Pandemic responses: Coronavirus deaths climb as Trump stays silent on aid
COVID casualties are piling up and the jobless are struggling to survive, but Trump's lips are sealed when it comes to getting any kind of aid. | AP

WASHINGTON—In yet more evidence the nation’s ruling Republicans are fiddling while Rome burns, so to speak, the U.S. on Dec. 2 hit its highest number of daily deaths from the coronavirus yet—2,804. The number of people hospitalized with coronavirus also shattered a record, soaring past 100,000 for the first time.

The modern-day plague’s economic depression continued, too. More than 20 million jobless aid checks went out through mid-November, the government reported.

But despite the thousands of dead on Dec. 2 and the almost 200,000 new positive cases the same day—and despite at least 13 million jobless workers facing the cut off of federal aid on Dec. 26, if not before—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will only let lawmakers vote on an aid package GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump would sign. And lame-duck Trump shut up.

Worse, McConnell declared on the Senate floor, any aid package must still include his pet provision barring workers and customers from suing companies that don’t protect them from the coronavirus from now through at least 2024.

Those depressing developments in the continuing war against the coronavirus left U.S. House Democrats, who twice passed the coronavirus aid Heroes Act only to see McConnell kill it both times, bargaining with themselves. The latest offer: A $908 billion package a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both Houses unveiled.

That measure includes $160 billion for states and cities, who have seen their revenues tank and had to lay off more than a million workers since the depression began. They need at least three times as much, their officials say.

It also includes $82 million to aid schools in reopening, again far short of what teachers and their unions say they need. And there would be $188 billion in jobless benefits, with $300 weekly federal aid checks for workers, not the up to $600 weekly that came with the Cares Act earlier in the pandemic. And, a fact sheet shows, it includes McConnell’s lawsuit ban.

It’s also a far cry even from this “moderate” coalition’s own prior offer of $1.5 trillion before the November election.

All the inaction irks AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, among others.

“COVID-19 is out of control in America,” Trumka said. “And while hospitals across the country fill up and many unemployed workers struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel, our president remains obsessed with overturning the democratic will of the American people,” via unsuccessful lawsuits and baseless claims that the November election was fraudulent.

“Trump’s allies in Congress are no better, having been led by McConnell in a six-month exercise of foot-dragging. The American people can’t wait until Inauguration Day to tackle this virus and the economic devastation it is causing. The Senate needs to pass the Heroes Act now.”

And the depressing data keeps piling up.

The 2,804 deaths on Dec. 2 bring the total U.S. death toll to over 273,000 people so far. The cumulative number of people testing positive since the pandemic was officially declared in March has passed 14 million.

That doesn’t count the tens of thousands of others who may well have caught the virus between December and March, as it is now believed COVID-19 was circulating in the U.S. months earlier than previously believed. The federal Centers for Disease Control recently reported on its website that it found virus evidence in blood samples stretching back at least into December 2019—but then took the report down.

On the jobs front, meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 1,002,525 people sought new federal or state jobless benefits in the week ending on Thanksgiving, down from 1,155,132 the week before. And through Nov. 14, BLS said, 20,163,477 state or federal benefit checks were being sent out, though there may be gaps in that data.

Add all three numbers together, though, and 22,321,134 benefit checks were sent out or being sought, as of Nov. 28. That’s 15.2% of the U.S. workforce.

“Senate Republicans allowed the across-the-board $600 [federal] increase in weekly unemployment insurance benefits to expire at the end of July, so last week was the 18th week of unemployment in this pandemic for which recipients did not get the extra $600,” Economic Policy Institute Policy Director Heidi Shierholz said.

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CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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