Lead or get out of the way.
That was the message from state and local officials on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States over the weekend, with many officials saying they were increasingly dismayed at the federal government’s response to the crisis to date.
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Much of the frustration centered on the growing realisation that hospitals and medical facilities are likely to be overwhelmed in the coming days as the number of cases increase and that the equipment and supplies they need to cope have not been forthcoming.
New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose state is now the US epicentre of the outbreak, on Sunday called on President Donald Trump to use the powers vested to him under the Defence Production Act to force manufacturers to make essential supplies such as ventilators, face masks and testing equipment. Leading medical organisations such as the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association joined the chorus.
“We need the product now,” Cuomo said at a news conference on Sunday. “We have cries from hospitals around the state. I’ve spoken to governors around the country, and they’re in the same situation.”
Cuomo said the decision is one that could mean the “difference between life and death”.
“We are desperate,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy told ABC Sunday morning. “We’ve had a big ask into the strategic stockpile in the White House. They’ve given us a fraction of our ask.”
Trump said on March 18 that he had signed an executive order invoking the act, but has so far resisted implementing it and favoured a more market-oriented approach that relies on voluntary efforts by business leaders.
“We’re a country not based on nationalising our business,” Trump said at a briefing Sunday. “The concept of nationalising our business is not a good concept.”
The feud between Trump and state officials erupted openly on Sunday when the president took to his Twitter megaphone and said the Democratic governor of Illinois, JB Pritzker, was part of a clique of governors and cable news networks, which he disparaged as “fake news”, lined up against him for political reasons.
You wasted precious months when you could’ve taken action to protect Americans & Illinoisans. You should be leading a national response instead of throwing tantrums from the back seat. Where were the tests when we needed them? Where’s the PPE? Get off Twitter & do your job. https://t.co/WESJITCAwg
— Governor JB Pritzker (@GovPritzker) March 22, 2020
Earlier, Pritzker had appeared on CNN to say he was “finding it hard to control my anger with Donald Trump’s response to this crisis.
“Donald Trump promised to deliver for all the states weeks ago, and so far has done very little,” Pritzker said. “This is the time for serious people, not the carnival barkers that are tweeting from the cheap seats. All I can say is get to work or get out of the way.”
Democrats were not the only officials criticising the federal response to date. “We are getting some progress. Now, it’s not nearly enough. It’s not fast enough. We’re way behind the curve,” Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan said on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. The administration, he added, “has to take the lead” in securing medical items.
At his briefing later in the day on Sunday, Trump took a more conciliatory tone, praising his relationship with New York’s Cuomo and promising that he and other governors will be “very happy” with the federal response going forward.
“The governors, locally, are going to be in command,” Trump said, as he pledged support from the US National Guard and federal agencies. “We will be following them, and we hope they can do the job. And I think they will.”
[email protected], Governor of Illinois, and a very small group of certain other Governors, together with Fake News @CNN & Concast (MSDNC), shouldn’t be blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings. We are there to back you up should you fail, and always will be!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2020
On Monday, a group of US senators also signalled frustration over Trump’s hesitation to forcefully ramp up production of medical equipment and introduced a bill that would compel the president to do so.
“The current system, in which states and hospitals are competing against each other for scarce equipment, is both unnecessary and barbaric,” one of the bill’s sponsors, Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said in a statement. “Enough is enough. It’s time to centralize the critical medical supply chain and distribution during this public health crisis.”
USPS fires back: Local election boards stuck in outdated, confusing mail-in voting
The U.S. Postal Service, under Democratic fire on its readiness for mail-in voting, says there are big problems on the other end, too. Some local election boards count ballots using outdated procedures as the country prepares for its first mass-mail voting. These boards opted to use excess envelopes, minus bar codes, making it impossible to…
The U.S. Postal Service, under Democratic fire on its readiness for mail-in voting, says there are big problems on the other end, too.
Some local election boards count ballots using outdated procedures as the country prepares for its first mass-mail voting.
These boards opted to use excess envelopes, minus bar codes, making it impossible to track the ballot applications or ballots, the U.S. Postal Service inspector general says in a new report this week.
The IG said that in 2018, 31 million ballots were cast by mail. Only 4 million (13 percent) used mail tracking technology.
The Postal Service, mailers, and election boards are not able to track ballot envelopes that do not have barcodes,” the IG said. “According to Postal Service management, some election boards have chosen to continue using excess stock of ballot envelopes without barcodes and some lack the funding for integrating the use of barcodes in their mailing process.”
The gap comes despite the Postal Service repeatedly telling election boards over the years to make sure pieces can be tracked. USPS also has also been urging canvassing boards to ensure they have the correct addresses for voters to avoid huge numbers of ballots being returned unopened.
Boards are using envelopes that can cause the ballot to be sent back to the voter instead of counted because they contain two addresses.
Boards are planning on sending ballots too close to election day for carriers to meet state deadlines. Officials should mail ballots at least 15 days before Nov. 3, yet 48 states let voters request absentee ballots inside that time span.
There is a muddle of different requirements for post marks. Nearly 30 states have no requirement. The other states have different dates for when the ballot can be counted.
States have no consistent policies for updating voter lists. “This can cause absentee ballots intended for voters to be returned to election officials as undeliverable,” the IG said.
Such was the case in Nevada, where Democrats quickly shifted to an all-mail election and sent hundreds of thousands of ballots off voters lists even if not requested.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation said Nevada’s Clark County opted for actual ballots, not applications, to all listed voters in the state’s June primary.
Las Vegas-centric Clark County, Nevada’s largest, mailed 1.3 million ballots; USPS determined 223,469 were undeliverable. Voters filled out and returned 305,008.
“These numbers show how vote by mail fails,” said PILF President J. Christian Adams.
His group found that in the last four elections, Nevada reported only 5,863 returned undeliverable ballots.
Mr. Adams said developing a workable mass-mail election takes time. States are now trying to cram a totally new system into a few months planning time because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“New proponents of mail balloting don’t often understand how it actually works,” Mr. Adams said. “States like Oregon and Washington spent many years building their mail voting systems and are notably aggressive with voter list maintenance efforts. Pride in their own systems does not somehow transfer across state lines. Nevada, New York, and others are not and will not be ready for November.”
Responding to the USPS report, legal foundation spokesman Logan Churchwell told The Washington Times: “The postal service is correct to note that recipient addresses are out of date. For years, we’ve raised alarm about bloated and outdated voter registration records that, if used as the foundation for a mail ballot election, could be catastrophic. Just like ‘going to war with the army you have,’ we’re doing the same with voter addresses. In 2020, dead people and those holding duplicated registrations will get ballots. “
President Trump took a look at Nevada’s new system and declared it Illegal. His campaign quickly filed a lawsuit in early August.
Nevada will steal an idea from California and allow “ballot harvesting” for the general election. Anyone can collect ballots and bring them to a polling place.
Democrats have accused Postmaster General Louis DeJoy of being in some type of conspiracy to constrain mail-voting
“There are many inaccuracies about my actions that I wish to again correct,” Mr. DeJoy testified at a House hearing last month. “First, I did not direct the removal of blue collection boxes or the removal of mail processing equipment. Second, I did not direct the cutback on hours at any of our postal offices, and finally I did not direct the elimination or any cutback in overtime. I did, however, suspend these practices to remove any misperceptions about our commitment to delivering the nation’s election mail.”
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Local Red Cross under fire over China coronavirus donation mess
Chongqing, China – The Wuhan Red Cross and Hubei provincial Red Cross have come under fire after donations of crucial medical supplies from across China failed to arrive at the hospitals on the front lines of a coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 300 people. Health workers, who are at high risk of infection without effective protection,…
Chongqing, China – The Wuhan Red Cross and Hubei provincial Red Cross have come under fire after donations of crucial medical supplies from across China failed to arrive at the hospitals on the front lines of a coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 300 people.
Health workers, who are at high risk of infection without effective protection, including masks and suits, have been appealing for more supplies for days.
“The entire country has been mobilised to donate – why are doctors still not getting enough supplies?” read a reply to a doctor from Wuhan Union Hospital – one of the seven hospitals designated to treat coronavirus – who wrote on social media on Thursday that the hospital was out of supplies.
As more people scrambled to find ways to get much-needed masks and protective suits to hospitals, a report on donations and deliveries from Hubei’s Red Cross – the first since the beginning of the outbreak – showed that of two million masks donated from across China, the local Red Cross had delivered 200,000 to hospitals.
The masks had also been sent to hospitals that did not really need them.
Medical supplies donated from the coastal province of Jiangsu arrive at a hospital in Wuhan. The local Red Cross has come under fire for being slow to distribute much-needed masks and protective suits [Yuan Zheng/EPA]
Wuhan Union Hospital received just 5,000 surgical masks, while two other hospitals – Wuhan Ren’ai and Wuhan Tianyou – received 32,000. Neither Ren’ai nor Tianyou hospital treats coronavirus-infected patients, and each has one-tenth of the number of medics employed by Wuhan Union.
“Do they really understand what these supplies mean to the doctors and nurses?” Yukun Liu, a businessman from Chongqing who donated 2,000 surgical masks and 200 medical goggles to Wuhan, told Al Jazeera.
“I am honestly having a hard time trying to understand what the Red Cross was thinking – this is unforgivable.”
In any crisis in China, the local Red Cross is a key part of relief efforts – acting to ensure donations made by the public reach the places they are needed – but the coronavirus outbreak appears to have overwhelmed the organisation in Hubei.
In a statement, a Red Cross official explained that the masks delivered to Ren’ai and Tianyou were manufactured to the “KN95” standard rather than the “N95” standard required for medical workers on the front line.
N95, graded according to US standards, means the mask should be able to filter at least 95 percent of non-oily particles – a requirement for most medical workers treating respiratory diseases. KN95 is the China version of N95; the local standard, offering the same level of protection under a different name.
The public was unconvinced.
“The problem right now is that there are no masks in hospitals,” one person wrote on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. “When there isn’t even any surgical mask left, KN95 offers at least some protection, and the Red Cross has no right not to deliver them!”
Nurses and doctors at Wuhan Union Hospital have said they were forced to make masks and protective suits using the cloth from their medical overalls. In other cities, doctors have been using disposable rain ponchos as protection.
Protective suits are crucial for doctors treating patients with pneumonia caused by the coronavirus given how little is known about how the virus behaves and spreads [China Daily via Reuters]
Apart from distribution issues, Wuhan Red Cross is being asked another question: Why is it not spending the cash donations it has received?
As of January 29, the organisation had been given cash donations of 390 million yuan ($56m) but had used only 13 percent of the money to buy supplies.
Respected Chinese media group Caixin reported that the Red Cross warehouse, which is approximately the size of two football fields, was almost entirely full of medical supplies but only a handful of people were sorting them for distribution.
“This is absolutely outrageous, but for now, let’s get these supplies to the hospitals as soon as we can,” Liu said. “Then we need to hold these people accountable.”
Le Chang, a supply office administrator at Wuhan’s Hankou Hospital said he had waited for three hours at the Red Cross warehouse only to receive two boxes of masks and no protective suits.
On Saturday evening, some 9,000 protective suits and surgical masks – donated by people in nine different provinces – were airdropped into Wuhan Union Hospital by a helicopter provided by a private company.
A number of hospitals are now saying they will only accept direct donations, effectively bypassing the Red Cross. This includes Huoshenshan, the 1,000-bed field hospital built by the military in eight days, which is due to open this week.
“We appreciate all donations from society; and in order to make sure all supplies go to the most needed, we have decided to accept donations ourselves without working with the Red Cross,” Song Zhan, donation coordination officer for Huoshenshan Hospital, told local media.
Hubei Red Cross later apologised on its official Weibo account and said it was “deeply regretful” about what had happened in the province.
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