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The Morning Dispatch: Paycheck Protection, Part II
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The Morning Dispatch: Paycheck Protection, Part II

Plus, Trump makes the immigration pause official.

Happy Wednesday. Although we haven’t quite added 15.8 million subscribers this quarter like Netflix has, we continue to be amazed by the incredible response from our readers. Maybe if we film a documentary about Jonah learning to rear wild animals …

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As of Tuesday night, there are now 824,889 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States (a 4.8 percent increase from yesterday) and 45,042 deaths (a 6.4 percent increase from yesterday), according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, leading to a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 5.5 percent (the true mortality rate is likely much lower but it’s hard to determine precisely due to incomplete testing regimens). Of 4,155,178 coronavirus tests conducted in the United States, 19.9 percent have come back positive. There are 120,268 Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 complications (a 2.5 percent increase from yesterday), and 75,538 have recovered from the virus (a 3.8 percent increase from yesterday).

  • The Senate approved another $484 billion in spending to address the growing economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than $300 billion of that money will go toward replenishing the funding of the now-depleted Paycheck Protection Program; $75 billion is designated for hospitals and $25 billion for coronavirus testing.

  • The German city of Munich canceled this year’s Oktoberfest festival—scheduled to begin September 19—due to coronavirus concerns.

  • For reasons currently unknown, Rick Bright has abruptly left his position as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a government agency that plays a key role in vaccine development. Bright moves onto a new position in the National Institutes of Health and is succeeded at BARDA by his former deputy until a replacement can be found.

  • Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control, told the Washington Post the worst of the coronavirus could still be ahead. “There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” Redfield said. “We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time.”

  • The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommended doctors not use a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin—drugs previously touted by President Trump as showing lots of promise—in treating coronavirus patients. An NIH panel of experts warned that the combination of the two drugs is potentially toxic and associated with “QTc prolongation” in patients with COVID-19, which increases the risk of sudden cardiac death. The panel said there is “insufficient clinical data to recommend either for or against” the use of either drug by itself.

Congress Refills the Paycheck Protection Program

Five days after the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) ran out of money—and nearly two weeks since Republicans began warning it would—the Senate reached a deal to refill its coffers. The $484 billion legislation required compromise: Republicans backed off from their insistence on a “clean bill,” funding a series of non-PPP initiatives as well; Democrats settled for far less for hospitals and state and local governments than they had initially demanded. Because the Senate remains in recess, the bill passed by unanimous consent.

“I am just sorry that it took my colleagues in Democratic leadership 12 days to accept the inevitable,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday. “They shut down emergency support for Main Street in a search for partisan ‘leverage’ that never materialized.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, touted the concessions they were able to extract. “Democrats flipped this emergency package from an insufficient Republican plan that left behind hospitals and health and frontline workers and did nothing to aid the survival of the most vulnerable small businesses on Main Street,” the pair argued in a joint statement.

The original PPP blew through $350 billion in just two weeks. According to Treasury Department data, 1,661,367 loans—74 percent of which came in at $150,000 or less—were approved by 4,975 different lenders. The average loan disbursed was $206,000.

But for thousands of small businesses across the country, Tuesday’s agreement couldn’t have come soon enough. The PPP provided relief to 1.6 million companies, but countless others have struggled to break through. Only 20 percent of small businesses that applied for a PPP loan had money deposited into their account by April 17, according to a survey from the National Federation of Independent Business.

The ophthalmology practice of Dr. Mark Mazow—who was quoted in the Morning Dispatch a few Fridays back—is in the 80 percent. “I am in contact with physicians nationwide,” he told us in an email a few days ago. “None of my colleagues who had existing relationships with big banks such as [Bank of America], Wells Fargo, or, as in my case, Chase, got their loans funded by today when the well went dry. Everyone I know that did get funded went through a community bank.”

The owner of Pain & Wonder Tattoo Body Piercing in Athens, Georgia, reported something similar. “I filled out the form for Wells Fargo within 20 minutes of it launching and when they finally sent me an application, it was back to them within an hour and a half. And I’ll still be completely unlikely to get it,” she said. “The only banks that have been able to really support small businesses have been smaller local trusts.”

A collection of small businesses has filed class-action lawsuits against Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo over PPP loans. The suits allege each of the four banks “concealed from the public that [they were] reshuffling the PPP applications [they] received” to prioritize “the applications that would make the bank the most money.” JPMorgan Chase and U.S. Bank have denied the accusations. An Associated Press investigation found at least 94 publicly traded companies received PPP money; the Shake Shack burger chain made headlines this week announcing it would return the $10 million loan it had received.

Pelosi and Schumer said a combined $60 billion of the new PPP funding will be reserved for small and midsized banks and credit unions.

Asked if more money could be added to the PPP after this set of funding runs out, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters, “We would expect this is the last tranche, but obviously we can always reconsider that. But this is a lot of money going out.” He noted that Congress and the administration are already looking at what “Phase IV” coronavirus legislation could look like, floating infrastructure spending, a payroll tax cut, and money to support states’ budget deficits as possibilities. McConnell pumped the breaks on that, however, telling Politico, “You’ve seen the talk from both sides about acting, but my goal from the beginning of this, given the extraordinary numbers that we’re racking up to the national debt, is that we need to be as cautious as we can be.”

The House is set to vote on—and pass—the Senate-approved package Thursday.

The President’s 60-Day Pause on Immigration

The president is set to release the details of an executive order—one he announced via tweet on Monday night—barring most new immigration into the United States for the next 60 days. Early reports of the draft have said that it will block most new applicants from receiving permanent work visas, also known as green cards.

In his daily news briefing on Tuesday, Trump said, “by pausing immigration, we’ll help put unemployed Americans first in line for jobs as America reopens … It would be wrong and unjust for Americans laid off by the virus to be replaced with new immigrant labor flown in from abroad. We must first take care of the American workers.”

But the president also confirmed that there will be exemptions, which could include health care workers, seasonal farm workers, and family members. The administration may also “continue processing visas for temporary workers, the biggest source of immigration at the moment.” 

In the meantime, immigration has essentially already been at a standstill due to various coronavirus restrictions and it’s unclear whether today’s order will do substantially more to limit entry to the country in the near term. 

But the announcement has potential political ramifications as well. Immigration is still a wedge issue between the two parties, but the pandemic has shifted support in favor of a harder line against migration during the crisis. In a USA Today/Ipsos poll released last week, nearly 8 in 10 Americans supported a temporary stop in immigration from all other countries. Almost half now see large numbers of people moving from one country to another as a major threat to the United States. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden—the presumptive Democratic nominee for president—released a statement yesterday, saying that “rather than execute a swift and aggressive effort to ramp up testing, Donald Trump is tweeting incendiary rhetoric about immigrants in the hopes that he can distract everyone from the core truth: he’s moved too slowly to contain this virus, and we are all paying the price for it.”

Bill Gates, Boogeyman? 

As coronavirus lockdowns have dragged on, a growing chorus of voices on the right has begun to dissent from the notion that we should build our policy response on the recommendations of the nation’s pandemic experts.

Some argue the response has done damage to our individual liberties, that we are not taking into account the damage to the economy, or that is unjust to force millions of people to stay away from work.

Then there are those who take another tack, arguing we can’t trust the pandemic experts because they’re part of a globalist cabal that created the outbreak in order to seize control of the world’s health care system. Along with NIH director Dr. Anthony Fauci, these conspiracy theorists have seized on a prominent boogeyman: Microsoft founder and richest-man-in-the-world runner-up Bill Gates.

Unsurprisingly, this narrative is spurious. But it offers a fascinating case study in how explosive-sounding misinformation spreads online: relying on a stew of out-of-context half-truths, misleading data points, and bad-faith fabrications to create a plausible-sounding idea, then insisting that idea must be true since the “official” sources simply can’t be trusted.

Dispatch fact-checker Alec Dent went down just one of several potential rabbit holes of claims against Gates: Right-wing provocateur Candace Owens’s assertion that the billionaire “used African and Indian tribal children” as “human guinea pigs” for unapproved, dangerous treatments years ago, “paralyzing and infertilizing” them. It’s worth reading to see in real time how falsehoods crop up and then become ossified in a misleading narrative. Alec digs into an “academic review” Owens cites as her source, and he finds that it’s actually a student paper that relied on some blatant misreadings of stats. Read the rest of Alec’s piece here.

Worth Your Time

  • One of the biggest unknowns of the coronavirus pandemic remains how many people who never became critically ill have had the virus, and thus how far from developing “herd immunity” we remain. Dena Goffman and Desmond Sutton, two doctors working at the labor-and-delivery unit of New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, present one interesting data point in this piece for the Washington Post: In two weeks of universal screening of all patients in their unit, about 15 percent of patients tested positive for coronavirus, and around 88 percent of those women had no COVID-19 symptoms at all. “That means 13.5 of all our patients during this time were infected with the coronavirus but weren’t exhibiting symptoms. … We cannot say for sure how our findings apply to the general population because our group was made up of young, relatively healthy, pregnant women in an area of high virus prevalence. But this is one of the first opportunities to understand COVID-19, the disease the virus causes, in a somewhat random sample of the U.S. population.”

  • The endless outrage cycle of partisan incrimination and some politicians’ habits of pretending that Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia can make it tough to keep track of the actual narrative progress of a months-long event like the coronavirus outbreak. So allow us to point you in the direction of this helpful timeline by Tim Miller from The Bulwark, which lays out in minute detail exactly how quickly the federal government decided to get serious about the thing, and what they said when about it.

Something Ominous

The children are onto us.

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In his latest French Press, David takes on an article from Harvard prof Elizabeth Bartholet that argued that homeschooling is an undemocratic practice which exposes children to abuse and indoctrination and which should probably be illegal. David takes the thing apart from both the legal and moral perspectives. Read him do so here.

  • In a piece for the site, Jonah shares his disappointment with a recent episode of Radiolab, where guests were asked what advice they would pass on to whomever inherited the earth in the wake of cataclysm. It was a question originally posed by legendary physicist Richard Feynman to his students at Cal Tech. But instead of focusing on scientists, or doctors, or historians, the show focused on “stuff you’d read on the bulletin board outside the office of a women’s studies professor or maybe the school therapist.”

Let Us Know

We’ve talked before about how the coronavirus lockdown is an epochal event: one which, like 9/11 for kids two decades ago, will likely be the first big news event many of today’s youth will remember for the rest of their lives. What is the earliest major national event you remember, and how old were you when it happened? And, if you’re feeling chatty: How did it shape how you see politics today?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Alec Dent (@Alec_Dent), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).