U.S. Now Leads the World in Coronavirus Cases
The U.S. passed a grim milestone Thursday when it became the country with the most confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, overtaking both China and Italy.
The U.S. now has at least 85,381 cases to China's 81,340 and Italy's 80, 539, according to data provided by The New York Times and updated at 4:34 a.m. Friday Eastern Standard Time. And its death toll has also risen past 1,000.
"We are the new global epicenter of the disease," Johns Hopkins Medicine infectious disease specialist Dr. Sara Keller told The New York Times.
The new coronavirus has so far infected more than 523,700 people in at least 171 countries worldwide, according to The New York Times' figures. It has killed nearly 24,000. The U.S. death toll still lags behind that in Italy, Spain and China, which have reported around 8,000, 4,000 and 3,000 deaths respectively.
President Donald Trump responded as the news of the world-leading U.S. caseload broke during a press briefing Thursday by attributing the surge to robust testing for the virus that causes COVID-19.
"It's a tribute to the amount of testing that we're doing," Trump told reporters, as The Guardian reported. "We're doing tremendous testing, and I'm sure you're not able to tell what China is testing or not testing. I think that's a little hard."
But public health experts say the surge in U.S. cases could have been avoided if the administration had responded more effectively when the disease first emerged. Even before the outbreak, the Trump administration had cut funding for public health and disease response agencies and dismantled the National Security Council team in charge of pandemic response. Once the outbreak began, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was criticized for rolling out ineffective tests and setting up extremely narrow criteria for who could be tested.
"This could have been stopped by implementing testing and surveillance much earlier — for example, when the first imported cases were identified," Columbia University virologist Angela Rasmussen told The New York Times. "If these are the cases we've confirmed, how many cases are we still missing?"
Those failures have taken a toll on the health and daily lives of people across the U.S. In New York City, the U.S. epicenter of the outbreak, more people died on Wednesday of the new disease than Americans killed in the war in Afghanistan in the last five years, The Independent reported.
Hospitals in the city are overwhelmed and are around 90,000 beds short of what it is predicted they will need, according to Sky News.
"It's hell, biblical. I kid you not," Dr. Steve Kasspidis, who works at Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens, told Sky. "People come in, they get intubated, they die, the cycle repeats. The system is overwhelmed all over the place."
Outside of the hospitals, daily life has ground to a halt in many places. Twenty-one states have told residents to stay at home, according to BBC News. The subsequent economic disruption has meant that a record 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment last week, The Guardian reported Thursday. That's a jump of almost three million compared to the 281,000 applications filed the week before, the largest week-long jump in history.
Trump has said he wanted to get the country back to work by Easter Sunday, April 12, but this approach has been criticized as ignoring scientific advice for how to reduce infections, CNN's Stephen Collinson pointed out.
"If the White House were to relax the social distancing measures 'soon,' well ahead of the necessary timeline to have a significant impact on our view, it would raise the risk of increasing the peak or delaying the time to peak," a report issued Tuesday by investment bank Morgan Stanley warned.
Still, the U.S.'s new role as disease epicenter hasn't stopped Trump from touting a return to work in the near future.
"They [the American people] have to go back to work, our country has to go back, our country is based on that and I think it's going to happen pretty quickly," he said Thursday, according to BBC News. "We may take sections of our country, we may take large sections of our country that aren't so seriously affected and we may do it that way."
He said any return would still accommodate social distancing measures and promised more details next week.
Meanwhile, Keller of Johns Hopkins told The New York Times what the country had to do now that it had failed to prevent the spread of the disease.
"Now, all we can do is to slow the transmission as much as possible by hunkering down in our houses while, as a country, we ramp up production of personal protective equipment, materials needed for testing, and ventilators," she said.
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Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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