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Internal Emails Reveal High-Ranking Trump Administration Officials Were Warned About Lack of PPE Safety Gear Early On

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A high-ranking federal official in late February warned that the United States needed to plan for not having enough personal protective equipment for medical workers as they began to battle the novel coronavirus, according to internal emails obtained by Kaiser Health News.

The messages provide a sharp contrast to President Donald Trump’s statements at the time that the threat the coronavirus posed to the American public remained “very low.” In fact, concerns were already mounting, the emails show, that medical workers and first responders would not have enough masks, gloves, face shields and other supplies, known as PPE, to protect themselves against infection when treating COVID-19 patients.

The emails, part of a lengthy chain titled “Red Dawn Breaking Bad,” includes senior officials across the Department of Veterans Affairs, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as outside academics and some state health officials. KHN obtained the correspondence through a public records request in King County, Washington, where officials struggled as the virus set upon a nursing home in the Seattle area, eventually killing 37 people. It was the scene of the first major outbreak in the nation.

“We should plan assuming we won’t have enough PPE — so need to change the battlefield and how we envision or even define the front lines,” Dr. Carter Mecher, a physician and senior medical adviser at the Department of Veterans Affairs, wrote on Feb. 25. It would be weeks before front-line health workers would take to social media with the hashtag #GetMePPE and before health systems would appeal to the public to donate protective gear.

In the email, Mecher said confirmed-positive patients should be categorized under two groups with different care models for each: those with mild symptoms should be encouraged to stay home under self-isolation, while more serious patients should go to hospital emergency rooms.

“The demand is rising and there is no guarantee that we can continue with the supply since the supply-chain has been disrupted,” Eva Lee, director of the Center for Operations Research in Medicine and HealthCare at Georgia Tech and a former health scientist at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, wrote that same day citing shortages of personal protective equipment and medical supplies. “I do not know if we have enough resources to protect all frontline providers.”

Reached on Saturday, Lee said she isn’t sure who saw the message trail but “what I want is that we take action because at the end of the day we need to save patients and health care workers.”

Mecher, also reached Saturday, said the emails were an “an informal group of us who have known each other for years exchanging information.” He said concerns aired at the time on medical protective gear were top of mind for most people in health care. More than 35 people were on the email chain, many of them high-ranking government officials.

The same day Mecher and others raised the concern in the messages, Trump made remarks to a business roundtable group in New Delhi, India.

“We think we’re in very good shape in the United States,” he said, noting that the U.S. closed the borders to some areas. “Let’s just say we’re fortunate so far.  And we think it’s going to remain that way.”

The White House declined to comment. In a statement, VA press secretary Christina Mandreucci said, “All VA facilities are equipped with essential items and supplies to handle additional coronavirus cases, and the department is continually monitoring the status of those items to ensure a robust supply chain.”

Doctors and other front-line medical workers in the weeks since have escalated concerns about shortages of medical gear, voicing alarm about the need to protect themselves, their families and patients against COVID-19, which as of Saturday evening had sickened more than 121,000 in the United States and killed at least 2,000.

As Mecher and others sent emails about growing PPE concerns, HHS Secretary Alex Azar testified to lawmakers that the U.S. had 30 million N95 respirator masks stockpiled but needed 300 million to combat the outbreak. Some senior U.S. government officials were also warning the public to not buy masks for themselves to conserve the supply for health care providers.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted on Feb. 29: “Seriously people – STOP BUYING MASKS!  They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”

Still, on Feb. 27, the FDA in a statement said that officials were not aware of widespread shortages of equipment.

“We are aware of reports from CDC and other U.S. partners of increased ordering of a range of human medical products through distributors as some healthcare facilities in the U.S. are preparing for potential needs if the outbreak becomes severe,” the agency said.

Simultaneously, Trump downplayed the risk of the novel coronavirus to the American public even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was warning it was only a matter of time before it would spread across the country. On Feb. 29, the CDC also updated its strategies for health workers to optimize supplies of N95 masks.

An HHS spokesperson said Saturday the department has been in “an all-out effort to mobilize America’s capacity” for personal protective equipment and other supplies, including allowing the use of industrial N95 respirators in health care settings and awarding contracts to several private manufacturers to buy roughly 600 million masks over the next 18 months.

“Health care supply chains are private-sector-driven,” the spokesperson said. “The federal role is to support that work, coordinate information across the industry and with state or local agencies if needed during emergencies, and drive manufacturing demand as best we can.”

The emails from King County officials and others in Washington state also show growing concern about the exposure of health care workers to the virus, as well as a view into local officials’ attempts to get help from the CDC.

In one instance, local medical leaders were alarmed that paramedics and other emergency personnel were possibly exposed after encountering confirmed-positive patients at the Life Care Center of Kirkland, the Seattle-area nursing home where roughly three dozen people have died because of the virus.

“We are having a very serious challenge related to hospital exposures and impact on the health care system,” Dr. Jeff Duchin, the public health officer for Seattle and King County, wrote in a different email to CDC officials March 1. Duchin pleaded for a field team to test exposed health care workers and additional support.

Duchin’s email came hours after a physician at UW Medicine wrote about being “very concerned” about exposed workers at multiple hospitals and their attempts to isolate infected workers.

“I suspect that we will not be able to follow current CDC [recommendations] for exposed HCWs [health care workers] either,” wrote Dr. John Lynch, medical director of employee health for Harborview Medical Center and associate professor of Medicine and Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the University of Washington. “As you migh [sic] imagine, I am very concerned about the hospitals at this point.”

Those concerns have been underscored with an unusual weekend statement from Dr. Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association, which represents doctors, calling on Saturday for more coordination of needed medical supplies.

“At this critical moment, a unified effort is urgently needed to identify gaps in the supply of and lack of access to PPE necessary to fight COVID-19,” the statement says. “Physicians stand ready to provide urgent medical care on the front lines in a pandemic crisis. But their need for protective gear is equally urgent and necessary.”

Image via Shutterstock

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Criminal Charges Against Trump Possible as Manhattan DA Presents Grand Jury With Evidence in Hush Money Probe

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Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has empaneled a special grand jury and prosecutors are now presenting evidence against Donald Trump in their revived investigation into hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and one other woman during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Calling it “a dramatic escalation of an inquiry that once appeared to have reached a dead end,” The New York Times reports the Manhattan DA is “laying the groundwork for potential criminal charges against the former president in the coming months,” and says it “a clear signal” that Bragg “is nearing a decision about whether to charge Mr. Trump.”

Among the witnesses testifying is David Pecker, “the former publisher of The National Enquirer, the tabloid that helped broker the deal” with Daniels.

READ MORE: $1 Billion Campaign From Group ‘Linked to Staunchly Conservative Causes’ Will Try to ‘Redeem Jesus’ Brand’ in Super Bowl Ads

Prosecutors have also contacted members of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and have subpoenaed phone records and other documents that could provide evidence.

But The Times notes that a “conviction is not a sure thing, in part because a case could hinge on showing that Mr. Trump and his company falsified records to hide the payout from voters days before the 2016 election, a low-level felony charge that would be based on a largely untested legal theory. The case would also rely on the testimony of Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer who made the payment and who himself pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the hush money in 2018.”

Cohen broke with Trump and in 2016, “made the extraordinary admission in court on Tuesday that Mr. Trump had directed him to arrange payments to two women during the 2016 campaign to keep them from speaking publicly about affairs they said they had with Mr. Trump,” The Times reported in 2018.

The payments were made “for the principal purpose of influencing the election” for president in 2016, Cohen testified.

He was sentenced to 36 months in prison.

“Days before then-President Donald Trump left the White House, federal prosecutors in New York discussed whether to potentially charge Trump with campaign finance crimes once he was out of office,” CNN reported on Friday, citing a new book from CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig.

But they “decided to not seek an indictment of Trump for several reasons, Honig writes, including the political ramifications and the fact that Trump’s other scandals, such as efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and the January 6, 2021, insurrection, ‘made the campaign finance violations seem somehow trivial and outdated by comparison.'”

Award-winning journalist and author Brian Karem tweeted: “As someone who worked extensively with [Michael Cohen] on the book ‘Revenge’ I can say this: Facts show that the MOST dangerous criminal case against Donald Trump could be made by the Manhattan D.A.”

Read The Times’ full report here.

This article has been updated to include Brian Karem’s tweet.

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$1 Billion Campaign From Group ‘Linked to Staunchly Conservative Causes’ Will Try to ‘Redeem Jesus’ Brand’ in Super Bowl Ads

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From electric vehicles to cosmetics, and even the word “mummy,” there is a lot of rebranding going on.

Bowing to anger from right-wingers and conservative commentators, M&M’s decided to rebrand the decades-old multi-colored candies after outrage over its latest addition, purple, and its new “spokescandy,” also named “Purple.”

“Roughly a year ago, Mars Wrigley updated the look of its M&M’s characters, announcing an initiative to make the mascots fit a ‘more dynamic, progressive world.’ As part of these changes, the company introduced new designs of some of M&M’s characters and wrote weirdly elaborate backstories for others. Most notably, the company made the green M&M less ‘sexy’ by shortening her legs and replacing her high-heeled boots with sneakers,” Vox Media’s Polygon reported last week.

Fox News personality Tucker Carlson infamously has waged war on the “woke” spokescandies, declaring at one point, “M&M’s will not be satisfied until every last cartoon character is deeply unappealing and totally androgynous.”

Fast forward to now: Actress and comedian Maya Rudolph is their new spokesperson, although the “spokescandies,” perhaps after some additional rebranding, will be returning in a new ad on Super Bowl Sunday.

Which brings us to the rebranding of another icon: Jesus Christ.

He too will be part of the Super Bowl Sunday ads.

READ MORE: Trump-Aligned Christian Nationalist Group ‘Taps Into Unholy Well’ That Threatens Democracy

Over the next three years a $1 billion mostly-dark-money campaign – which reportedly will include funds from billionaire right wing anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ funder David Green, the founder of Hobby Lobby – will promote Jesus in ads, including during the Super Bowl on February 12. Those two Super Bowl ads to “to redeem Jesus’ brand” will cost $20 million, Religion News Service reports.

The campaign to promote Jesus includes $100 million in ads declaring “He Gets Us,” from “the Servant Foundation, an Overland Park, Kansas, nonprofit that does business as The Signatry,” RNS adds.

The “donors backing the campaign have until recently remained anonymous — in early 2022, organizers only told Religion News Service that funding came from ‘like-minded families who desire to see the Jesus of the Bible represented in today’s culture with the same relevance and impact He had 2000 years ago.'”

But the full list of donors remains unknown.

“Jason Vanderground, president of Haven, a branding firm based in Grand Haven, Michigan, that is working on the ‘He Gets Us’ campaign, confirmed that the Greens are one of the major funders, among a variety of donors and families who have gotten behind it.”

READ MORE: Pelosi Attack Video Release Leads to Criticism of Musk, Right Wingers Who ‘Trafficked in Homophobic Conspiracy Nonsense’

In a Washington Post interview last year, Vanderground “said Christians see their faith as the greatest love story, but those outside the faith see Christians as a hate group.”

But rather than try to convince self-identified followers of Christ to act as Jesus would want, right-wing interests are spending $1 billion to convince others of what Christianity is supposed to be about.

“Our research shows that many people’s only exposure to Jesus is through Christians who reflect him imperfectly, and too often in ways that create a distorted or incomplete picture of his radical compassion and love for others,” Vanderground told The Washington Post. “We believe it’s more important now than ever for the real, authentic Jesus to be represented in the public marketplace as he is in the Bible.”

Some are not impressed, and are more-or-less asking, “What would Jesus do?”

“They are latching on to this touchy-feely, conveniently vague, designer Jesus,” podcaster, author, and secular activist Seth Andrews told RNS. Andrews “poses the question of what Jesus would think of the amount of money spent on the ads. Would he prefer that the money be spent on ministering to people’s physical needs or making the world a better place?”

READ MORE: McCarthy Sat for an Interview With Trump Jr. – One Bragged About an ‘Illegal’ Act, One Wished His Dad Would ‘Show Some’ Love

“Or would he say, no, go ahead and spend $100 million to tell everybody how great I am?”

On-air, CNN said, “at first blush, it can all read like a stand against radical right-wing politics and related divisiveness,” but adds that “some are calling this a ‘right-wing stunt for politics.'”

“‘He Gets Us’ is funded by anonymous donors acting through a Kansas non-profit linked to staunchly conservative causes,” CNN’s report (video below) notes, saying it “raises alarms for some skeptics.”

Watch CNN’s report below or at this link.

Image: Romolo Tavani/Shutterstock

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Fort Worth ISD Drops Sex Ed Despite $2.6 Million Purchase of Materials in April

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Fort Worth ISD students will not take sex education this school year after the superintendent told parents she is scrapping plans to adopt a controversial curriculum that the district appears to have purchased last year for nearly $2.6 million.

Superintendent Angélica Ramsey made the announcement at the end of her weekly newsletter sent Jan. 27. She told parents the district is restarting its curriculum adoption process. For nearly a year, administrators planned to re-adopt instructional materials from California-based HealthSmart.

In April, the Fort Worth ISD school board approved a nearly $2.6 million purchase of new digital-only instructional materials from HealthSmart. Trustees did not discuss the purchase. The purchase was part of the consent agenda, a list of items considered routine that can be approved in one motion.

District spokesperson Claudia Garibay did not respond to a dozen questions from the Fort Worth Report by publication time.

Angélica Ramsey, the new Fort Worth ISD superintendent, talks to reporters after the school board hired her during a special meeting on Sept. 20, 2022. (Jacob Sanchez | Fort Worth Report)

“There is not an approved, adopted or recommended Human Sexuality Curriculum for the 2022-23 school year. The delay will suspend the instructional delivery of the sexual education unit for the 2022-23 school year,” Ramsey wrote to parents.

Students whose parents opt them into sex education were expected to take the course later in spring semester, according to the district. Consent forms had a due date of Feb. 28.

The School Health Advisory Council — the school board-appointed, 26-member committee reviewing sex education — is expected to examine different options for Fort Worth ISD’s next curriculum, Ramsey said.

Ramsey’s announcement comes after a Jan. 24 school board meeting that saw dozens of residents and parents speak out against the HealthSmart curriculum, which the district has used since 2014. The Report filed an open records request for the proposed curriculum.

Fort Worth ISD bought HealthSmart’s instructional materials for all grade levels. Sex education is included in lessons for middle school and high school, according to HealthSmart.

State law requires school board members to make decisions on sex education curriculum, the Texas Education Agency told the Report.

‘Superintendent inherited a situation’

State Board of Education member Pat Hardy wants to see Fort Worth ISD succeed. However, as she watched the district attempt to adopt HealthSmart, she did not see administrators being transparent nor working with parents enough to make an informed decision, she told the Report.

Pat Hardy is a member of the State Board of Education. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Hardy, a Republican who represents west Tarrant County, criticized Fort Worth ISD’s sex education curriculum adoption in a recent opinion article. All Fort Worth ISD needed to do was follow the process outlined in state law, Hardy said.

Hardy blamed Fort Worth ISD’s previous leadership for its sex education issues. Ramsey has been superintendent since late September; she replaced Kent Scribner.

“The superintendent inherited a situation that was going on before she got here,” Hardy said.

Hardy praised Ramsey for telling parents her plans to get Fort Worth ISD’s next sex education curriculum right and to follow state law.

“My hat’s off to her,” Hardy said.

What has happened, so far

New sex education curriculum standards were introduced in 2020. Without state-aligned materials, Fort Worth ISD cannot teach sex education.

What is the process for adopting a sex education curriculum?

Texas law and Fort Worth ISD school board policy detail the process for adopting new instructional materials for sex education. Here’s what the district’s policy, which aligns with state law, says:

The following process shall apply regarding the adoption of curriculum materials for the district’s human sexuality instruction:

  1. The school board shall adopt a resolution convening the district’s school health advisory council to recommend curriculum materials for the instruction.
  2. The advisory council shall hold at least two public meetings on the curriculum materials before adopting recommendations to present to the board.
  3. The advisory council recommendations must comply with the instructional content requirements in law, be suitable for the subject and grade level for which the materials are intended, and be reviewed by academic experts in the subject and grade level for which the materials are intended.
  4. The advisory council shall present its recommendations to the Board at a public meeting.
  5. After the school board ensures the recommendations from the advisory council meet the standards in law, the board shall take action on the recommendations by a record vote at a public meeting.

Texas school districts are not required to teach sex education. Districts that choose to do so are required to have parents opt their students into the course.

The State Board of Education recommended school districts use sex education curriculum for middle school students from publisher Goodheart-Wilcox. However, the state board did not make it mandatory.

In early January, the school board stopped the School Health Advisory Council’s review of sex education curriculum.

At that same meeting, trustees also rescinded a December resolution directing the council to officially convene and hold two public meetings before offering a curriculum recommendation. When trustees OK’d the resolution in December, its agenda item had the wrong title. It was “approve resolution concerning implementation and enforcement of school safety measures.” District officials blamed the mistake on a clerical error.

The School Health Advisory Council worked on recommending HealthSmart to the school board since September. Garibay described that work as “informational,” according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Two public meetings were held Sept. 6 and 7. Agendas for those meetings were not publicly available Jan. 26, and no minutes were posted. On Oct. 12, the School Health Advisory Council voted to recommend the proposed sex education curriculum to the school board, according to minutes of the meeting.

However, school board records show trustees did not consider a resolution convening the School Health Advisory Council to begin the sex education review process. The resolution is the first step toward adopting a new curriculum, according to board policy.

Another meeting was held Nov. 5 when 15 new council members, who were appointed in October, participated for the first time. The council again voted to recommend the curriculum; minutes of the meeting were not available on the district’s site.

No complaints about Fort Worth ISD’s sex education curriculum have been filed with TEA, according to agency officials.

For the past few months, Hardy has heard from her constituents about Fort Worth ISD. Most of the comments, she said, focus on one thing the district should be doing: Be transparent.

“They’re tired of things not coming to the forefront,” Hardy said. “They just want Fort Worth ISD to be honest.”

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

 

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