Southern governors create a Covid-19 coalition and experts fear a 'perfect storm'

TALLAHASSEE — Republican governors across the Southeast are teaming up to reopen the region’s economy, even as they lack the testing to know how rapidly the coronavirus is spreading. One health expert called the political decision a “perfect storm” for the virus to reassert itself. The newly formed coalition includes Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, a part of the country that has underfunded health systems, as well as high rates of obesity, diabetes and other illnesses that amplify the deadliness of the coronavirus. And unlike their peers in New York, New Jersey and other Northeastern states that have been working cooperatively since last week to restart their economies, the six in the South have lagged on testing and social distancing measures. “If you put these states together, there is a perfect storm for a massive epidemic peak later on,” said Jill Roberts of the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health. “The Southeast region is not known for having the best health record. Diabetes and heart disease come to mind. I am very concerned about how our states will do it.” It’s not evident how the coalition will work. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis mentioned the move Tuesday on "Fox & Friends," but there was no formal announcement or much communication from other states involved. “We have had a meeting with all the Southeastern governors — Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee,” DeSantis said. “And we shared a lot of ideas. I think we will be the same page on some stuff.” Governors from Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi did not respond to questions. DeSantis communications director Helen Aguirre Ferré wrote on Twitter that the six states would be “working in a coalition.” As of Tuesday morning, the six states had collectively tested about one-tenth of 1 percent of their total populations. Mississippi, which ranks 15th nationally in testing, had the group’s best testing rate at 1.7 percent of its population. Georgia was the lowest, with a testing rate of less than one one-hundredth of 1 percent, or 42nd in the country, according to the Covid Tracking Project. By comparison, the coalition of seven states in the Northeast has a collective testing rate twice that of the Southeast, having swabbed more than two-tenths of 1 percent of their collective population. Five of the seven states included in the Northeastern coalition are in the top 15 nationally in per-capita testing. Beyond the numbers, the two regions differ culturally and in the political instincts of their leaders. Even as the Northeast looks to band together, its governors are urging caution. Southern governors, most of whom have built political careers on small-government conservatism, are driving, by contrast, to restart their economies and get people back to work, even as infections mount. Southern governors, including DeSantis, point to their slowing rate of increases of positive tests and falling numbers of hospitalizations. On Tuesday, DeSantis jabbed the media and public health experts for predicting initially that state hospitals would be overwhelmed. “Our work is succeeding,” DeSantis told reporters. “We flattened the curve.” Dr. Aileen Marty, a pandemic and infectious disease expert at Florida International University, said gains made through social distancing and other precautions are good signs, but not the signal to loosen efforts that Southern governors think they are. “They are heavily Republican with social conservatives who are all of a like mind,” Marty said. “They are tempting fate by having the virus out and about among us, but if they don’t do it in a controlled way, we will again be back in situations of overwhelmed hospitals and more people dying.” She praised Republican Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who has not pushed as hard to reopen areas of his county, including beaches. Gimenez has said the county should considering reopening, but is not moving at the same pace as DeSantis and some governors. “They are making decisions with inadequate knowledge,” Marty said of the governors. “They should be more like Carlos Gimenez, and put in strict measures on how people should behave when initially out.” Georgia drew national attention — and some ridicule — after Republican Gov. Brian Kemp said Monday that he would allow bowling alleys, gyms, nail salons and massage therapists to reopen on Friday, and let theaters show movies starting Monday, even as he admits the number of cases is likely to grow. “This is the right approach at the right time,” Kemp told reporters Monday. “We’re probably going to see our cases continue to go up, but we’re a lot better prepared for that now than we were over a month ago.” Roberts, with the University of South Florida, called the move fraught with peril. “I kind of enjoyed Gov. Kemp’s talk about reopening these places with ‘screening.’ He did not say testing. That capacity does not exist,

Southern governors create a Covid-19 coalition and experts fear a 'perfect storm'

TALLAHASSEE — Republican governors across the Southeast are teaming up to reopen the region’s economy, even as they lack the testing to know how rapidly the coronavirus is spreading.

One health expert called the political decision a “perfect storm” for the virus to reassert itself.

The newly formed coalition includes Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, a part of the country that has underfunded health systems, as well as high rates of obesity, diabetes and other illnesses that amplify the deadliness of the coronavirus.

And unlike their peers in New York, New Jersey and other Northeastern states that have been working cooperatively since last week to restart their economies, the six in the South have lagged on testing and social distancing measures.

“If you put these states together, there is a perfect storm for a massive epidemic peak later on,” said Jill Roberts of the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health. “The Southeast region is not known for having the best health record. Diabetes and heart disease come to mind. I am very concerned about how our states will do it.”

It’s not evident how the coalition will work. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis mentioned the move Tuesday on "Fox & Friends," but there was no formal announcement or much communication from other states involved.

“We have had a meeting with all the Southeastern governors — Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee,” DeSantis said. “And we shared a lot of ideas. I think we will be the same page on some stuff.”

Governors from Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi did not respond to questions.

DeSantis communications director Helen Aguirre Ferré wrote on Twitter that the six states would be “working in a coalition.”

As of Tuesday morning, the six states had collectively tested about one-tenth of 1 percent of their total populations. Mississippi, which ranks 15th nationally in testing, had the group’s best testing rate at 1.7 percent of its population. Georgia was the lowest, with a testing rate of less than one one-hundredth of 1 percent, or 42nd in the country, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

By comparison, the coalition of seven states in the Northeast has a collective testing rate twice that of the Southeast, having swabbed more than two-tenths of 1 percent of their collective population.

Five of the seven states included in the Northeastern coalition are in the top 15 nationally in per-capita testing.

Beyond the numbers, the two regions differ culturally and in the political instincts of their leaders. Even as the Northeast looks to band together, its governors are urging caution.

Southern governors, most of whom have built political careers on small-government conservatism, are driving, by contrast, to restart their economies and get people back to work, even as infections mount.

Southern governors, including DeSantis, point to their slowing rate of increases of positive tests and falling numbers of hospitalizations.

On Tuesday, DeSantis jabbed the media and public health experts for predicting initially that state hospitals would be overwhelmed.

“Our work is succeeding,” DeSantis told reporters. “We flattened the curve.”

Dr. Aileen Marty, a pandemic and infectious disease expert at Florida International University, said gains made through social distancing and other precautions are good signs, but not the signal to loosen efforts that Southern governors think they are.

“They are heavily Republican with social conservatives who are all of a like mind,” Marty said. “They are tempting fate by having the virus out and about among us, but if they don’t do it in a controlled way, we will again be back in situations of overwhelmed hospitals and more people dying.”

She praised Republican Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who has not pushed as hard to reopen areas of his county, including beaches. Gimenez has said the county should considering reopening, but is not moving at the same pace as DeSantis and some governors.

“They are making decisions with inadequate knowledge,” Marty said of the governors. “They should be more like Carlos Gimenez, and put in strict measures on how people should behave when initially out.”

Georgia drew national attention — and some ridicule — after Republican Gov. Brian Kemp said Monday that he would allow bowling alleys, gyms, nail salons and massage therapists to reopen on Friday, and let theaters show movies starting Monday, even as he admits the number of cases is likely to grow.

“This is the right approach at the right time,” Kemp told reporters Monday. “We’re probably going to see our cases continue to go up, but we’re a lot better prepared for that now than we were over a month ago.”

Roberts, with the University of South Florida, called the move fraught with peril.

“I kind of enjoyed Gov. Kemp’s talk about reopening these places with ‘screening.’ He did not say testing. That capacity does not exist,” Roberts said. “My guess is he meant taking temperatures, which as we know is pointless,” because asymptomatic people can carry and spread the coronavirus.

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb was equally blunt.

“Gyms, nail salons, bowling alleys, hair salons, tattoo parlors,” he said Tuesday on CNBC. “It feels like they collected a list of the businesses you know that were most risky and decided to open those first.”

Source : Politico USA More   

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McConnell slams brakes on next round of coronavirus aid

The Senate majority leader expressed concern about rising deficits in an interview and said he wanted the full Senate to return before acting again.

McConnell slams brakes on next round of coronavirus aid

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is drawing a line: There will be no more attempts at long-distance legislating on the coronavirus.

In a telephone interview Tuesday after passage of a $484 billion coronavirus relief bill, the Senate majority leader made clear that the full Senate must be in session before Congress begins its fifth installment of responding to the pandemic. And he signaled he is growing weary of quickly shoveling billions of dollars out the door even as the economy continues to crater.

The latest measure cleared the Senate by voice vote, but it was the product of days of fraught negotiations and false starts — and its success will be difficult to replicate as senators' frustrations over the extended recess pile up.

McConnell said the Senate will proceed “cautiously” to the next phase of coronavirus relief despite rapidly escalating demands for more aid from members of both parties. And he said that all 100 senators need to be around before Washington spends more money on an unprecedented economic rescue of workers and businesses caught in the virus’ fallout.

“You’ve seen the talk from both sides about acting, but my goal from the beginning of this, given the extraordinary numbers that we’re racking up to the national debt, is that we need to be as cautious as we can be,” McConnell said. “We need to see how things are working, see what needs to be corrected, and I do think that the next time we pass a coronavirus rescue bill we need to have everyone here and everyone engaged.”


After two weeks of bickering over McConnell’s initial proposal to send a quarter-billion dollars to revive the depleted Paycheck Protection Program, the Senate clinched a deal Tuesday providing more aid to small businesses and hospitals, and for disease testing. But it was neither easy nor pretty and the episode exposed the pitfalls of trying to legislate while the Senate is in recess.

McConnell said his goal is still to bring the Senate back on May 4 despite uncertainty nationwide over the spread of a virus that has killed more than 40,000 Americans. But it’s clear that the ongoing recess is becoming untenable: Two Republican senators openly fumed on the Senate floor on Tuesday about passing bills without input from individual lawmakers of Congress. Had either objected, the bipartisan deal would have been derailed and senators would have been hauled back to D.C.

“It’s time to do our job. It’s time to return to Washington and get to work,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). “We can’t legislate without our members here.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he would not demand a recorded vote that would have upended McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s plans to quickly pass the aid package. But he warned of the “massive debt Congress is creating,” called for the economy to open up and officially registered his opposition to the bill. He also offered a motion to allow remote voting, but McConnell blocked it.



Yet in the interview, McConnell echoed some of Paul and Lee’s complaints — which are shared by President Donald Trump. He said governors needed to begin opening up the economy as quickly and as safely as they can while consumers and citizens overcome the “stigma” of wearing a mask in public.

And several times McConnell expressed worry about new deficit spending, proclaiming that “we can’t borrow enough money to solve the problem indefinitely.” Withh that in mind, he conceded that handling the next phase of legislation will be more tricky.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) lamented on Tuesday that additional state and local government funding was left out of the deal and discussed the need for such relief in the next package with his caucus. Some Republicans, like Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland and Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana have endorsed large sums of new money to help out states and cities whose budgets have been blown open by the coronavirus restrictions.

Republicans know they will have to respond to those demands. But doing so will be complicated.

“My view is: We just added another $500 billion to the national debt. Let’s see how things are working,” McConnell said. “We need to weigh our obligations vs. [states and cities], since they have taxing authorities as well, and how to divide up the responsibility. So we’re not going to move on another bill related to this subject until we all get back here.”


Demands are sure to stack up in the coming days. Governors and mayors are warning of massive budget shortfalls. Hospitals are bleeding money.

And small businesses could easily exhaust the latest tranche of $380 billion for small businesses before the Senate gets back.

“The economy is in free fall. It certainly underscores that,” McConnell said of demand for small-business aid. “The best way to get the economy back and running is to begin to open it up again, rather than passing immediately another bill where we have to borrow.”

Source : Politico USA More   

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