Posts tagged with "COVID-19"

The spirits are willing: Business is up 140% for psychics during the pandemic

June 1, 2020

With a pandemic, a lockdown, painful personal losses, a spiraling economy, fewer jobs, stress on relationships, and literally nowhere to go, who can blame Americans for wanting to know what will happen in the “foreseeable future”?

Since the beginning of March, astrologers, spiritual guides, tarot card readers, and psychics have seen an uptick in business, Salon reports.

. According to Google search trends, Google searches for “psychic” jumped to a one-year high during the week of March 8—when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began issuing some guidance on COVID-19.

Business review and aggregator site Yelp posted an Economic Impact Report that noted that its “Supernatural Readings” business category was up 140%, as more Americans turned to tarot card readers, mediums and psychics.

Leslie Hale has been offering astrology readings since the late 1990s. She joined Keen.com, an online “spiritual advisor network” in 2001, and told Salon that currently her business is up about 30%. (Likewise, Keen.com told Salon they are experiencing a vast increase in traffic as of late.) Hale said usually she had from ten to 15 calls a day, but during the pandemic it’s been anywhere between 20 and 30. She charges $3.53 a minute.

“There has never been a time like this,” Hale told Salon of her 21-year astrologer career. “I think everybody wants to know if their life is going to go on, and if there’s anything in the future they have to look forward to.”

It makes sense that average people are seeking clarity in uncertain times.. According to Pew Research data from 2018, an estimated 60% of  American adults accept at least one “New Age belief,” a list that includes psychics.

While in the past, spiritualism meant looking for connection with the dead, today it is more about seeking assurance. Alicia Butler, a 38-year-old freelance writer, usually turns to tarot card readings for comfort. She told Salon during the pandemic they’ve been especially helpful.

“It’s definitely a source of comfort right now,” Butler, who is quarantining with her parents, told Salon. “If things don’t reopen and we don’t have a vaccine or something, am I going to just be 13 again and living with my parents, and not growing emotionally or professionally ever again?”

“I mean, it’s basically somebody telling you that everything’s gonna be okay,” Butler added.

Nathalie Theodore, JD, LCSW, a psychotherapist in Chicago, told Salon it makes sense that some would turn to psychics or tarot card readers during this time.

“Uncertainty is something that many of us struggle with and, for some, it can cause a tremendous amount of anxiety,” Theodore said. “Fear of the unknown can send us into a downward spiral of negative thinking and imagining worst case scenarios.”

Theodore added that one of the hardest parts of this pandemic is not knowing how long it will last or what our lives will look like once it ends.

Hale, the psychic, said the number one question she gets from clients is when they will find a romantic partner.

“The biggest concern of most of the people who call me is still their relationship,” Hale said. “People want to know, ‘when I am going to be able to go out and meet someone special again?'”

She believes that inquiry is tied to loneliness.

“During this time of social isolation, I think people are lonely . . . . of course we have technology but that’s not the same thing as sitting across the table from someone,” Hale said.

Sara Kohl, who does “remote viewing” for Keen.com, said many people are wondering about their job security, too. “I’ve had a lot of my clients get furloughed,” Kohl said. “And so they’re calling… wondering if they’re going to be going back to work, and when.”

Fortuitously, Kohl is one of those rare people who is unconcerned about job security right now.  “It’s been the busiest I’ve ever seen,” she said. “People are calling in droves.”

Research contact: @Salon

Latest buzz: Mosquitoes don’t carry coronavirus

May 29, 2020

Mosquito season is upon us and—considering that these bloodsuckers are known to transmit diseases—people are concerned: Even with the lockdowns lifting, is it safe to go outside? Do mosquitoes carry the novel coronavirus? And if so, can they transmit it to humans and infect a person with COVID-19?

The short answer, according to a report by Health: It’s unlikely. Official guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that there is no information or evidence to suggest that the new coronavirus could be transmitted through mosquito bites. 

For starters, the coronavirus is a respiratory virus, and the main mode of transmission is by viral droplets released into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. For a mosquito to become infected with a virus, it must be present in the blood the mosquito feeds on.

“SARS-CoV2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is a respiratory virus that is almost exclusively contained within the lungs and respiratory tract of infected people, and rarely gets into the blood,” Emily Gallichotte, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Microbiology,Iimmunology, and Pathology at Colorado State University, told Health during a recent interview.

Plus, for a virus to pass to a person through a mosquito or other kind of insect bite—such as a tick bite—the virus must be able to replicate inside the mosquito or tick. Neither the new coronavirus nor any other type of coronavirus has been shown to do that.

“It’s quite a complex process,” former US Navy entomologist Joseph M. Conlon, who has extensive worldwide experience in mosquito control and is technical advisor to the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA), said during an interview with the news outlet“First of all, the mosquito would have to pick up the requisite amount of virus during its bite. The virus must then not only survive the digestive process, but replicate within the mosquito and pass through the gut wall to the coelom (main body cavity) of the mosquito. From there it must make its way to the salivary glands and be expressed by the mosquito as part of its salivary secretions.”

Furthermore, mosquitoes are very genetically different from humans. “This makes it challenging for viruses to have the ability to infect both of us,” says Gallichotte. “We have different receptors on the surface of cells and different replication machinery inside our cells.”

Relatively few human viruses have the ability to infect both humans and mosquitoes. “The vast majority of human viruses (such as influenza, HIV, and herpes) have been infecting humans for a very very long time, and even though many of these end up in our blood, they are still unable to infect mosquitoes,” says Gallichotte. “Conversely, there are many mosquito viruses that are unable to infect humans, or any mammals. There are no known coronaviruses that can infect mosquitoes.”

Viruses that can be spread to humans by mosquitoes include West Nile virus, the virus that causes dengue fever, and chikungunya virus, all of which circulate in the blood of infected people. “West Nile virus is able to infect a mosquito to the point where the virus load is abundant in the salivary glands,” Melissa Doyle, scientific program manager at the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District (SGVMVCD), tells Health. “When the mosquito bites a person, the virus is able to travel from the salivary glands into the human body.”

So it’s pretty clear that COVID-19 is the last thing you should be worrying about if a mosquito has been feasting on your leg. Keep swatting them away, though. “Due to the heavy focus on COVID-19, many people may forget that disease threats may already be buzzing right outside their window.” SGVMVCD Public Information Officer Levy Sun told Health.

Conlon points out that mosquitoes can factor into the severity of COVID-19, meaning it’s crucial to maintain robust measures to reduce their numbers. “Studies have shown that factors contributing to potentially serious or fatal outcomes attendant to COVID-19 infection involve underlying medical issues, such as neurologic conditions that weaken the ability to cough or an already stressed immune system due to concurrent infection by mosquito-borne viruses,” he says.

Mosquitoes or no mosquitoes, it’s still crucial to keep following healthy coronavirus protocol to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Clean your hands frequently, practice social distancing, stay home if you’re sick, and avoid close contact with anyone who is coughing and sneezing.

Research contact: @health

Study: Initiating COVID-19 restrictions just one week earlier could have saved 36K U.S. lives

May 22, 2020

Researchers at Columbia University announced on May 20 that an estimated 36,000 lives in the United States would not have been lost to COVID-19 had social distancing and other restrictions been put in place just a single week earlier in March.

In response, ABC News reports, the White House on pointed a finger at China.

“What would have saved lives is if China had been transparent and the World Health Organization had fulfilled its mission,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said in a statement. He echoed President Donald Trump’s frequent accusations that China and the W.H.O. failed to adequately inform the world about the burgeoning outbreak of COVID-19 in China’s Wuhan Province.

Disease modelers at Columbia University said in a study released Wednesday that 61.6% of deaths and 55% of infections nationwide could have been avoided if preventative measures in place on March 15 had been enacted a week earlier. That equates to about 35,927 deaths and 703,975 cases.

The study has not yet undergone the typical scientific peer review process, and all models are merely estimates, subject to change with new information.

Nevertheless, the Columbia researchers determined that if the measures had begun two weeks earlier, then 82.7% of deaths and 84% of infections — or about 53,990 deaths and 960,937 cases — could have been prevented nationwide, they found.

To try to deflect criticism, the president has frequently cited his decision in late January to block most travelers who had recently spent time in China from entering the United States—although his administration did not enact similar restrictions on travel from Europe until March 14, or recommend widespread social distancing in the United States until March 16.

“What did save American lives is the bold leadership of President Trump, including the early travel restrictions when we had no idea the true level of asymptotic spread,” Deere said. He pointed to the private sector’s work on delivering “critical supplies to states in need and ramp up testing across the country that has placed us on a responsible path to reopen our country.”

While the federal government was slow to recommend social distancing measures, it was governors and local officials who called the shots and who, in many cases, acted more quickly, according to ABC News.

A White House official said the “success” of responding to COVID-19 “has been built on the federal-state partnership, not a federal government coming in and telling governors and mayors what decisions to make for their communities when a bureaucrat in Washington has [no] idea what is best for them.”

While Trump has repeatedly said he prefers governors take the lead on testing and rolling back restrictions, he has also frequently attacked Democratic state leaders—often in political battleground states key to his reelection later this year—for moving too slowly.

Research contact @abcnews

Blood, sweat, and tears: Reopening gyms is tearing a South Florida city apart

May 21, 2020

Gym rats in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, are earning a reputation as municipal pests, now that their patience is running out and they want to get back to the athletic club, The Daily Beast reports.

For two months, Ken Averett Clark couldn’t lift weights at his local gym in Fort Lauderdale—the city with the third-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida. But by late Monday, May 18, the buff 55-year-old was closing in fast on pumping iron in public once again.

“For me, going to the gym is one of the pillars of my mental and physical health,” Clark told The Daily Beast. “I really feel like there is something missing in my life. I understand some people see it as a luxury that I can do without, and could do a home exercise regimen. For me, it’s not the same.” 

On Friday, May 15, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis decided that exercise junkies like Clark could return to their workout spaces—announcing that commercial health clubs were among the nonessential businesses that would reopen this week with new safety precautions.

But there was one major problem, The Daily Beast notes: Trantalis’s move to reopen gyms came in spite of officials in Broward County—which includes the city—insisting gyms remain closed, at least for now.

At a Monday afternoon press conference in a hotel lobby attended by more than two dozen people, Trantalis asserted that Florida Governor. Ron DeSantis’ executive order allowing gyms to reopen trumped Broward’s directive. “It is our position that gyms can be opened,” Trantalis told reporters. “There is a dispute between the county and the city with regard to that order. As far as we are concerned, we should be able to resolve it by tomorrow.”

When asked if Fort Lauderdale gym owners who moved forward with reopening should be concerned about being shut down or arrested by county law enforcement, Trantalis replied, “No one is going to be arrested.”

But Broward Vice Mayor Steve Geller told The Daily Beast it was “possible” Broward code enforcers and sheriff’s deputies would go to Fort Lauderdale to make sure gyms remain closed until the county says otherwise. County Commissioners voted to send the city a warning letter on Tuesday. “We don’t need to have a confrontation,” Geller said. “I am sure we can work it out. This requires compromise from both parties and not just the county giving in.”

In the Sunshine State, working on one’s summer body is the stuff of obsession. Last week, more than two dozen people performed squats and push-ups sans face masks outside a courthouse in Clearwater, a city in central Florida, as part of a reopening protest. The gym crowd, in other words, is starting to get fed up, and health experts worry that could turn gyms into high-risk contamination zones even as the state’s COVID-19 outlook remains murky at best.

Still, there are Floridians who prefer safety to squatting. Stephanie Lavender, a 56-year-old artist and designer, told The Daily Beast that she was shocked and disappointed Trantalis was moving to reopen gyms ahead of the county’s timeline. “When this first started, the mayor took initiative when others did not,” she told The Daily Beast. “Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach were among the first cities to do stay-at-home orders and then required masks. I felt safe.” 

She also questioned how gyms would be able to keep equipment clean after every use. “Gyms have the most touch points, even more than a restaurant or bar,” Lavender said. “And people are breathing hard. It’s a strong exhale. I know we have to get back to normal, but this doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the reopening.”

Meanwhile, between May 16 and May 19, Fort Lauderdale recorded 22 new coronavirus cases—bringing the city’s total to 1,465. Overall, Broward saw its total number of cases jump by 121 over the same three-day period. Those are relatively modest totals, but the city’s proximity to the state’s number one hot zone—in Dade County, currently beginning its own reopening process—was not exactly cause for reassurance.

Clark, who is a member of Powerhouse Gym, said he would likely wait a week until after his health club reopened to resume his workout routine. A realtor and a professional actor, Clark said he polled people on his Facebook page about gyms reopening. “I got about 60 responses and almost every single one of them was no,” he said. “I was surprised.”

Research contact: @thedailybeast

‘Not tonight’: Study finds no ‘sexual heat,’ as people monitor fevers during COVID-19 lockdown

May 19, 2020

It turns out that a global pandemic doesn’t serve as much of an aphrodisiac—and certainly not as an incentive to start a family, researchers at the University of Florence recently discovered.

Many have speculated that couples who are stuck at home 24/7 would spend at least a little of their time “schtupping”— leading to an influx of new births over the coming year.

However, the academic researchers conducted 1,482 online interviews on parenthood desires and beliefs during this pandemic, according to a report by Study Finds—and over 81% of respondents said they are not looking to conceive while COVID-19 is wreaking havoc across the globe.

But that doesn’t mean that they weren’t considering starting a family before the virus struck: Moreover, 268 of the respondents admitted that before COVID-19 emerged on the world stage they had been planning on having a new child. Now, however, 37.3% of that group have shelved that idea for the time being.

Fully 58% are worried about the future economy and another 58% expressed concern about possible coronavirus-related pregnancy complications.

The survey, which comprised 944 Italian women and 538 Italian men, was carried out during the southern European nation’s third week of lockdown. All respondents were between the ages of 18 and 46, and had been in a stable heterosexual relationship for at least one year.

Dr. Elisabetta Micelli, the study’s main author, speculates that mental health is playing a big role in many peoples’ decision to delay having a child.

“The impact of the quarantine on general population’s perception of their stability and peacefulness is alarming. In our study sample, the majority of participants gave significantly higher total scores to their mental well-being before the pandemic, while lowest scores were reported in the answers referred to the COVID-19 period,” she says in a statement. “We aimed to evaluate if pandemic-related concerns and worries are affecting the desire for parenthood in couples who were already planning to have a child or if quarantine is encouraging reproductive desire.

“Interestingly, although almost half of the people referred no interruption in their job activity and no variations of salaries, probably due to the ‘smart working’ adapting strategy, over 40% of participants reported a worrying reduction of monthly profits. Remarkably, the fear of imminent and future economic instabilities led those who were searching for a pregnancy to stop their intention in 58% of cases,” she explains.

To be fair, of the 268 people who said they were planning on having a child, 60% are still trying to conceive. The research team theorize that fear of infertility in the future is probably why that group hasn’t allowed COVID-19 to stop their immediate dreams of starting a family.

Additionally, just because most people don’t want to have a child right now, that doesn’t mean they’ve dropped the idea altogether. In fact, 11.5% (140) of respondents said they want to have a baby in the future more than ever before. Most of that group was female, and when asked why they want to have a baby more than before the pandemic, 50% cited “the will for change” and 40% said “the need for positivity.” However, only 4.3% of those 140 participants are actively trying to become pregnant during lockdown.

“Again, fear of consequences on pregnancy in addition to the economic impact on families are probably the reasons why almost the whole group of couples who unexpectedly started to express a desire for parenthood during quarantine did not translate this dream into a concrete attempt,” comments study co-author Dr. Gianmartin Cito.

What about overall sexual activity? Are couples spending more time between the sheets these days? For the most part, it seems sex frequency has gone unchanged; 66.3% of respondents who were not interested in having children before or during this pandemic indicated that their bedroom habits haven’t changed

Research contact: Study Finds

Twitter will allow employees to work from home ‘forever’

May 14, 2020

For those of its workers who are flourishing while conducting meetings on Zoom with a child on their laps and a cat next to the keyboard, social media giant Twitter announced on May 12 that it plans to let anyone who wishes to work from home to do so for the foreseeable future—even after its offices reopen in a post-pandemic world, ABC News reports.

“Twitter was one of the first companies to go to a WFH [work from home] model in the face of COVID-19, but we don’t anticipate being one of the first to return to offices,” the company said in a statement.

The past few months of having staff almost entirely remote “have proven we can make it work,” the statement continued. “So if our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen. If not, our offices will be their warm and welcoming selves, with some additional precautions, when we feel it’s safe to return.”

Twitter said its offices will not likely open before September, and when reopening does occur, it will be a gradual and cautious process, ABC notes. No in-person company events for the rest of 2020 are scheduled.

“We’re proud of the early action we took to protect the health of our employees and our communities,” Twitter said. “That will remain our top priority as we work through the unknowns of the coming months.”

Research contact: @ABC

New York City partners with Salesforce on COVID-19 contact tracing program

May 11, 2020

New York City—the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, with over 26,000 deaths from the disease and more than 55,500 recoveries  celebrated—is partnering with san Francisco-based Salesforce, to build the city’s COVID-19 contact tracing program, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on May 8.

Salesforce will deploy a call center as well as a customer relationship and case management system that will help the city to track people who have had contact with those who have tested positive for the virus—and isolate them before they become sick, according to a report by CNBC.

De Blasio explained that the city is implementing a “test and trace corps” that will be tasked with testing New Yorkers for the infection.  The partnership will be “up and running” by the end of May, he said.

“It will allow us to track every case, analyze the data constantly, keep the right information on each and every case, manage the whole process efficiently,” de Blasio said. “This is going to be a huge effort, just think how it grows and grows over the weeks, but it’s something that if we do right continually will constrain this disease.”

The goal is to hire 2,500 public health “foot soldiers” by June, who will be trained using the contact tracing program led by Mike Bloomberg in partnership with Johns Hopkins University. There have been nearly 7,000 applications for the program already, de Blasio said.

A spokesperson for Salesforce confirmed the company’s partnership to CNBC, but didn’t provide any further details.

In late April, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo tapped Bloomberg to head the state’s contact tracing program. Bloomberg said his team is developing three smartphone apps to help the state trace every person who comes into contact with someone infected with Covid-19.

Cuomo has said the state will need to hire at least 30 contact tracers per 100,000 people in order to begin reopening the state’s economy, CNBC noted.

Research contact: @CNBC

Virus whistle-blower Rick Bright says Trump Administration steered contracts to cronies

May 7, 2020

A federal scientist who says he was ousted from his job after he argued against the president’s recommendation of an unproven coronavirus treatment—a malaria drug called hydroxychloroquine—is fighting back. This week, he filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency.

Rick Bright, an expert in vaccine development who was director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) until his removal in April, said in a formal whistle-blower complaint that he had been protesting “cronyism” and contract abuse since 2017.

Indeed, Bright claimed on May 5 that top Trump Administration officials repeatedly had pressured him to steer millions of dollars in contracts to the clients of a well-connected pharmaceutical consultant, The New York Times reported.

Questionable contracts have gone to “companies with political connections to the administration,” the complaint said, including a drug company tied to a friend of Jared Kushner’s, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser,

Even more damningly, the complaint said Dr. Bright was retaliated against by his superiors, who pushed him out because of “his efforts to prioritize science and safety over political expediency.”

A lawyer for Dr. Bright, Debra Katz, said he felt a “moral obligation” to get the word out that the administration was pressing to stockpile an unproven and potentially dangerous coronavirus treatment, which was supplied by drugmakers in India and Pakistan and had not been certified by the Food and Drug Administration.

The 89-page complaint, obtained by the Times, also said Dr. Bright “encountered opposition” from department superiors — including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex  Azar —when he pushed as early as January for the necessary resources to develop drugs and vaccines to counter the emerging coronavirus pandemic.

According to the news outlet, the report provides a window into the inner workings of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a tiny agency created in 2006 as a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It partners with industry in developing “medical countermeasures” that can be stockpiled by the federal government to combat biological or chemical attacks and pandemic threats.

BARDA has spent billions of dollars on contracts with dozens of different suppliers, including major pharmaceutical companies and smaller biotechnology firms.

Both allies and Dr. Bright say his nearly four-year tenure as the head of BARDA was marked by clashes with his superiors—especially Dr. Robert Kadlec, the assistant secretary for Preparedness and Response —and tension with some industry executives. Dr. Bright conceded in the complaint that those clashes came to a head after he leaked information on the dispute over the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to a reporter from Reuters.

The complaint says top Department of Health and Human Services officials, including Dr. Kadlec, who oversees the strategic national stockpile, overruled scientific experts while awarding contracts to firms represented by the consultant, John Clerici, a founder and principal of DC-based Tiber Creek Partners—which Clerici has said “has been at the forefront in the creation of the public health preparedness sector, including helping large pharmaceutical and emerging biotechnology companies develop creative approaches … to fund the development of biotechnology for emergency disease and engineered threats.” .

Clerici was instrumental, along with Dr. Kadlec, in writing the legislation that created BARDA.

“Dr. Bright was vocal about his concerns regarding the inappropriate and possibly illegal communications between Mr. Clerici, Dr. Kadlec, Mr. Shuy and Mr. Meekins,” the complaint stated, referring to Bryan Shuy and Chris Meekins, two other department officials.

A spokesperson for the department, Caitlin Oakley, did not address the complaints about officials there, when approached by the Times. “Dr. Bright was transferred to N.I.H. to work on diagnostics testing—critical to combating COVID-19—where he has been entrusted to spend upward of $1 billion to advance that effort,” she said in an statement emailed to the news outlet.

She added,“We are deeply disappointed that he has not shown up to work on behalf of the American people and lead on this critical endeavor.”

Dr. Bright initially was offered a narrower role at the National Institutes of Health to work on a new “Shark Tank”-style program to develop coronavirus treatments, but Katz told reporters he “has no role” and did not receive his last paycheck, the Times said.

Clerici said he “unequivocally” denied any wrongdoing, adding: “It’s sad that during a pandemic, Dr. Bright and his team have chosen to distract people like Dr. Kadlec, who are critical to the response, with politically motivated allegations. The record is clear that his allegations are false and will be proven so.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Martha Stewart launches a Wayfair shop and digital how-to series as more consumers order from home

May 6, 2020

Domestic diva Martha Stewart—who is stuck at home, like the rest of us—has decided to offer her lifestyle wisdom, as well as a home furnishing collection, online online during the lockdown.

Stewart has launched a digital how-to series called “Homeschool with Martha” offering how-to tips on recipes, decorating, and crafts for the kids; as well as  a collection with wildly popular DIY online furniture company Wayfair to help fans make their living spaces feel more like home while in quarantine, Fox Business reports.

The collection features furniture, accents, appliances,and linen for every room in the house—including bedding, wall art, kitchenware, and chairs, end tables and bedding accessories with prices ranging between $29.99 for a striped sheer single curtain panel to $579 for a loveseat.

Shares of Wayfair opened higher Tuesday after the Boston-based company reported a loss of $285.9 million in its first quarter, Fox Business reported. Its losses, adjusted for stock option expense and non-recurring costs, were $2.30 per share, which beat Wall Street expectations.

Each collection is inspired by one of Stewart’s four homes—among them:

  • Perry St, a modern take on her glassy condos in Manhattan’s West Village;
  • Skylands, named for her Maine cabin which is a more timeless aesthetic;
  • Lily Pond in East Hampton,with a more coastal vibe; and
  • Bedford, a rustic, farmhouse-chic homage to her upstate New York property.

The launch comes at a time when some Americans are filling their idle time with DIY home improvement projects like remodeling rooms, planting their own gardens or repainting. And while a slew of retailers have filed for bankruptcy due to COVID-19-related store closures, the home furniture market is seeing continued growth.

Wayfair’s CEO Niraj Shah said in an earnings call Tuesday that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought first-time customers to Wayfair’s online store as people stay at home during the public-health crisis.

“Millions of new shoppers have discovered Wayfair while they shelter in place at home,” Shah said, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Research contact: @FoxBusiness

Access denied: President blocks Alex Azar and Seema Verma from testifying before ‘Trump haters’ in House

May 6, 2020

The White House told House Democrats on May 4, that their requests for testimony from two key members of the Trump Administration’s COVID-19 task force would be denied—a move that adds to the list of officials who have been blocked from speaking under oath about the federal response (or lack therof) to the pandemic, The Daily Beast reported.

And that only expands the number of White House aides and federal-level officials whom the White House has prevented from bearing witness during the past three years—stonewalling all attempts by Congress to investigate or obtain firsthand evidence on the Administration’s obscure or covert activities.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee had asked the administration for testimony from Alex Azar, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services; and from Seema Verma, the administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Two sources, including a Democratic spokesperson for the committee, confirmed to The Daily Beast that their requests were rejected on Monday.

Indeed, according to the Daily Beast, last week, the White House blocked Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) the administration’s foremost infectious disease expert, from testifying before House Democrats, although Fauci still is set to appear before a Senate panel run by Republicans.

The White House defended the decision by saying it would be “counterproductive” to have officials involved in the COVID-19 response to appear at congressional hearings because they are too lengthy.

A senior administration official told The Daily Beast that the task force has been working “non-stop” since the beginning of the outbreak and has conducted numerous public briefings. “I don’t think anyone can reasonably say we aren’t being transparent,” the official said.

President Trump himself had a different explanation. “The House is a set up,” he told reporters on Tuesday morning from the White House lawn en route to Arizona. “The House is a bunch of Trump haters.”

That outlook was formalized in a new White House policy that began circulating among officials on May 4. It instructed members of the coronavirus task force that they would not be permitted to testify in Congress without the approval of White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. 

On Monday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said that the White House’s move was “business as usual” from the Trump administration and said that lawmakers needed the latest information from task force officials to inform their legislative response to the virus.

 “The fact is that we need to allocate resources for this,” said Pelosi. “In order to do that, any appropriations bill must begin in the House. And we have to have the information to act upon.”

Azar, the embattled chief of HHS, has faced criticism over missteps in the agency’s COVID response, particularly the lack of testing availability early on in the outbreak. He has not testified publicly since March 12. Verma, who oversees the government’s two biggest and most expensive healthcare programs, has not testified publicly since the COVID-19 outbreak began.

Research contact: @thedailybeast