News, July 28th

‘It’s a tough hand’: Brutal year gets even worse for McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to pull off something of a miracle.

With less than 100 days until voter’s head to the polls, Senate Republicans are in trouble. More than 30 million Americans are out of work, tens of thousands of businesses are shuttered, and parents across the country are wondering whether they will be able to send their children back to school in the coming weeks.

Now McConnell has to help negotiate another massively complicated coronavirus relief package through a bitterly divided Senate to help address these huge problems. And this time, he faces flak from both his left and right, as Democrats are seeking trillions of dollars more in funding than the Kentucky Republican wants to approve, while a large group of GOP hard-liners opposes new spending altogether.

“I’ve said to him, ‘You’ve got the worst job,’” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) quipped. “I wouldn’t want his job for anything.”

Republican divisions have already forced McConnell to delay the unveiling of the $1 trillion proposal he released on Monday, an embarrassing setback for the party at a critical moment. McConnell has also openly said the plan would have “fairly significant support” among Senate Republicans but “probably not everyone” — which is as close to a tell as McConnell gets to admitting his cards aren’t very strong.

And then there’s Donald Trump and White House officials, who seem more concerned with saving the president’s political career than they are about preserving GOP control of the Senate. For Republicans, working with the White House to craft a unified position hasn’t always been easy these past few weeks; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows have repeatedly altered some of their demands during closed-door discussions with McConnell and other top Republicans during that period, or staked out positions they know Senate GOP leaders can’t support, according to sources familiar with the talks.

Meanwhile Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sit back and wait. Schumer has repeatedly mocked McConnell over the divisions within the GOP ranks. And Pelosi has two big advantages heading into these negotiations: the House has already passed a bill, which while strongly opposed by Republicans, gives her leverage; and secondly, her majority is safe in November, something McConnell can’t say.

For the longest Senate GOP leader in history, 2020 just keeps getting tougher and tougher.

“Mitch has a long and storied history of pulling rabbits out of the hat,” Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said on Monday. “But you play the hand you’re dealt. And it’s a tough hand.”

The past six months have been one series of challenges after another for McConnell.

On New Year’s Day, Republicans looked like favorites to keep their majority, despite the unending swirl of controversy and conflict that characterizes the Trump era.

But McConnell — in the midst of his own run for a historic seventh term — first had to lead GOP senators through Trump’s impeachment trial. Despite some angst among Senate Republicans, they held the line for the president. “You did a fantastic job,” Trump told McConnell in front of TV cameras in the East Room of the White House on Feb. 6.

Soon after that political knife fight, the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, an ongoing national disaster that has killed nearly 150,000 Americans and decimated the U.S. economy. Trump’s poll numbers have slid badly due to his unsteady handling of the crisis, so much so that Trump now threatens to pull down the embattled 6-year-old GOP majority with him.

With Mnuchin leading coronavirus negotiations for the White House earlier in the year, McConnell was able to eventually help craft two major deals with Schumer and Pelosi that pumped more than $2 trillion into the U.S. economy.

But now McConnell faces deficit fatigue among many Senate Republicans, who have seen the U.S. national debt total skyrocket to more than $26 trillion. The annual deficit will exceed $3 trillion, stunning the GOP.

“Simply shoveling cash from Washington is not going to solve the problem. And right now, all the Democrats and too many Republicans are contemplating doing just that,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “Massive spending and pork and ballooning deficits and debt are bipartisan problems.”

As more Republicans peel off, McConnell’s negotiating hand is significantly weakened heading into high-stakes negotiations with Democrats. Even if all 53 Republicans were united, McConnell would still need Democratic support in order to reach the 60-vote threshold. This time, though, McConnell will start off with far less support on his side.

“At the end of the day, [McConnell] has to accept the reality that probably half of our members in the Senate won’t vote for it no matter what’s in it,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who was deeply involved in talks with the White House over the spending portion of the GOP proposal.

“And so, trying to come up with a bill that satisfies would not justify the effort that takes. At the same time, he has to justify to the rest of us that he has a bill that’s targeted on [fighting] the coronavirus, helping the economy, and getting kids back to school.”

The Republicans’ proposal unveiled Monday costs roughly $1 trillion, but Democrats have been pushing for upward of $3 trillion in new spending and relief programs. And given how much help McConnell will need from Democrats, the final cost will almost certainly soar well past an amount that some Republicans can stomach.

“It’s going to lose a bunch of us that are fiscal conservatives, regardless of the content — just the amount,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “It’s got some of the features in there that we weren’t really liking. I think you’re going to see a lot of Republicans that are probably not going to be for it.”

“We throw trillions around pretty casually around here,” Braun added.

On the other side are Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who downplayed concerns about the national debt, instead highlighting the nationwide surge in coronavirus cases and the cascading economic effects as reasons to go big again on a new relief package.

“At the end of the day, we all have a need to pass something,” said Graham, who has also predicted that as many as half of the Senate GOP Conference could oppose the measure. “And you make the fiscal argument, we haven’t accounted for all the money in Phase Three, I get that. But the problems are worse on many fronts.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is up for reelection in November, insisted the difficulties facing Republicans weren’t as dire as they may seem from the outside. Cornyn also expressed total faith that McConnell, if anyone, could make a deal a majority of Senate Republicans would support.

“Well, you can’t really complain because we’re all volunteers. Nobody is making us do this,” Cornyn joked. “Obviously, there’s a lot of different points of view. But one thing I’m pretty sure of is we will pass a bill in the next two weeks. I just can’t tell you what it’s going to look like.”

COVID-19 cases soar in LatAm, vaccine tests launched globally

Infections in Latin America and the Caribbean surged, with thousands of fresh daily cases reported over the weekend, as countries elsewhere are racing toward a vaccine.

As of Tuesday, six of the eight countries with the most confirmed cases globally are Latin American countries, a tally by Johns Hopkins University showed.

Brazil ranks the world’s second after the United States in both the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths. The total caseload has climbed to 2,442,375 there as of Monday, with 23,284 new cases of infection. The death toll reached 87,618 on Monday after 614 more patients died from the disease in the previous 24 hours, according to the country’s health ministry.

COVID-19 cases in Mexico are approaching the 400,000 mark. The number of infected has hit 395,489, with 4,973 new cases and 342 fresh deaths reported in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said Monday evening.

“Tougher measures” are being mulled in Peru, according to Health Minister Pilar Mazzetti, who noted on Saturday “a new rebound” in COVID-19 cases. Peru has so far registered 389,717 COVID-19 infections, with 18,418 deaths and 272,547 recoveries, the health ministry said on Monday.

Chile has reported 347,923 cases, with the daily news of 2,133. There were 75 new deaths reported on Monday, bringing the nationwide total to 9,178.

U.S. biotechnology companies Moderna announced on Monday that the phase-3 study of its vaccine candidate against COVID-19 has begun dosing participants.

The so-called COVE (coronavirus efficacy) study is being conducted in collaboration with the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

The Associated Press refers to it as the world’s biggest COVID-19 vaccine study.

U.S. drug maker Pfizer and German biotech BioNTech said they began on Monday their final-stage human trial for a potential coronavirus vaccine, and the trial will include up to 30,000 participants globally.

Human trials for developing an indigenous vaccine against COVID-19 are going on in full swing in India. Two companies — Bharat Biotech and Zydus Cadila — are currently carrying out human trials in six cities across the country.

Animal tests of a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine candidate have shown that it can trigger robust neutralizing antibodies against novel coronavirus, a peer-reviewed study has said.

The study published on medical journal Cell showed that ARCoV, a messenger RNA vaccine by China, “confers full protection against SARS-CoV-2 challenge in mice.”

COVID-19 is not just seasonal, cautions WHO, as ‘first wave’ continues

The COVID-19 virus is likely not impacted by the changing seasons like other respiratory diseases, the UN health agency said on Tuesday, before urging much greater respect for physical distancing measures to stop it spreading.

“The season does not seem to be affecting the transmission of this virus”, said Dr. Margaret Harris, World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson, highlighting many people’s “fixed” belief to the contrary.

“What is affecting the transmission is mass gatherings, it’s people coming together, and people not social distancing, not taking the precautions to ensure they are not in close contact.”

Globally, WHO has reported as on Tuesday morning Geneva time, 16,301,736 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 650,069 deaths.

The Americas remains the epicenter by region, with more than 8.7 million cases, followed by Europe (3.2 million), South-East Asia (1.8 million), Eastern Mediterranean (1.5 million), Africa (712,920) and Western Pacific (291,993).

During a scheduled virtual press conference, Dr. Harris noted that the biggest outbreak “with the most intense, the highest numbers”, remained the US, where it is the middle of summer.

Brazil had also seen high infection rates, despite being an equatorial country, the WHO spokesperson continued.

Turning to countries in the global south, Dr Harris noted that winter was underway there, with samples tested, indicating “high” COVID infection rates but low influenza traces. “Now the interesting thing is we are seeing from those samples, high levels of COVID, but we’re not seeing high levels of influenza at the moment. So, we’re expecting a later flu season in the southern hemisphere.”

The development is in line with WHO’s latest influenza update indicating that globally, influenza activity is currently at lower-than-expected levels.

In temperate areas of the northern hemisphere, influenza activity has “returned to inter-seasonal levels”.

In Caribbean, Central American, South American, tropical African, Southern Asia and South East Asia countries, the WHO bulletin reported that there have been only sporadic, or no cases detected.

Assessing the impact on countries finding themselves having to tackle both COVID-19 and influenza at the same time, the WHO spokesperson debated whether a “mélange” of respiratory diseases might prove problematic.

“That would be a concern, because if you have an increase in respiratory illness when you already have a very high burden of respiratory illness, that puts even more pressure on the health system,” she said.

Dr Harris also pushed back on the perception that a respiratory illness might come and go in several waves.

“It’s going to be one big wave”, she said. “It’s going to go up and down a bit…the best thing is to flatten it and turn it into just something that is lapping at your feet. But at the moment, first, second, third wave, these things don’t really make sense and we’re not really defining it that way.”

Asked about the WHO’s stance on charging for COVID-19 testing, the WHO official explained that this was a decision governed by countries alone. “Now we do everything we can to encourage all countries to test, because testing is absolutely essential,” she said. “You don’t know where your outbreak is if you’re not testing people. And we also encourage all countries to make access to testing wide and available”.

Few complaints 10 years following Business Improvement District inception

What started as a controversial project 10 years ago has turned into the revitalization of downtown Rapid City.

The Business Improvement District, or BID, was initially opposed by many businesses with worries of many contributing for the benefit of the few. Now, however, there are few businesses owners who would say the BID is a mistake, said Dan Senftner, president and CEO of Destination Rapid City and liaison for the BID Board.

“We really have no one complaining,” he said. “They’re not opposing it anymore, they’re really not, because we do so many good things with it.”

The BID boundaries are from East to West Boulevard and Omaha to Kansas City streets. Within that section, businesses are designated to zones one and two.

The first zone includes the core businesses in downtown Rapid City, which was decided upon by their proximity to Main Street Square. Businesses in Zone One also pay a higher tax for the BID, which is $1.50 per $1,000. Those in Zone Two pay $0.75 per $1,000.

Taxes are due every year and are based on property tax. Senftner said this was done to account for inflation.

Each year, the City Council approves the levying assessment for the BID, which helps create the budget. The council approved the 2020 assessment during its July 20 meeting, which totals $219,332.48, according to the assessment spreadsheet.

According to the assessment, MHL LLC pays the most at $8,373.81 this year. The company owns the property that includes Que Pasa, Mitzi’s Books and Main Street Shops.

Lee Consolidated Holdings, Co., the Journal’s parent company, will pay $6,666; Assurant, Inc., will pay $6,010.81; Cortez LLC will pay $4,999.81; and Prairie Edge, Inc., will pay $4,917.

Senftner said about 80% of businesses pay their taxes in the first 30 days after the assessment is released.

The BID money can go to almost any project that benefits all downtown businesses. Past and ongoing projects include the lighting project, which is aimed at making downtown feel safer for residents and tourists; the first four bicycles for the Rapid City Police Department; new tree grates; and the Clean Team, employees who power wash sidewalks, water downtown plants and more and clean historic placards, a project that will happen in the last week of July.

“All those little things make a difference in how to improve downtown Rapid City, how to make it easier,” Senftner said.

Senftner said no one has a crystal ball to know what improvements will need to be made in the next 10 years, but he does know the BID money will go toward improving downtown.

BID Board members Jerry Schmidt, Chief Operations Officer for Black Hills Federal Credit Union — which will contribute $4,880 this year — and Dan Tribby, property manager for Prairie Edge, said they also don’t know what will happen in the next 10 years.

Tribby, though, said he thinks downtown will be completely full.

“There may be some little pockets left,” he said. “The big part of the BID is to really help encourage the right businesses and right use of the land for everybody’s benefit.”

Tribby was one of the original businessmen behind the discussions of the BID, along with Prairie Edge owner Ray Hillenbrand.

In the early stages of the BID, Hillenbrand and Tribby went around and met with business owners to discuss their thoughts and feelings on starting the tax and tried to find some common ground.

Mike Brummer, owner of Armadillos Ice Cream Shoppe, was one of the owners opposed to the tax, so much so he started and led a group of what he called the “periphery businesses,” circulating a petition that had the names of about 150 business and property owners.

After he sat down with Tribby and Hillenbrand, though, they came to an understanding — there would be a zone one and two and the funds would go to improving all of downtown.

After the City Council approved it, Brummer sat on the board for about seven years.

“After Main Street Square was built and people saw it was a success…I think most everybody was very positive from that point on,” he said.

Brummer’s son, Austin, who now runs Armadillos, said even though he was younger at the time, it was great to see these businessmen come together, have a discussion and land on the same page.

Both said the only things they would like to see now are maybe a quarterly update from the board about improvements or projects it’s working on and perhaps slowing down traffic on Main Street to help with pedestrian safety, particularly between First and Fifth streets.

Tribby and Schmidt, who was one of the original board charter members, said they’re both satisfied with the work the board has accomplished, although there’s always room for improvement.

Schmidt said there are a couple projects coming up, like upgrading the fountain and its software, that will improve Main Street Square overall. He also said the BID Board will help focus on businesses recovering from COVID-19 in the near future.

The BID Board meets on the third Tuesday of the first month of every quarter or as otherwise scheduled. Meetings are held at the Destination Rapid City Offices.

Iran moves mock aircraft carrier into Strait of Hormuz ahead of apparent live-fire drill

Iran appears to be getting ready to send a warning to the U.S. as it has moved a mock aircraft carrier out to sea presumably to destroy it in a live-fire exercise.

The 650-foot long vessel with 16 fake fighter jets on deck – which bears resemblance to the Nimitz-class carriers that the U.S. Navy routinely sails into the Persian Gulf — was pulled by a tugboat into the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday, according to satellite images released Monday.

“We cannot speak to what Iran hopes to gain by building this mockup, or what tactical value they would hope to gain by using such a mockup in a training or offensive exercise scenario,” Navy Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich – a spokesperson for the U.S. 5th Fleet, which operates in the region – told Fox News in a statement.

But Rebarich noted that the U.S. remains “confident in our naval forces’ ability to defend themselves against any maritime threat.”

“We do not seek conflict but remain ready to defend U.S. forces and interests from maritime threats in the region,” she added.

An image from Maxar Technologies taken Sunday shows an Iranian boat speeding toward the carrier, sending waves up in its wake after the large ship departed the Islamic Republic’s port city of Bandar Abbas.

Iranian state media and officials have yet to acknowledge bringing the replica out to the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world’s oil passes. However, its appearance there, the Associated Press says, suggests Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard is preparing an encore of a similar mock-sinking it conducted in 2015.

During that drill, called “Great Prophet 9,” Iran swarmed the fake aircraft carrier with speedboats firing machine guns and rockets. Surface-to-sea missiles later targeted and destroyed the fake carrier.

The movement of the new mockup carrier comes as the USS Nimitz just entered Mideast waters late last week from the Indian Ocean, likely to replace the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Arabian Sea.

The Iranian vessel appears to be some 650 feet long and 160 feet wide, while a real Nimitz is over 980 feet long and 245 feet wide.

Preparation for the apparent drill follows a series of attacks and incidents that ramped up tensions between the U.S. and Iran last summer. Those events reached a crescendo with the Jan. 3 U.S. drone strike near Baghdad International Airport that killed Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iran Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force. Iran retaliated with a ballistic missile attack that injured dozens of American troops stationed in neighboring Iraq.

The timing of the replica’s movement also suggests that a drill targeting it may be a direct response from Tehran to an incident last week, in which a U.S. F-15 fighter jet approached an Iranian Mahan Air flight over Syria, resulting in slight injuries to some of the passengers on board.

New book launched to mark Vietnam’s 25 years of ASEAN membership

A new book has been launched by the ASEAN 2020 National Committee to mark 25 years of Vietnam’s official membership in ASEAN (July 28, 1995-2020).

The launch ceremony was held in Hanoi on Tuesday afternoon (Jul 28) by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the Su That (Truth) National Political Publishing House, as part of various activities to celebrate 53 years since the founding of ASEAN and 25 years since Vietnam joined the bloc.

Speaking at the event, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said that 25 years ago to this day, Vietnam officially joined ASEAN, marking one of the most important milestones in the country’s foreign relations since the 1945 August Revolution, as well as a historical step in Vietnam-ASEAN relations.

What’s also special is this year Vietnam celebrates both the founding of ASEAN as well as 25 years since its own joining of ASEAN while Vietnam assumes the ASEAN Chairmanship role, making the anniversary even more meaningful, Deputy PM Minh said.

He also emphasized that within the framework of the ASEAN Chairmanship 2020, while helping the public have a closer look into a quarter century since Vietnam joined ASEAN, the ASEAN 2020 National Committee has compiled and today launched a book entitled “25 Nam Viet Nam Tham Gia ASEAN Qua Goc Nhin Cua Nguoi Trong Cuoc” (25 years of Vietnam joining ASEAN from the perspective of the insiders).

Published by the Su That National Political Publishing House, the 250-page book gathers articles by senior leaders and former leaders of the Government of Vietnam and ASEAN member countries, as well as prestigious experts, scholars and researchers on ASEAN, in addition to those who have directly contributed to Vietnam’s accession and operation in ASEAN over the last quarter century.

Through the book, readers are expected to understand more about the 25-year process of Vietnam joining the ASEAN with both its achievements and difficulties, as well as regarding Vietnam’s foreign policy and the international community’s evaluation of Vietnam’s contribution to ASEAN’s success.

It also offers suggestions regarding the future direction of ASEAN, as well as an orientation in joining ASEAN’s activities for Vietnam in the near future.

Thanking authors both at home and abroad for contributing to the book’s issuance, Minh said that there have been many interesting stories and useful lessons from ASEAN integration over the past 25 years, so the FM called on readers, researchers and experts on ASEAN to make comments to further improve the book in its next publication in order to facilitate Vietnam’s journey within ASEAN.

After the Vietnamese version, an English version of the book is expected to be launched on the occasion of the 37th ASEAN Summit scheduled at year-end, in order to bring the story of 25 years of Vietnam joining the ASEAN to a wider public, especially international readers.

Deputy PM Minh also expressed his wish that the book would contribute to the overall success of Vietnam’s 2020 ASEAN Chairmanship.

Followed the book launch ceremony, Deputy PM, and FM Pham Binh Minh, who is also the chairman of the National ASEAN 2020 Committee, chaired a seminar on the theme of 25 years since Vietnam joined ASEAN.

Participants looked back on the lessons learnt after the 25 years of Vietnam’s ASEAN membership, assessing the results achieved and discussing what needs to improve in the future.

Remarks by President Trump in Press Briefing on COVID-19

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  Great to be in this wonderful state.  So many friends, so much success, and we love being here.  And we’re here, actually, today to discuss the exciting progress that we’ve achieved under the Operation Warp Speed — our historic initiative to develop, test, manufacture, and deliver a vaccine in record time.  And that’s what it is, in record time.  Likewise, therapeutically, we are very, very advanced.  You’re hearing about it and you’ll be hearing about it a lot more in the next two weeks.  We will achieve a victory over the virus by unleashing America’s scientific genius, which is what it is.

I’m therefore proud to announce that this morning, the Moderna vaccine has officially entered phase three already.  And that’s phase three clinical trials: the final stage before approval.  There’s never been anything like this, in terms of speed — nothing even close.  A second vaccine is likely to enter phase three in a matter of days.  Under Operation Warp Speed, we’ve shaved years off of the time that it takes to develop a vaccine — in some cases, many years — and we’ve done it while maintaining the FDA gold standard for safety.  This is the fastest a vaccine for a novel pathogen has ever gone.  It has never gone like this.  And if you look at where we are, by phase three, we could say “ever gone by far.”

Four additional promising candidates are expected to enter final trials in the coming weeks, including the Novavax vaccine being developed right here at this facility.  It’s an incredible facility.  We’re going to be making a tour in a little while — a very, very complete tour — with the folks that run it and the people that operate.

We’ve just completed a tour of Fujifilm’s innovation laboratories — and that’s going to be done at a much, much higher level in a few minutes after I’m finished, and I believe we’ll take a few questions too — which were carrying out a crucial biomanufacturing process needed to make the Novavax vaccine.  This production is made possible by my administration’s $1.6 billion award to Novavax as part of Operation Warp Speed.  It lets us deliver the final product in a time that never has been achieved anywhere, at any time, for anything like this.

These same manufacturing processes are being conducted on an even larger scale in College Station, Texas.  Today, I’m proud to announce that HHS has just signed a $265 million contract with the Fujifilm-Texas A&M Innovation Center, which is quite the place, to dramatically expand their vaccine manufacturing capacity.  I want to thank Fujifilm CEO Martin Meeson for welcoming us today.  And Martin — where is, Martin?  Thank you.  Thank you very much, Martin.  It’s really wonderful to be with you under these circumstances in particular, with all the progress that’s being made.  As well as Novavax CEO, Stanley Erck.  Stanley, thank you very much.  Thank you very much for being here.

Thanks also to Secretary Alex Azar, who is with us; Senator Thom Tillis, thank you very much.  Thank you, Thom.  Stand up, Thom.  Good job you’ve done.  Thank you very much.  You really have.  Representatives Richard Hudson, David Rouzer, Mark Walker, Dan Bishop, and Greg Murphey, thank you.  All friends.  All warriors.  Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, who I hear is doing a great job — where is Dan?  Stand up, Dan.  Great job, Dan.  Really good.  North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore — thank you, Tim.  Great job.  And President pro tem of the North Carolina State Senate, Phil Berger.  Thank you, Phil, very much.  I appreciate it.

Operation Warp Speed is funding a historic portfolio of highly promising vaccine candidates.  In addition to our $1.6 billion investment in Novavax, we’ve issued a $483 million contract with Moderna, a $1.2 billion contract with AstraZeneca, a $465 million contract with Janssen, and just last week, a $1.95 billion agreement with Pfizer.  Tremendous progress is being made with all of those great companies.

A groundbreaking agreement with Pfizer includes a guarantee to deliver 100 million doses shortly after the vaccine’s approval — almost immediately — with the option to purchase an additional 500 million thereafter.  Not only is Operation Warp Speed accelerating the development of a vaccine, we’re also directing a colossal industrial mobilization to ensure its rapid delivery.  Nothing has happened like this since the end of World War Two.

Instead of the usual sequence of vaccine development, testing and trials, followed by production, our strategy is to conduct these phases simultaneously.  So, everything goes at one time.  We’re not waiting and waiting and waiting; it’s all going at one time.  We have a system that has — I think it’s unparalleled.  Never been done before, but we suspect it’s going to work, and work very well.

We’re mass producing all of the most promising vaccine candidates in advance so that on the day one that it’s approved, it’ll be available to the American people immediately.  And we’ll probably have a lot for a lot of other people throughout the world.  The world is suffering from this China virus.

Another dimension of Operation Warp Speed is our focus on therapeutics to treat the virus.  Over 140 clinical trials are underway, and a number of effective therapies have already been developed and widely delivered, including remdesivir, which is having a tremendous impact — you see that with mortality rates and other things, statistically — dexamethasone, convalescent plasma, and antibody treatments.  We have numerous treatments right now that are under study, and I think over the next couple of weeks, we may actually have some very positive answers as to that.

On July 7th, we announced a $450 million agreement with Regeneron to begin advanced manufacturing of its antibody treatment, which is currently in late-stage clinical trials.  Late stage.

Due to the medical advances we’ve already achieved and our increased knowledge in how to treat the virus, the mortality rate for patients over the age of 18 is 85 percent lower than it was in April — think of that: 85 percent — and is 25 percent lower than Europe as a whole.

In the middle of April, more than 22 percent of all deaths in the United States were attributable to the China virus.  As the last week, that number has dropped down — as of last week, it’s dropped down to under 7 percent.

To decrease the turnaround times for testing, the first two laboratories have been approved to provide pooled testing — very important.  In other words, samples from multiple patients are processed together.  They’re pooled.  Now, pool testing will reduce turnaround times by more than — substantially more than 50 percent.

Last week, our Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began distributing rapid point-of-care diagnostic test instruments to all of the nursing homes in the United States, focusing on the areas of greatest need, which is our elderly and our nursing homes.

What we’ve already sent includes testing instruments to 635 nursing homes for 196,000 rapid point-of-care tests.  It’s a tremendous amount.  That’s — you’ll get your response and answer from 5 to 15 minutes.

Over the next three weeks, 1,700 nursing homes will receive an additional 800,000 point-of-care tests.  Think of that.  The United States has conducted over 52 million tests.  That’s more than all of Europe put together, times two.  Nobody is even close.  And as countries go, it is — as an example, India is up to 11 million tests.  We’re going to be very shortly at 55 million tests.  India has 1.4 billion people.

Through our relentless efforts, we’ve completely rebuilt our stockpile, which the previous administration depleted and did not refill.  The cupboards were bare.  I say it often.  In total, we’ve now distributed nearly 100 million N95 masks, 35 million surgical masks, 15 million face shields, and much, much more.  In addition to that, ventilators, the most difficult thing of all, we are now building thousands a month, and we’re distributing them — we have all we need in our country, but to other countries that are in desperate need.  Other countries are having a tremendously difficult time with the virus.

Last week, FEMA sent additional personal protective equipment to over 15,000 nursing homes, including 643,000 pairs of protective eyewear, 7 million masks, 34 million pairs of gloves, and 6 million gowns.  It’s a lot.

Over the weekend, cases in Florida, Texas, and Arizona held steady and are now heading down.  In Arizona, they’re heading very substantially down, and rapidly.  We’ve been constant — and in constant communication with the states and are surging them resources when requested.  They largely had what they needed, but anything they need, we send them immediately.  We are totally full, we have everything we need, we get it to the states immediately, we deal with the governors.  The relationship with the governors has been very good.

These states are not out of the woods, but rigorous compliance with guidelines should allow them to turn the corner, and very, very quickly.  We are working with every governor and health commissioner across the country to bring a complete, individualized analysis to each state, as well as tailored recommendations.  States are different.

My administration is also closely monitoring the surging caseload in Latin America, which is now the region in the world with the most active reported infections, by far.  Due to the relative scarcity of testing in Latin America, however, the region’s reported number of cases is also likely to be dramatically undercut or undercounted.  And I can say that’s probably true throughout the entire world.  We report our cases; most of the world doesn’t.  They either don’t do testing, therefore they have very few cases, even though people are sick, or they just don’t report it.

Given the reality of what we just said, we’re focusing aggressively on the Texas border and countries that we think have to be watched very, very carefully, because you have some very, very highly infected countries outside of our borders.

I’ve spoken with Governor Abbott — terrific gentleman — and I can report that over 3,300 federal personnel are on the ground in Texas.  We’ve given them a tremendous amount of extra help, including doctors, nurses, frontline people.  We’ve supplied Texas with more than 2.5 million gloves, 800,000 goggles, 337,000 surgical gowns, 1.8 million surgical masks, 1.36 million N95 respirators, and half a million KN90 masks.

Beginning this week, Texas hospitals will receive 500 cases of remdesivir, which has proven very effective, enough to treat 3,200 patients.

In addition to the cross-border spread, this stage of the pandemic is being fueled by younger Americans who generally have little risk of being seriously harmed by the disease but can spread the disease.  We need all Americans to be conscious about their actions and to exercise extreme vigilance.

I trust all Americans to do the right thing, but we strongly advise everyone to especially, especially focus on maintaining a social distance, maintaining rigorous hygiene, avoid large gatherings and crowded indoor bars, and wear masks when appropriate.

We also strongly urge citizens to take extra precautions to shield those at highest risk, which are, in most cases, in many cases, the elderly — especially the elderly with medical problems, such as heart or diabetes.  But you want to shield them and you want to guard them and you want to protect them from the virus especially — especially those that are really targeted — almost targeted, you could say, by this horrible, horrible plague, this horrible epidemic, pandemic.

America will develop a vaccine very soon, and we will defeat the virus.  We will have it delivered in record time.  As our visit here demonstrates — and I want to thank all of the people and representatives from the great state of North Carolina.  This is a great — this is a great place.  It’s a phenomenal place.  And we’ve had so many great meetings and such a great time.

I want to drive the — the drive and tenacity of your representatives and your politicians has been incredible.  When they call them there, when they call — most of them, many of them are sitting here right now — I will always answer their call.

So, thank you very much.  I appreciate you being here with us.  And let’s get on to a few questions.  Tremendous progress has been made, and it’s been made rapidly, and it’s been made in areas that nothing like that has taken place before.

So, please.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you.

Q    There’s been a lot of despair when it comes to the virus.  Is today’s event about giving Americans hope, a sense of optimism?  Is that what you’re trying to do?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think — I think so.  But, you know, there would be not that same kind of hope if we weren’t doing so well.

We’re — you know, before — just before I left the White House, in the Oval Office, we had a meeting with our doctors, scientists, some others, and they’re making tremendous prog- — progress with respect to therapeutics.  I can tell you, therapeutically, I think over the next couple of weeks, we’ll have some, really, very good things to say.  We’re just having great answers.

So, it is about that, and it’s also the vaccine that we discussed today at even greater length is just coming along really well.  And it’s not just one company; its many companies have had tremendous progress.  So that’ll be announced over the next very short period.

Q    When is the soonest you expect a vaccine to be ready for Americans to take?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I heard very positive things, but by the end of the year, we think we’re in very good shape to be doing that.  By the end of this year, we’re going to — in terms of the vaccine.  I think in terms of therapeutics, even sooner than that.  Therapeutics, meaning, you go, and you give somebody, whether it’s transfusion or shots or whatever it may be, and they heal, and they heal quickly.

So, we’ve had tremendous progress.  We already have, if you look at remdesivir and if you look at some of the other things.  But we’ll have — we’ll have some announcements on that over the next two weeks.

Yeah, it — it is hope, but it’s only hope because we’ve gotten such incredible results, scientifically.

Q    And one final question, sir.

THE PRESIDENT:  Yeah.

Q    You did talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  And I wanted to ask if you did bring up the reports of Russia having bounties on our soldiers in Afghanistan.

THE PRESIDENT:  We don’t talk about what we discussed, but we had plenty of discussion, and I think it was very productive.

Please.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Larry Kudlow, earlier today, said that the V-shaped recovery is showing signs of moderating.  Do you think, given what we’re seeing with the increase in cases, that the recovery could be in jeopardy at all — the economic recovery?

THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t think so.  I think the recovery has been very strong.  We’ve set record job numbers.  We’ve set record numbers.  Whether it’s a pure “V” or a little bit less than that, I think it’s going to be very good.

If, therapeutically, we come up with some answers very quickly, which I think we will, then you’re going to have a tremendous recovery — likewise, with the vaccines.  If you do that by the end of the year, that’s ahead of schedule — substantially ahead of schedule.  And it’s ahead of anything that’s ever taken place, in terms of vaccines, before.

So, I think if those things happen — if just one of those events happen, you’ll go right back into that “V,” and I think you’re probably in the “V” anyway.

I really do believe a lot of the governors should be opening up states that they’re not opening, and we’ll see what happens with them.  But a lot will have to do with the fact that, therapeutically, I think you’re going to have some great answers — vaccine-wise, likewise.

Yeah, please.  Go ahead, in the back.

Q    Zachery Eanes from the Raleigh News & Observer.  Now that you’ve canceled the Jacksonville portion of the RNC, do you think Governor Cooper made the right choice in limiting attendance in Charlotte?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we’re actually coming to North Carolina, as you know.  We’re having a very major — I guess that would be the nomination night, so that’s Monday.  That’ll be Monday — they’re going to be here.  And the rest we’ll do in a different form.  We could’ve done it many different ways, but I think we did the right thing.  And I’m really happy that we’re going to be having a piece of it at least — and a very important piece — in North Carolina.

Yes, please.  Go ahead.

Q    Mr. President, your poll numbers suffered in recent months because of your handling on the pandemic.  You’re here now today.  What’s your plan, going forward, to prove to Americans that you’re the right person for this job?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think the poll numbers are very good.  The poll numbers we have are very good.  We’re leading in North Carolina.  We’re leading in Pennsylvania.  We’re leading in Arizona — our numbers.  We’re leading in Arizona.  We’re leading nicely in Florida.  I think our poll numbers are very good.  We’re leading substantially in Georgia.

I mean, we get a lot of suppression polls.  We get a lot of fake polls, just like we have fake news.  I mean, it’s a terrible thing when you look at it.

But I had the same thing four years ago.  I was losing everywhere.  I had poll numbers where I wasn’t going to win any state, and I ended up winning every one of them — you know, the swing states.  I wasn’t going to win any of them, and I won all of them.  And I have the same thing this year.  This year, they have it even closer.  They have it closer, but it’s the same suppression-type polls.  We have polls that show me leading in almost every swing state, and substantially in other states, by even more than I won in ’16.

When you look at Florida, as an example, you have thousands of boats out on — boats out in the ocean, out in the Intracoastal.  You look at other states where, likewise, you have thousands of boats, and they’re all waving the Trump sign — Trump-Pence sign — and they’re so proud.  Thousands and thousands.  You’ve seen it — where you have Bikers for Trump with lines that are miles long on highways going along on weekends.

I think there’s more spirit now than there’s ever been for my campaign, and that includes 2016, where obviously there was great enthusiasm, great spirit.  We had great spirit.  I think there’s more today because what we’ve done, nobody has ever done before.  Nobody has ever rebuilt the military, cut taxes — the most in our history — created the greatest economy we’ve ever had, cut regulations at a level that nobody has ever done, and all of these different things.

The VA — we got VA Choice.  We got VA everything for the VA.  Right now, they had a 91 percent approval rating at — in a recent poll.  I was just speaking to the Secretary — 91 percent in the VA.  That’s never happened before.

I think when people see all that we’ve done — even Space Force.  We created a Sp- — a force, an actual — you know, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines.  Right?  It’s — it’s pretty amazing.  Coast Guard.  And now, Space Force — that hasn’t happened in 75 years.  What we’ve done — working with some of those warriors over there, by the way — but what we’ve done has never been done.

If you look at Alaska with ANWR, one of the bil- — perhaps the biggest drilling site in the world.  Even Ronald Reagan and Bush and Clinton — everybody wanted to get it done; I got it done — ANWR in Alaska.  Probably or possibly the biggest drilling site in the world.  No, what we’ve done has been incredible.

Recently, it looked like the energy business was going to be a catastrophe.  We were number one in the world, and then we had the pandemic, and nobody was using energy.  Nobody was driving in automobiles, no gasoline.  And by the way, gasoline prices for everyone are very, very low — in many cases, less than $2.  That’s pretty incredible.

And I saved the energy business.  I got Russia and I got Saudi Arabia on the phone, and they cut way back.  And we’re now at $40-and-plus a barrel.  And we’re saving tens of millions of jobs in energy.  We’re the number-one in energy in the world.

So, with all that we’ve done, we made and brought this country to the greatest point in its history.  We never had an economy like we had prior to the China plague or China virus coming in.  We never had numbers like it.  We are going to have them again.  And everyone knows I’m going to rebuild it.  I had to close it up.  We saved millions of lives by closing it.  If we didn’t close it, you would have seen numbers that would have been 15 times what you have right now.  One death is too much, but it would’ve been 10 to 15 times, maybe more, than that — what you have.

We closed this greatest economy ever — far bigger than China, better than China.  China was having, by the way, the worst year they had in 67 years.  Tariffs — they paid us tens of billions of dollars.  The worst year they’ve had — think of it — in 67 years.  We were having the best year we’ve ever had.

I had to close it, and now we’re reopening it.  And next year, we’ll be stronger.  It’ll be the strongest year so far.  It’ll be better, even than last year.

Okay, thank you very much.  I’ll be heading back, and I’ll see you back at the White House.  Thank you very much.  We’re going to take an additional tour of the facility with your great leaders.

Thank you very much to the people of North Carolina.  We love being here.  Thank you.

Reno: Housing crisis and police brutality

On July 14, Reno, Nevada was declared a “yellow zone” by the White House report on COVID-19. Yellow zones are areas where COVID-19 cases are reported between 10 to 100 per 100,000 population and a test positivity of 5 to 10 percent. Currently, there are 1,096 active cases and 64 hospitalizations reported in Washoe county. The active cases are up 96 percent since May and up 57 percent since June. Earlier this month, Nevada had the highest COVID-19 transmission rate in the country. The state has enacted various responses to the pandemic in order to curb the damage to the economy and public health.

The released “Roadmap to Recovery” outlines various restrictions and guidelines that businesses and the public are expected to comply with in order to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan requires certain businesses and public areas to enforce masks, a 50 percent occupancy or to only operate via curbside pickup. Like many states, Nevada’s unemployment has skyrocketed and on March 29 Nevada enacted an eviction moratorium.

Despite continued increases in COVID-19 cases, the state is now looking to reopen the economy. Casinos have already begun operating again and the eviction moratorium is expected to be lifted on September 1 despite an unemployment rate still higher than most of the country. Estimates of 118,000 to 142,000 households in Nevada are at risk of eviction this upcoming fall according to a report from the Guinn Center. In Reno, roughly 45 percent of home occupants are renters.

While the uprising against racism spreads throughout the country in wake of the killing of George Floyd, the Reno community wrestles with how the local police department treats its Black citizens. In Reno, Black people make up less than 3 percent of the population. However, Black people account for nearly 14 percent of the arrests made by the Reno Police Department. Earlier in January this year, young Miciah Lee was shot and killed by the RPD.

After the death of Miciah Lee, the Black Lives Matter movement local to Reno demanded a release of the bodycam footage from the night of Miciah Lee’s death. After the department had concluded the investigation and the footage was released to YouTube, the District Attorney of Reno declared the shooting justified, sparking a backlash from many members of the community. The community demanded that funds should be diverted away from the police department and into mental health services, as Miciah Lee had been suicidal prior to being killed by police.

Under capitalism, the vast majority of working families struggle to ensure their basic necessities like housing and are instead subjected to a hostile police state. Rather than having a robust and effective medical system that can provide citizens with treatment and safety, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” economics leaves everyone to fend for themselves in the midst of a pandemic. The capitalist police state treats workers as a ‘horde’ or a ‘mob’ that needs to be disciplined or even culled for the interests of the ruling elite. While workers are struggling for their livelihoods under the pandemic or fighting for their rights to not be slaughtered by the police, people at the top like Jeff Bezos add many more billions to their bank account.

Scientists revive microbes from 100 million years ago

Scientists have successfully revived microbes that had lain dormant at the bottom of the sea since the age of the dinosaurs, allowing the organisms to eat and even multiply after eons in the deep.

Their research sheds light on the remarkable survival power of some of Earth’s most primitive species, which can exist for tens of millions of years with barely any oxygen or food before springing back to life in the lab.

A team led by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology analyzed ancient sediment samples deposited more than 100 million years ago on the seabed of the South Pacific.

The region is renowned for having far fewer nutrients in its sediment than normal, making it a far-from-ideal site to maintain life over millennia.

The team incubated the samples to help coax the microbes out of their epoch-spanning slumber.

Astonishingly, they were able to revive nearly all of the microorganisms.

“When I found them, I was first skeptical whether the findings are from some mistake or a failure in the experiment,” said lead author Yuki Morono.

“We now know that there is no age limit for (organisms in the) sub-seafloor biosphere,” he told AFP.

URI Graduate School of Oceanography professor and study co-author Steven D’Hondt said the microbes came from the oldest sediment drilled from the seabed.

“In the oldest sediment we’ve drilled, with the least amount of food, there are still living organisms, and they can wake up, grow and multiply,” he said.

Morono explained that oxygen traces in the sediment allowed the microbes to stay alive for millions of years while expending virtually no energy.

Energy levels for seabed microbes “are millions of times lower than that of surface microbes,” he said.

Such levels would be far too low to sustain the surface microbes, and Morono said it was a mystery how the seabed organisms had managed to survive.

Previous studies have shown how bacteria can live on some of the least hospitable places on Earth, including around undersea vents that are devoid of oxygen.

Morono said the new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, proved the remarkable staying power of some of Earth’s simplest living structures.

“Unlike us, microbes grow their population by divisions, so they do not actually have the concept of lifespan,” he added.

SDDA Issues Statement on Unsolicited Seeds from China

There have been nationwide reports of packages from China containing unsolicited seeds. Unsolicited seeds may contain invasive species, introduce diseases to native plants, or be harmful to livestock.

“The South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA) has received reports of unsolicited seeds being mailed to South Dakotans,” said Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden. “We’re not sure the intent behind this activity, but I urge the public to refrain from planting these seeds as invasive species can have devastating effects on South Dakota agriculture.”

Anyone receiving unsolicited seeds in the mail should do the following: 

Do not plant the seeds.

Save the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label.

Contact the SDDA at 605.773.5425 or email agmail@state.sd.uswith the following information:  Name; Phone number; Date received; Number of packages.

The SDDA continues to monitor the situation and work with the United States Department of Agriculture for further guidance.

Agriculture is a major contributor to South Dakota’s economy, generating $32.5 billion in annual economic activity and employing over 132,000 South Dakotans. The South Dakota Department of Agriculture’s mission is to promote, protect, and preserve South Dakota agriculture for today and tomorrow. Visit us online at sdda.sd.gov or find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

These COVID-19 vaccine candidates in late stage clinical trials

Amid the race to develop an effective vaccine against COVID-19 in record time, six candidates have now entered the late stage clinical trial, according to the New York Times vaccine tracker.

The latest entrants in this crucial phase of vaccine development are Moderna and one jointly developed by US-based Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech.

Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday announced the start of a Phase 2/3 study of its vaccine candidate BNT162b2.

The Phase 2/3 study will involve up to 30,000 participants between 18 and 85 years of age.

The Phase-3 trial by Moderna will also include 30,000 participants who do not have COVID-19.

The mRNA-1273 vaccine is designed to induce neutralizing antibodies directed at a portion of the coronavirus “spike” protein, which the virus uses to bind to and enter human cells.

The Phase 3 trial is crucial in the development of a vaccine as it can help answer the question whether it is effective enough to prevent the targeted disease.

Earlier, at least four other COVID-19 vaccine candidates entered the phase-3 trials.

The COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by scientists at the University of Oxford and UK-based global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca made early progress and entered into phase trials in South Africa and Brazil.

The results of the Phase 1/2 trials of the vaccine published in The Lancet medical journal last week showed that it produces strong immune responses.

The Phase 3 trial of this vaccine will also be conducted in several other countries including India. This vaccine will be called Covishield in India.

In an interview with IANS last week, Adar Poonawalla, CEO, Serum Institute of India (SII), said that as per the arrangement with AstraZeneca, SII will be making one billion doses of Covishield vaccine over the next one year for India and other low-and-middle-income countries (GAVI countries).

The Phase 3 clinical trials are expected to commence in India around August 2020 in which 4,000-5,000 patients are likely to participate.

A Phase 3 clinical trial of Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical company Sinopharm’s inactivated Covid-19 vaccine started in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, the Abu Dhabi government media office said in July.

The UAE health authorities recently issued a permit for up to 15,000 volunteers to take part in the trials.

Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac in July said it had received approval for starting a phase-3 clinical trial of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, CoronaVac, in Brazil.

This study will recruit nearly 9,000 healthcare professionals working in COVID-19 specialized facilities in 12 clinical sites located in several states in Brazil.

The New York Times vaccine tracker also includes a Phase-3 trial by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia to evaluate the efficacy of a Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccine, originally developed as a protection against tuberculosis, to protect against COVID-19.

While work on more than 165 COVID-19 vaccine candidates has started, 27 vaccines have entered human trials, according to the tracker.

China’s military has received approval for using a COVID-19 vaccine jointly developed by its research unit and CanSino Biologics Inc.

The approval for the Recombinant Novel Coronavirus Vaccine (Ad5-nCoV) was granted on June 25, for one year.

The phase-1 and phase-2 clinical trials of the Ad5-nCoV were conducted in China.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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