Opinion
December 11, 2020

Three thousand. It's a number that needs context to be grasped: "more [deaths] than D-day or 9/11," or the equivalent of if "15 passenger jets full of COVID-19 patients crashed ... and killed everyone on board." This week, we marked two 3,000-plus days of recorded COVID-19 fatalities, with no reason to think we've yet reached the peak. In fact, the United States seems locked in a horrifying race to find out what its ceiling is. Four thousand per day? Five thousand per day?

Even 10,000 deaths in a single day doesn't seem entirely inconceivable anymore.

We know that COVID-19 deaths lag behind infection rates, since it typically takes someone around three weeks after being diagnosed to experience life-threatening symptoms. Since the beginning of November, though, daily COVID-19 cases have doubled. That is to say, the wave of fatalities we're facing right now doesn't yet reflect the over 200,000 COVID-19 cases currently being added daily.

But let's be a little more precise: According to the projection below, the United States would need to reach about 570,000 new cases per day to get in the ballpark of an eventual 10,000 fatality day:

Notably, however, that rate does not account for overwhelmed hospitals and ICUs. At a certain point, the more cases increase, the more fatalities will accelerate, because the health-care infrastructure will be stretched too thin to give every patient the care they need. Some 200 U.S. hospitals are already at full capacity as of mid-December, and a third of the nation's ICUs are almost out of space, CNN reports.

Further, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington has a "worst-case scenario" projection that models over 1 million new COVID-19 cases per day in January. If 1.7 percent of reported cases become deaths, that'd mean fatalities of 17,000 people per day are potentially possible next year (other models put the death rate at more like 1.5 percent, which is still 15,000 deaths per day).

Even 10,000 is a huge — unthinkable, even — daily death toll. Then again, so was 3,000 only a few weeks ago. With Christmas and New Year's seemingly ensuring further case bumps as family and friends travel to see each other, a scenario starts to take shape where cases spiral so far out of control that the health-care system can't keep up anymore.

It is all we can do to hope we never see it come true. Jeva Lange

12:36 a.m.

President Biden is expected to announce several executive actions on Wednesday meant to fight climate change, including one asking government agencies to determine the extent of a drilling ban on federal land, two people with knowledge of the matter told The New York Times on Monday.

Additionally, Biden intends to direct the government to conserve 30 percent of all federal land and water by 2030, make climate change a national security priority, and form a task force to create an action plan on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Times reports. He will also create multiple commissions to focus on environmental justice and green jobs, specifically helping minority communities and people who live in coal country.

Environmentalists say to really curb harmful emissions, Biden will have to enact legislation; otherwise, he will need to rely heavily on the regulatory process. "The climate reality of today is higher temperatures, stronger storms, more destructive wildfires, sea-level rise, acidifying oceans, and extended drought," Sherri Goodman, senior fellow at the Wilson Center's Environmental Change and Security Program, told the Times. "We need a climate security plan for America that climate-proofs American infrastructure and puts climate and clean energy innovation front and center." Catherine Garcia

12:27 a.m.

In an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Monday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said his caucus won't allow Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to dictate the agenda in the Democratic-led 50-50 Senate or demand an end to the legislative filibuster as a precondition for a power-sharing pact. "We've told McConnell no on the organizing resolution, and that's that. So there's no negotiations on that," Schumer said, suggesting he had a secret plan. "There are ways to deal with him."

Maddow included an update when she broadcast the interview Monday night. "While we were airing that right now, and you were watching it, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just put out a statement that he is folding on this" and willl "agree to go forward with what Sen. Schumer told him he must," she said. "Sen. Mitch McConnell has caved and Sen. Schumer has won that fight. That was quick. Let's see what else we can do."

McConnell said he would allow the Senate to move forward because two Democrats had reiterated their opposition to ending the filibuster, effectively taking that option off the table. Maddow asked Schumer about that, too, and he didn't answer directly.

"The caucus is united with the belief that I have: We must get big, strong, bold things done," Schumer said. The Democratic caucus is also "totally united" that "we will not let Mitch McConnell dictate to us what we will do and not do," and "we have tools that we can use," notably the budget reconciliation process," he added. "We will come together as a caucus and figure it out."

Schumer also suggested he is not interested in playing cat-and-mouse with McConnell's Republicans again. Watch below. Peter Weber

January 25, 2021

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday night said that since Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) promised they have no intention to vote to abolish the 60-vote legislative filibuster, he will support a power-sharing agreement with Democrats.

With Democrats in control of the House and Senate, some lawmakers have called for the elimination of the filibuster, and McConnell spent days stalling and trying to get Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to guarantee he would preserve it. The Senate is split 50-50; the last time this happened was in 2001, and the party with the vice presidency controlled the floor agenda.

In a statement, McConnell said he is ready to move forward on a deal "modeled" on the 2001 "precedent" after Sinema and Manchin said they "agree with President Biden's and my view that no Senate majority should destroy the right of future minorities of both parties to help shape legislation."

Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer, said Democrats are "glad Sen. McConnell threw in the towel and gave up on his ridiculous demand. We look forward to organizing the Senate under Democratic control and start getting big, bold things done for the American people." Catherine Garcia

January 25, 2021

An Ohio state senator who questioned the hygiene of Black people has been tasked with leading a state health panel, over the objection of several lawmakers.

During a hearing last June, state Sen. Steve Huffman (R), a physician, said he understood that "African Americans have a higher incidence of chronic conditions and that makes them more susceptible to death from COVID. But why does it not make them more susceptible just to get COVID?" He questioned whether "the colored population" washed their hands, wore masks, or practiced social distancing "as well as other groups. ... Could that be the explanation for why the higher incidence?"

After an immediate backlash, Huffman apologized for his remarks.

This month, Huffman was appointed by Senate President Matt Huffman (R), his cousin, to lead the Ohio Senate Health Committee, which reviews legislation about health care and human services. This angered multiple lawmakers, including state Rep. Catherine Ingram (D), who said Huffman's "racist and problematic remarks" are proof he is not fit to head the committee.

In a statement to CNN, Huffman said he is "one of the few doctors in the legislature," and is "proud" to have been named chair of the Ohio Senate Health Committee. The question he asked in June was "awkwardly worded" and "unfortunately hurt many people," Huffman said, adding that he has since attended "classes on diversity and inclusion." Catherine Garcia

January 25, 2021

The Minnesota Department of Health announced on Monday it has recorded the first known case in the U.S. of the highly transmissible COVID-19 variant that has been spreading through Brazil.

Known as the P.1 variant, it was detected amid a surge of cases in Manaus, Brazil. Minnesota health officials said the patient is a resident of the Twin Cities area who recently traveled to Brazil, and the strain was found via genomic sequencing of random blood samples. The person was tested on Jan. 9, and is now in isolation. Ruth Lynfield, Minnesota's state epidemiologist, said this is a reminder why "it is so important to limit travel during a pandemic as much as possible."

Scientists are closely studying three COVID-19 variants: P. 1, as well as B.1.1.7, first detected in the United Kingdom, and B1.351, first identified in South Africa. Virologists said the variants are independent of one another but there is some overlap in the mutations. The U.K. variant is spreading now in the U.S., but the South Africa variant has not yet been detected. Virologists are especially concerned that the Brazil and South Africa variants contain mutations that may evade the protections of some antibodies.

William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, told The Washington Post on Monday the Brazil variant is "probably the one causing the most concern among people watching this. It is fair to say that P.1 is the object of very, very serious attention and concern among epidemiologists. We don't know why it has been so successful in Manaus." Catherine Garcia

January 25, 2021

The nine House impeachment managers on Monday evening delivered the article of impeachment against former President Donald Trump to the Senate.

On Jan. 13, the House impeached Trump on a charge of inciting an insurrection, in connection with the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), serving as lead impeachment manager, made the transfer official by reading the article on the Senate floor.

Trump's second impeachment trial is set to begin the week of Feb. 8, giving both sides time to prepare. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), president pro tempore of the Senate, will preside over the trial; Chief Justice John Roberts presided over Trump's 2020 impeachment trial, but because Trump is out of office, Roberts is no longer constitutionally obligated to take on this role. On Tuesday, the senators will be sworn in as jurors. Catherine Garcia

January 25, 2021

The Senate on Monday voted 84-15 to confirm Janet Yellen as secretary of the Treasury, making her the first woman in U.S. history to ever hold the job.

As Treasury secretary, Yellen, a labor economist and former Federal Reserve chair, will collaborate closely with President Biden as he works on getting Congress to pass his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. If the package is approved, she will also be responsible for ensuring that direct relief payments are distributed to Americans.

During her confirmation hearing, Yellen said Congress must "act big" in order to get the economy going and to ease the suffering of American workers and families hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. "The relief bill late last year was just a down payment to get us through the next few months," Yellen said. "We have a long way to go before our economy fully recovers." Catherine Garcia

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