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The Morning Dispatch: The Other Looming Health Care Disaster
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The Morning Dispatch: The Other Looming Health Care Disaster

Plus, a closer look at the Biden veepstakes.

Happy Thursday! We here at The Dispatch may not always see eye-to-eye on everything, but we’ll do our best never to threaten to sue each other over those disagreements.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As of Wednesday night, there are now 1,039,909 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States (an increase of 27,326/2.7 percent since yesterday) and 60,967 deaths (an increase of 2,612/4.5 percent increase since yesterday), according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, leading to a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 5.9 percent (the true mortality rate is likely much lower, but it’s impossible to determine precisely due to incomplete testing regimens). Of 6,026,170 coronavirus tests conducted in the United States (230,442 conducted since yesterday), 17.3 percent have come back positive. Meanwhile, 120,720 have recovered from the virus (an increase of 4,7284/4.1 percent since yesterday). 

  • Johns Hopkins changed how it is presenting hospitalization data to account for patchwork reporting approaches across states, but, as the COVID Tracking Project writes, “it is impossible to assemble anything resembling the real statistics for hospitalizations.” Until these discrepancies are addressed, we’ll discontinue including that figure here.

  • The coronavirus pandemic led the U.S. economy to shrink at a 4.8 percent annual rate last quarter, the first quarterly decline in six years and the worst drop since the 2008 recession. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated GDP will contract at a 40 percent annual rate this coming quarter.

  • While 26.4 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the outset of the pandemic, a new survey indicates job losses are even greater. The Economic Policy Institute’s report found that, for every 10 people who successfully filed for unemployment benefits in recent weeks, three to four more tried and failed.

  • Remdesivir—an antiviral drug from Gilead—was shown to modestly improve COVID-19 patient recovery time in a federal trial. “The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said. “What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus.”

  • The Trump administration is working on a plan to develop and distribute a coronavirus vaccine in record time, seeking to have 300 million vaccine doses ready by January. The project—Operation Warp Speed—would require the production of a variety of vaccines at scale before they are proven to be safe and/or effective, but could shave up to eight months off delivery timetables.

  • A new Washington Post/University of Maryland poll found that two-thirds of Americans continue to support their states’ restrictions on businesses and restaurants to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Another 16 percent said their state’s restrictions are not tight enough, while 17 percent said they are too restrictive. Sixty-five percent of respondents supported temporarily blocking nearly all immigration into the United States.

What About The Other Doctors?

In recent weeks, we’ve focused on how well America’s health care system has responded to the damage wrought by the novel coronavirus. But unfortunately, we Americans haven’t stopped suffering and dying of all the same things that were afflicting us before this pandemic came along. So another important question is: How well is the rest of America’s vast health care industry—specifically, the non-COVID portion—holding up under the pressure? 

The short answer is: not very well. While our federal response has done a respectable job getting resources into the hands of the frontline virus fighters as quickly as possible, it’s been far less successful at ensuring the rest of the nation’s doctors remain secure. In fact, as a raft of state orders have put a total freeze on elective medical procedures across the nation to brace for a nationwide crisis-level outbreak, it’s many of the places with the least amount of COVID that are struggling the hardest to stay afloat. Andrew dug into this dilemma for a piece up on the site today.

Take Michigan and New York. Both states’ governors have issued aggressive COVID-19 responses designed to blunt serious outbreaks in each state’s biggest city: New York City and Detroit. But the postponement of all non-critical procedures has been a severe blow to the hospitals outside the COVID blast zone: They’re not overrun with coronavirus, but they’re not allowed to do the lion’s share of their regular work either. 

For many rural hospitals, which operate on razor-thin margins even in fat times, a lengthy postponement of elective surgeries—the most profitable line item on most hospitals’ balance sheets—is an extinction-level event. 

“It’s going to have grave consequences for many hospitals around Michigan,” JJ Hodshire, the CEO of rural Hillsdale Hospital in south Michigan, told The Dispatch. Just six weeks of the freeze has cost the hospital roughly $10 million, about a tenth of which has been recouped through federal aid. “We cannot dip that far into our cash reserves to sustain the model without significant mass layoffs beyond the ones I’ve already done,” Hodshire said. A few months more and the hospital might have to close down for good. 

Private practices are no better off. Family doctors and specialists are having to weather the same freeze, plus one additional difficulty: They don’t qualify for any of the CARES Act’s hospital funds, and instead are forced to scrap with the rest of the nation’s small businesses for a cut of the depleted PPP fund. 

“You know, I’m a doctor. I don’t know anything about that kind of stuff. Nobody said to us, ‘You should be applying for this immediately,’” one Maryland cardiologist said. “I talked to my lawyer yesterday: Hey, what if I go bankrupt? Is my house going to go? If I decide I’m going to go bankrupt, and I can’t pay my lease anymore, and I’ve got to give my practice up—how much can they take from me?”

Biden’s VP List Isn’t Getting Any Shorter

During an online fundraising event last night, former Vice President Joe Biden told donors that he was considering “maybe announcing not the whole Cabinet, but some,” in advance of the election this November. That Cabinet, he said, could potentially include Republicans. In the meantime, speculation over who Biden might pick as his running mate is reaching a fever pitch, and the list doesn’t seem to be winnowing.

There are former candidates who have been tested on the national stage, such as Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar. There are the swing state options: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and Florida Rep. Val Demings. Disabled military veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth is a viable alternative. Stacey Abrams, Rep. Barbara Lee, or Rep. Ayanna Pressley could bring along the progressive base.

One looming question has been whether Biden’s pick should be not just a woman, but a woman of color. South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn—the No. 3 Democrat in the House, whose endorsement of Biden all but catapulted the former vice president to the nomination—told NBC yesterday, “I’m among those who feel that it would be great for him to select a woman of color. But that is not a must.”

Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright, however, doesn’t agree. “I am solely convinced that a black woman should be top priority for the vice presidential pick because you will find no more loyal constituency in the country than African American women,” he told The Dispatch. “Not only are they engaged in persuading African American voters, but they also can go across constituency lines to engage other voters and motivate other voters to turn out.”

Democratic strategist Max Burns told The Dispatch that Biden should pick a running mate who can unite the Democrat base around a single issue: GOP-led voter suppression. “That makes Stacey Abrams the logical choice, since Biden needs someone who can convincingly go and fire up people about this issue,” Burns said. “And no one knows it better than Abrams right now.” 

On the other hand, Burns also sees the Harris train picking up speed. “[Sen.] Harris’ skill at the horsetrading aspect of politics could come in handy,” he said. “She’s much closer to Biden ideologically than Abrams, and her people are mounting a smart insider campaign.”

But a woman of color may not be the only option. New York Times national politics reporter Astead Herndon suggested that Biden could minimize the backlash from picking a white woman if, for example, he “announces Klobuchar for VP and Harris for AG at the same time.”

Emerging details about sexual assault allegations from former Biden staffer Tara Reade may also play a role in the pick. Rebecca Traister—columnist at The Cut—is concerned that if Biden picks a woman from the progressive base of the party, “these women wind up imperiling themselves by getting tied to him and the mess of his historical shortcomings, often on exactly the issues that have driven them into politics.” And while having a known progressive on the ticket may be encouraging to those who didn’t support Biden in the primary, she warns, “if we get that progressive voice, she will immediately be damaged via her association with the nominee.”

Worth Your Time

  • You’ve probably heard the phrase “contact tracing” bandied about quite a bit in recent weeks. Whenever we do move forward with reopening in earnest, you’ll hear it even more. But what exactly does it mean? This podcast from NPR Boston—featuring Andy Slavitt, Caitlin Rivers, and Andy Greenberg—explains.

  • This is a wild story from Rosalind Adams and Ken Bensinger at BuzzFeed News. “On March 27, as emergency rooms in New York and across the country began filling with coronavirus patients struggling to breathe, President Donald Trump posted on Twitter to urge Ford and General Motors to ‘START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!’ One of the thousands of replies that the tweet attracted struck an equally urgent tone: ‘We can supply ICU Ventilators, invasive and noninvasive. Have someone call me URGENT.’ Its author was Yaron Oren-Pines, an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley. A specialist in mobile phone technology, he currently has just 75 followers on Twitter and no apparent experience in government contracting or medical devices. But three days later, New York state paid Oren-Pines $69.1 million. The payment was for 1,450 ventilators—at an astonishing $47,656 per ventilator, at least triple the standard retail price of high-end models. Not a single ventilator ever arrived.” A New York state official told Buzzfeed News, “New York entered into the contract with Oren-Pines at the direct recommendation of the White House coronavirus task force.”

  • You may have gotten your Justin Amash fill in yesterday’s Morning Dispatch (and we wouldn’t blame you if you had!), but in case you’re yearning for more: Matt Welch—friend of The Dispatch and editor-at-large at Reason Magazinecaught up with the newfound candidate on a host of issues. Why did he wait so long to announce? Who does he think he’ll pull more votes from? How does he square his libertarianism with his pro-life stance? 

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Something Starchy

Toeing the Company Line

  • Jonah’s latest G-File certainly got readers’ juices flowing—either in robust agreement or anything but. In it, he argues that, when it comes to the allegations facing Joe Biden, two wrongs may not make a right. “Are you outraged by the media’s ideologically motivated mishandling of the Kavanaugh case,” he writes, “or are you outraged that they didn’t similarly mishandle the Biden case out of some misguided notion of ‘balance?’”

  • In his Vital Interests newsletter (🔒), Thomas Joscelyn explores how China’s repression of its Muslim minority may drive more people to al-Qaeda and ISIS. “The TIP regularly releases videos decrying the CCP’s campaign in Xinjiang. ISIS—which has its own contingent of Uighur jihadists—has increasingly highlighted the CCP’s actions in its weekly Al-Naba newsletter. These propaganda efforts are intended to portray jihadist organizations as legitimate outlets for Uighur anger.”

  • The Dispatch Podcast this week features the gang discussing Justin Amash’s move towards a third-party presidential run, the sexual misconduct allegation against Joe Biden, and round two of the paycheck protection program. Download and subscribe here!

Let Us Know

We doubt the Biden campaign is perusing our comment section looking for political strategy, but hey, you never know! Who should Biden choose as his running mate, and why?

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

Photograph by Wodicka/ullstein bild/Getty Images.