COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
'A natural disaster ... in all 50 states' is unfolding just as travelers disperse nationwide after Thanksgiving
The coronavirus could be hitching a ride with some of the millions of Americans heading home after a long Thanksgiving weekend, threatening to plant seeds of infections across the country and overwhelm hospitals that treated a record 93,238 patients for Covid-19 on Sunday.

... "This is like a natural disaster occurring in all 50 states at the same time. There are not adequate beds. There are not adequate staff. And because of the lack of national preparation, there are still not adequate supplies," said Ranney, a CNN medical analyst and director of the Brown-Lifespan Center for Digital Health at Brown University.

White House coronavirus task force member says families who gathered at Thanksgiving should get tested
Fauci and other government health experts implored anyone who traveled to self-isolate and get tested. White House coronavirus taskforce member Dr. Deborah Birx told CBS that if a family has traveled, they should assume that they were exposed, and should be tested in the next week.

“If you're young and you gathered, you need to be tested about five to 10 days later,” Birz told CBS. “You need to assume that you're infected and not go near your grandparents and aunts and others without a mask.”

Birx said that people over the age of 65 should get tested immediately if they develop any symptoms.

“If you're over 65 or you have comorbidities and you gathered at Thanksgiving – if you develop any symptoms, you need to be tested immediately,” Birx said.

It's "not too late at all for us to do something about" the pandemic, Fauci says
America's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned Sunday of a potential "surge superimposed upon that surge that we're already in," as the US topped more than 100,000 new cases for the 27th consecutive day.

He said that it is known that something can be done about the infection curve particularly going in to the colder season, by doing things like mitigating with masks, distance and not having crowds or congregate settings.

When asked whether there would be more dire warnings about travel preparing for Christmas and New Year’s, Fauci said “I think we’re going to be faced with another situation, we’re going to have to make decisions as a nation, state, city and family, that we’re in a very difficult time and we’re going to have to do the kinds of restrictions of things we would like to have done, particularly in this holiday season.”

Kim Jong Un is cutting off his economic lifeline, China, to stave off Covid-19
Kim Jong Un appears to have kicked North Korea's pandemic prevention plan into overdrive, further tightening the country's nearly impassible borders, cutting off nearly all trade with China, and even allegedly executing a customs official for failing to handle imported goods appropriately, Joshua Berlinger writes.

China, North Korea’s biggest trading partner, exported just $253,000 worth of goods to Pyongyang in October -- a drop of 99% from September to October. The new customs figures, if accurate, show that Kim appears to be willing to pare back -- or even cut off -- trade with China to prevent the virus from entering North Korea, even if it means risking the country's food and fuel supply.

An Oregon mink farm has reported a Covid-19 outbreak
Ten mink samples submitted all came back positive for coronavirus, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) said in a news release on Friday. The farm has been placed under quarantine, meaning "no animal or animal product can leave the farm until further notice," according to ODA.

The farmer and his staff have been advised to self-isolate after multiple coronavirus cases were reported among workers on the farm, the release said.

This year, the virus was detected in mink in seven countries, including the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, and Spain, and three US states, Utah, Michigan, and Wisconsin, according to ODA.

Thousands of mink have died at fur farms in Utah and Wisconsin after a series of coronavirus outbreaks. In Utah, ranchers have lost at least 8,000 mink to Covid-19.

There is currently no evidence that animals, including mink, play a significant role in transmitting the virus to humans, according to the CDC and the US Department of Agriculture. The risk of animals spreading Covid-19 to humans is considered low.

The USDA announces confirmed coronavirus cases in animals each time it is found in a new species. All confirmed cases in animals are posted on the department's website.

China's mishandling of the early stages of Covid-19 pandemic revealed by leaked documents
A trove of confidential documents obtained by CNN has lifted the lid on China’s mishandling of the early days of the pandemic.

The leaked files, from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Hubei province – where the novel coronavirus was first detected late last year – show evidence of clear missteps and point to a pattern of institutional failings.

Here are some of the key findings:
  • Chinese officials gave the world more optimistic data than they had access to internally, by initially underreporting case numbers.
  • China's system took on average 23 days to diagnose confirmed patients, and testing failures meant most people received negative results until January 10.
  • A history of underfunding, understaffing, poor morale and bureaucratic models of governance hampered China's early warning system, internal audits found.
  • A large and previously undisclosed outbreak of influenza happened in early December 2019 in Hubei province.
China has steadfastly rejected accusations made by the US and other Western governments that it deliberately concealed information relating to the virus, maintaining that it has been upfront since the beginning of the outbreak. However, though the documents provide no evidence of a deliberate attempt to obfuscate findings, they do reveal numerous inconsistencies in what authorities believed to be happening and what was revealed to the public.

Taken together, the documents amount to the most significant leak from inside China since the beginning of the pandemic and provide the first clear window into what local authorities knew internally and when.

Dr. Scott Atlas resigns from Trump administration
Dr. Scott Atlas, a highly controversial member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, has resigned from his post. Atlas adopted a public stance on the virus much closer to the President's -- echoing Trump’s misleading claims about masks and pushing for the resumption of college sports.

He gained enemies for reportedly pushing the widely panned “herd immunity” strategy -- he denied the claim, but an administration official told CNN in October that all of the policies Atlas pushed for were in that vein. A source close to the task force told CNN on Monday that Atlas' departure came as welcome news, as his discredited theories will no longer have a seat at the table.

... Stanford University distanced itself from Atlas, who is a senior fellow at the school's Hoover Institution. A group of faculty members at the university celebrated his resignation from the Trump administration on Monday, saying in a statement that it's "long overdue and underscores the triumph of science and truth over falsehoods and misinformation."

"His actions have undermined and threatened public health even as countless lives have been lost to Covid-19," the faculty wrote.

Sunday was the busiest day for US air travel since the pandemic began
While Thanksgiving travel has certainly been far lighter than usual, US air travel hit its highest level since mid-March over the holiday and millions of Americans still traveled by car to join family and friends.

More people passed through US airport security checkpoints on Sunday than on any other single day since the coronavirus pandemic cratered air travel, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

TSA said it screened 1.17 million people on Sunday when many Americans were heading home from their Thanksgiving travels. That was 41% of the 2.9 million people screened by TSA on the same day in 2019. Thanksgiving 2019 set a TSA record.

That means more than 9.4 million people have been screened in the Thanksgiving travel window, which began on the Friday before the holiday.

After 256 days working nonstop, doctor pleads with public to help halt Covid-19
Hospitalizations from Covid-19 reached another record high across the US Monday, with officials across several states expressing concern that health care facilities would be overwhelmed.

Dr. Joseph Varon, chief of staff at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, told CNN's New Day on Monday that he had worked for 256 days nonstop in the pandemic so far and was frustrated by the increasing numbers of people being hospitalized.

Dr. Joseph Varon comforts a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit during Thanksgiving at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas.
Varon described the desperation of Covid-19 patients on his wards, who he said were battling isolation as well as the virus. The man he had been consoling in the photo just wanted his family, the doctor said.

... "It's very difficult. You can imagine. You are inside a room where people come in in 'spacesuits' and you have no communication with anybody else, only by phone if you're lucky. I mean it's very difficult and when you are an elderly individual it's even more difficult because you feel that you are alone. You feel isolated."

... "I don't know what keeps me going, I don't know how I haven't broken down," he said. "My nurses have broken down. My nurses cry in the middle of the day because they get so sad, sometimes for situations like this. Just seeing a patient that's crying because he wants to see his family."

... Varon said he was frustrated by people not doing the right thing as coronavirus patients continue to fill his hospital beds.

"I do this day in and day out and people are out there doing the wrong thing. People are out there in bars, restaurants, malls -- it is crazy -- it's like we work, work, work, work, work and people don't listen and then they end up in my ICU," he said.

"What people need to know is that -- I don't want to have to be hugging them. They need to do the basic things: keep your social distance; wear your mask; wash your hands and avoid going to places where there are a lot of people. Very simple. If people can do that health care workers like me will be able to -- hopefully rest."

"Unfortunately, my concerns for the next six to 12 weeks is that if we don't do things right, America is going to see the darkest day in modern American medical history."

Varon said his hospital had opened two new wings to prepare for an expected influx of patients after Thanksgiving as the pandemic's relentless cycle continued.

"This is taking a huge toll. Not only on me but on my health care people that work with me. My nurses, in the middle of the day they will start crying because you know they are getting so many patients and it's a never-ending story. When they finish finally getting a patient in, they get a phone call from the ER that there is another patient that is being admitted," he said.

Some 96,039 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized across the US as of Monday evening, according to the Covid Tracking Project and the virus's toll continues to climb. Johns Hopkins University reported 157,901 new cases and 1,172 deaths Monday, taking the US totals to more than 13,500,000 cases and at least 268,045 lives lost from Covid-19.

'Pandemic' is, unsurprisingly, the Word of the Year for Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com
"Pandemic" is the Word of the Year for both Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com. It informed top searches on both sites and reshaped the language we use daily, both companies said.

Merriam-Webster, the dictionary publisher, said people looked up "pandemic" with "remarkable frequency" throughout the year -- particularly on March 11, when the World Health Organization officially declared Covid-19 a pandemic. On that day, searches for "pandemic" spiked 115,806% compared to the same day in 2019.

Many of the other top searches on the site were related to the pandemic, including "asymptomatic," "quarantine" and, of course, "coronavirus." And because so many people flocked to Merriam-Webster to define "Covid-19," the mild to severe respiratory illness that is caused by a coronavirus, the word was added to the dictionary within just over one month of its first use.

Dictionary.com said that "pandemic" -- its Word of the Year, too -- is the "defining context of 2020." Now, terms like "social distancing," "flatten the curve" and "herd immunity" aren't just used by health professionals -- the public understands them, too.

"Specialized lingo, spanning topics from epidemiology to social behavior, formed a shared -- and ever-expanding -- glossary for daily life," the online dictionary said in its announcement.

Celebrity Chef David Chang won $1 million. He's giving it all to restaurant workers
While restaurants and bars were classified by states as essential businesses that could operate on takeout and delivery, many still had to close down during stay-at-home orders. Some businesses found it hard, or economically unfeasible to adopt that model, or had other public health concerns.

"Since the government won't help out restaurant workers...we have to do what we can to help out," Chang tweeted on Sunday in a thread about winning on the show.

Monopolies have made America's Covid response worse
The strength of monopolies and oligopolies — where a few corporations rule an industry — has long come at the expense of the smaller businesses and entrepreneurs they muscled out of the competition. And now, as a result of monopolies' extractive business models, the rest of the economy must battle the pandemic from a point of weakness. For the US economy to recover from Covid-19, then, we must fight monopoly power.

Many corporate giants such as Facebook, Amazon and Google have obtained their dominant positions throughout the years in large part through anticompetitive acquisitions and conduct that violates antitrust laws, not by purely competing based on merit.

... Whether the dominant corporations are Big Tech, Big Pharma or Big Agriculture, the problem is the same: A monopolized economy works for only a select few.

The government has also helped these companies accumulate power. Ever since the early 1980s, federal antitrust enforcers have brought fewer and fewer antitrust cases and have often settled cases for fines that don't sufficiently deter illegal behavior, while judges have routinely dismissed antitrust suits.

Compounding weak antitrust enforcement, government bailouts in the Covid-19 crisis have repeated the mistakes of the Great Recession, sending millions and even billions of dollars to the largest companies without extending enough relief to small and mid-sized companies, which are now facing a second round of shutdowns. Unless the government changes course and provides more stimulus funds to small and mid-sized companies while pursuing antitrust enforcement and policies that promote fair competition, the pandemic will further concentrate our economy and do long-lasting damage to Americans' finances. When corporations face weak competition for employees, they pay them less.

The way to "build back better" is to create a resilient economy with distributed resources and prosperity, dynamic entrepreneurship and thriving small businesses. But instead we're currently on track to emerge from this crisis with an even more monopolized economy.

... The first step to recovering from Covid-19 is to build a stronger health care sector. We pay more for health care in America than citizens of any other country, but when Covid-19 hit, we didn't have enough ventilators, hospital beds, masks, gowns, swabs or reagents. How could that be?

... Our health care system is fragile and expensive. It doesn't need to be this way. This is a result of choices made by policymakers.

Now is the time to build a better world — in health care and beyond. Congress can start by giving small and mid-sized businesses — the engines of jobs and innovation — the stimulus funds they need. Then Congress should pass the reforms proposed in the House Judiciary's Big Tech report, including structural breakups to remove conflicts of interest by dominant platforms, strengthening the antitrust laws and enforcement across the board, requiring non-discrimination rules that ensure dominant corporations offer the same terms to all, and interoperability rules that promote competition.

Congress also can use its Big Tech investigation as a model for diving deep into other industries. Lawmakers must put an end to sweetheart tax breaks and subsidies enjoyed by the most powerful corporations. Anti-corruption reform that reduces the influence of money in politics is another critical step to create an economy that works for everyone.

Rather than our government choosing policies that give dominant corporations even more power at the expense of the rest of us, now is the time to reimagine what our economy and our lives should look like. Our government can amplify inequality and further weaken our nation, leaving us vulnerable to the next threat that will inevitably come, or it can disperse power and wealth and build a stronger, more resilient economy. The winners of our current system will use their political power to push for the former. The latter will only happen if we, the American people, demand it.