another post will cover religious justifications for welcoming refugees.

Now we wait to learn what the other 16 states (11 Republican (Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming) and 5 Democrat (California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Nevada and New York ) will do.

It should be noted, however, that the official website of New York’s Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo on September 17, issued a statement criticizing the Trump Administration’s new lower cap on refugee admissions and saying, “We believe that our diversity is our greatest strength, and we are proud to be home to refugees across the state who are breathing new life into their communities as members of the family of New York. While President Trump undermines the values that built this state and this nation, New York will always welcome immigrants and refugees with open arms.”[6]

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[1]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Sets 18,000 Quota for New Refugee Admissions to U.S. for Fiscal 2020 (Nov. 4, 2019; U.S. Senators Oppose U.S.Reduction in Refugee Admissions for Fiscal 2020 (Nov. 11, 2019);Latest U.S. Struggle Over Refugees (Dec. 11, 2019); Minnesota and Minneapolis Say “Yes” to Refugees (Dec. 14, 2019); Updates on States’ Consents to Refugee Resettlement (Dec. 16, 2019);   https://dwkcommentaries.com/2019/12/16/update-on-states-consents-to-refugee-resettlement/  Tennessee Consents to Refugees Resettlement (Dec. 20, 2019).

[2] State Dep’t, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), FY 2020 Notice of Funding Opportunity for Reception and Placement Program, Funding Opportunity Number: SFOP0006252 (Nov. 6, 2019) FY2020 R&P FINAL NOFO.

[3]  State Dep’t, State and Local Consents Under Executive Order 13888.

[4] See prior posts listed in footnote 1. See also Assoc. Press, Oklahoma governor give consent for refugee resettlement, koco.com (Dec. 22, 2019); Assoc. Press, GOP Governors Grapple With Whether to Accept Refugees or Not, N.Y. Times (Dec. 23, 2019); Assoc. Press, 15 GOP Govs Request Refugee Resettlement in Their States, NEWSMAX (Dec. 26, 2019); CBSChicago, Mayor Lightfoot Issues Letter To U.S. State Department Authorizing Refugee Resettlement in Chicago (Dec. 24, 2019); Assoc. Press, John Bel Edwards to Trump: Louisiana will keep taking refugees, Advocate (Dec. 23, 2019); Carson, Evers says Wisconsin is open to refugee resettlement in response to presidential order requiring states, counties to consent, Milwaukee Sentinel (Dec. 18, 2019); Stoddard, Gov. Pete Ricketts says he’ll consent to refugees continuing to resettle in Nebraska, Omaha-World Herald (Dec. 19, 2019).

[5] It appears that Texas is on the PRM list only because Bexar County has submitted a consent. On December 26, 2019, a Texas newspaper reported that Texas Governor Greg Abbott has not submitted such a consent letter and that his spokesman “did not return multiple calls, texts, and emails seeking comment.” On the other hand, “Mayors and county leaders of all Texas’ biggest cities —including Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin — sent letters opting in,” but those consents are effective only if the state consents.  (Kriel, Trump give states power to admit refugees. As other GOP governors sign on, Abbott is silent, Houston Chronicle (Dec. 26, 2019).)

[6]  Statement from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on the Trump Administration’s New Refugee Cap (Sept. 17, 2019).

 

 

 

 

U.S. Governors Call for Ending the U.S. Embargo Against Cuba

On October 9, nine U.S. governors sent a letter to congressional leaders calling for decisive steps to open up trade with Cuba and put an end to the embargo.[1]

They expressed their “support for an end to current trade sanctions levied against Cuba. It is time for Congress to take action and remove the financial, travel, and other restrictions that impede normal commerce and trade between our nation and Cuba.”

Federal legislation in 2000,“ they stated, “allowed for the first commercial sales of food and agricultural products from the U.S. in nearly half a century.” Since then “Cuba has become an important market for many American agricultural commodities. Thus far, our country’s agriculture sector has led the way in reestablishing meaningful commercial ties with Cuba, but a sustainable trade relationship cannot be limited to one sector or involve only one-way transactions.”

Nevertheless, the Governors added,  “financing restrictions imposed by the embargo limit the ability of U.S. companies to competitively serve the Cuban market. Our thriving food and agriculture sectors coupled with Cuba’s need for an affordable and reliable food supply provide opportunities for both our nations that could be seized with an end to the remaining trade restrictions. Foreign competitors such as Canada, Brazil, and the European Union are increasingly taking market share from U.S. industry, as these countries do not face the same restrictions on financing.”

“Ending the embargo will create jobs here at home, especially in rural America, and will create new opportunities for U.S. agriculture. Expanding trade with Cuba will further strengthen our nation’s agriculture sector by opening a market of 11 million people just 90 miles from our shores, and continue to maintain the tremendous momentum of U.S. agricultural exports, which reached a record $152 billion in 2014.”

In addition, “bilateral trade and travel among citizens of both nations will engender a more harmonious relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, while providing new opportunities for U.S. interests to benefit economically from improved relationships. The benefits of fully opening Cuba to free market trading with the U.S. go beyond dollars and cents. This positive change in relations between our nations will usher in a new era of cooperation that transcends business. Expanded diplomatic relations, corporate partnerships, trade and dialogue will put us in a better position to boost democratic ideals in Cuba. This goal has not been achieved with an outdated strategy of isolation and sanctions.”

“While normalized trade would represent a positive step for the U.S. and Cuban economies, we appreciate and support the Administration’s executive actions taken thus far to expand opportunity in Cuba and facilitate dialogue among both nations. We now ask that you and your colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate take decisive steps to support U.S. commerce and trade relations and fully end the embargo on Cuba.”

The letter is signed by Governors Robert Bentley (Rep., AL), Jerry Brown (Dem. CA), Butch Otter (Rep., ID), Mark Dayton (Dem.MN), Steve Bullock (Dem., MT), Thomas Wolf (Dem., PA), Peter Shumlin (Dem., VT),Terry McAuliffe (Dem., VA) and Jay Inslee (Dem., WA).

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[1] Letter, Governor Robert Bentley (and eight other Governors) to Senate Majority Leader McConnell, et al. (Oct. 9, 2015); Bullock, Governor Bullock Encourage End to Trade Sanctions with Cuba (Oct. 14, 2015); Shumlin, Governor Shumlin Urges End to U.S. Trade Sanctions with Cuba (Oct. 13, 2015); Governor supports trade with Cuba, Great Falls Tribune (Oct. 14, 2015); Thurston, Could Farmers Cash in with More Open Trade with Cuba? Necn (Oct. 14, 2015); Prentice, Otter, Eight Other Governors, Urging Congress to Lift Cuba Trade Embargo, Boise Weekly (Oct. 14, 2015); Nine U.S. governors call for an end to the blockade, Granma (Oct. 14, 2015).