Trump says coronavirus task force will wind down as focus shifts to reopening

UNTV News   •   May 6, 2020   •   225

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday (May 5) the White House coronavirus task force would wind down as the country moves into a second phase of dealing with the aftermath of the outbreak.

“Mike Pence and the task force have done a great job,” Trump said during a visit to a mask factory in Arizona. “But we’re now looking at a little bit of a different form and that form is safety and opening and we’ll have a different group probably set up for that.”

Asked if he was proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” in the fight against coronavirus, Trump said, “No, not at all. The mission accomplished is when it’s over.”

Trump said Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, doctors who assumed a high profile during weeks of nationally televised news briefings, would remain advisers after the group is dismantled. Fauci leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Birx was response coordinator for the force.

“We can’t keep our country closed for the next five years,” Trump said, when asked why it was time to wind down the task force.

At least 70,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes. The U.S. death toll is the highest in the world.

Trump placed Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the task force, which has been meeting almost every day since it was formed in March.

Most experts have suggested clinical trials to guarantee a vaccine is safe and effective could take a minimum of 12 to 18 months.

The White House task force has been less visible in recent days as Trump turned his attention to efforts to reopen the U.S. economy. It did not meet on Monday or Saturday.

Trump made the comments during a visit to the Honeywell International Inc aerospace facility in Phoenix, a factory that is now making protective face masks.

Before touring the factory, he met with Native American tribal leaders and signed a proclamation “officially recognizing the grave issue of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.” (Reuters)

(Production: Katharine Jackson)

Boston Marathon cancelled for first time in its history

UNTV News   •   May 29, 2020

The Boston Marathon, originally scheduled to be held in April and then postponed until September because of the COVID-19 pandemic, has now been cancelled for the first time in its history, organisers said on Thursday (May 28).

The race, held annually since 1897, is the world’s most prestigious marathon and generally draws over 30,000 runners from all over the world.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced that the race, whose field attracts decorated professionals and Olympians to amateur runners, was not feasible this year due to the pandemic.

“While our goal and our hope is to make progress in containing the virus and recovering our economy, this kind of event would not be responsible or realistic on September 14 or any time this year,” Walsh said at a live news conference in Boston.

The 26.2-mile race (42km), which extends from the suburb of Hopkinton to downtown Boston, is the first of the six World Marathon Majors to be cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak, which brought live sports to a standstill in mid-March.

The Tokyo Marathon went ahead on March 1 with elite runners only, London was postponed to Oct. 4 from April 26 and Berlin organisers said the race will not got ahead in September but did not specify if it would be postponed or cancelled altogether.

The Chicago Marathon and New York City Marathon have not announced any changes to hold their events in October and November, respectively.

The 2021 Boston Marathon is scheduled for April 19. (Reuters)

(Production: David Grip)

Misery in America as coronavirus death toll exceeds 100,000

UNTV News   •   May 28, 2020

The United States reached a grim milestone on Wednesday (May 27) as the coronavirus death toll exceeded 100,000 people, amid the ongoing global scramble to contain the virus and find a vaccine.

Currently, the death toll for coronavirus cases across the United States stands at 100,008 people, according to a Reuters tally.

The loss has largely hit urban areas, especially New York, with elderly people and minorities disproportionately affected.

On the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, nurses and doctors are caring for the living. But there is another front line of those caring for the dead.

Funeral homes in New York are chaotic and overwhelmed. It can be weeks before bodies are embalmed or buried.

Most COVID-19 victims die alone, and when they die, their families are told to quarantine. The women try to find ways for them to say goodbye.

“I don’t want to apologize because I am doing the absolute best I can, but if it’s not good enough, I am sorry. Like, deeply sorry,” says 25-year-old resident funeral director of the International Funeral & Cremation Services Funeral Home Lily Sage.

In early May U.S. President Donald Trump offered his condolences from the Rose Garden in the White House. “We mourn for every life the virus has claimed,” he said. “And we share the grief of all of you who have lost a loved one.”

For medical workers that grief can be overwhelming.

The shifts are long and the scenes are heartbreaking inside a Maryland hospital where nurses and doctors have been treating coronavirus patients for weeks, unable to let family inside to visit loved ones on their death beds.

One of the hardest moments of a recent work day for Biocontainment Nurse Tiffany Fare was, “having to see a family member of a COVID patient, say goodbye over an iPad rooms away.”

At an event in Pennsylvania in mid-May Trump hailed the work of medical workers. “They are warriors…they are running into death, just like soldiers run into bullets,” he said. “It is incredible to see, it’s a beautiful thing to see.

Dr. Erick Eiting, Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s emergency department medical director in New York, has been at the center of the storm aiding patients, whose ages range from people in their 20s to their 80s, as they discover new symptoms and evolving treatments. He said the hospital’s visitor policy was recently changed so that novel coronavirus patients nearing the end of their lives don’t have to die alone.

“That’s one of the most tragic pieces of this disease, is because it’s so contagious, that people do end up just dying alone,” he said on one overnight shift.

As bodies pour out of hospitals, 28-year-old Alix Monteleone, has a seat at the front line from the window of her third-floor Brooklyn apartment. “We see it and we’re like, this is very serious,” she told Reuters.

Refrigerated trucks have fanned out across the city to process the pile up of corpses. Their stops include the parking lot right below her window to serve the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center.

“This is very real. And we’re seeing so much chaos manifest outside of our home that we can’t imagine how bad it is inside. You know, we stopped counting how many bodies came out,” Monteleone said.

It was at this time in April that Trump once again offered his assurances. “We’re going to have a rough week. We’re going to have maybe a rough a little more than a week. But there’s tremendous light at the end of that tunnel.”

Early data from U.S. states show African Americans are more likely to die from COVID-19, highlighting long-standing disparities in health and inequalities in access to medical care, experts said.

Not all states have released demographic data showing the virus’ toll on different racial groups.

In Louisiana more than half of the deaths have been African American, a far larger percentage than the state’s population of African Americans.

Gary Harrell knew 10 of them. “It’s just hard, You wake up one in the morning and – like yesterday – and you kind of worry about what news you’re going to get. The first thing was a message from a friend who is asking that I assist her with her father’s obituary. He had passed on Sunday,” he recalled. “And then within a few hours, I got another text message as I’m driving. And that text informs me that my aunt had passed away. And, you know, it’s just it just all becomes very surreal.”

In New York, city officials hired contract laborers to bury the dead in its potter’s field on Hart Island as the city’s daily death rate from the coronavirus epidemic reached grim new records.

The city has used Hart Island to bury New Yorkers with no known next of kin or whose family are unable to arrange a funeral since the 19th century.

Typically, some 25 bodies are interred each week by low-paid jail inmates working on the island, which sits off the east shore of the city’s Bronx borough and is accessible only by boat.

Now, about 24 bodies are being buried daily, five days a week, according to Jason Kersten, a spokesman for the Department of Correction, which oversees the burials.

Many of those who have died have been elderly, with nursing homes accounting for a large portion of the deaths in the United States.

Even before the coronavirus had swept through her Seattle-area nursing home, Susan Hailey was already eager to leave.

The 74-year-old had come to the facility for rehabilitative care following knee-replacement surgery, and was due to leave in March before a bad fall left her with a broken ankle and an extended move-out date.

Then a wave of severe respiratory illness swept through the nursing home at the end of February. The facility went into lockdown and residents were forced in quarantine. A week later, Hailey tested positive for the coronavirus. She survived. Others did not.

“I remember one morning getting up because they were going to make my bed. And they called a code blue. And my aid ran across the hall and came back and said ‘he died.’ Just very nonchalant. And I couldn’t get over the callous way that it was put,” Hailey told Reuters.

It was a very different ending for retired firefighter Gary Holmberg who was only supposed to be at the Pleasant View nursing home in Maryland for a few weeks, recovering from a fall at his assisted living center.

Pleasant View has become the site of one of Maryland’s worst outbreaks, 40 miles outside the U.S. capital of Washington, D.C. At least 98 of the facility’s residents and staff tested positive and 17 people associated with the home have died, according to the Carroll County Department of Health.

The 77-year old became one of more than a dozen of the nursing home’s residents who died from the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“I think about it every night. I think about, you know, me telling him I’m going to get him out of there, I’m going to get him out of there and not being able to do it in time,” his son Rob Holmberg, 47, told Reuters.

It’s a grief shared by people who rush to the scenes to help, such as Anthony Almojera, a 17-year veteran paramedic and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). In his eyes, this has been one of the most devastating times in the department’s history.

The coronavirus outbreak in New York City has pushed ambulance service to its limits, said Almojera in an interview with Reuters. The department went from an average of 4,000 calls to almost 7,000, putting a strain on EMTs and paramedics.

“I don’t know if any of us will ever be the same after this and that’s something we’re going to have to manage,” he told Reuters.

For registered nurse Julia Trainer the pandemic has given her an important life lesson, “Tell everyone that you love them because you never know when you won’t be able to tell them again.”

That’s a lesson not lost on 18-year-old Minnoli Aya.

The last text message she received from her mother, a physicians assistant in New York was “Home soon,” “Love you.”

“I kept texting her wanting to believe it wasn’t true,” Minnoli told Reuters.

Each night in New York City, neighborhoods around hospitals cheer for healthcare workers to express gratitude for the risks they are taking to save lives. Minnoli watches videos of the applause on social media.

“I can’t help but think, what about the ones who have fallen? What about the ones who are already dead?” Minnoli said.

It took the United States 38 days after recording its first fatality on Feb. 29 to reach 10,000 deaths on April 6 but only five more days to reach 20,000 dead, according to a Reuters tally.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has lead the state with the highest death toll in the United States.

“It is a tough time, but a lot of people have shown a lot of courage and a lot of beauty and they’ve had very tough lives — and let’s appreciate them,” he added.

Every night in New York City, people lean out their windows and flood balconies, applauding essential workers.

In mid-April Brian Stokes Mitchell added star power to the evening salute, belting out ‘The Impossible Dream” from his balcony as part of an ongoing tribute to the responders to the coronavirus in the hardest-hit American city. (Reuters)

(Production: Deborah Lutterbeck)

Trump questions mail-in ballots, Twitter fact-checks

UNTV News   •   May 27, 2020

Twitter on Tuesday (May 26) for the first time prompted readers to check the facts in tweets sent by U.S. President Donald Trump, warning his claims about mail-in ballots were false and had been debunked by fact-checkers.

In a tweet responding to the company’s move, Trump accused the company of interfering in the 2020 presidential election. “Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!” he said.

Trump on Tuesday also said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper needs to decide within a week whether the Republican National Convention can take place with full attendance in North Carolina in late August as planned.

“We need a fast decision from the governor,” Trump told reporters at a Rose Garden news conference on negotiations with pharmaceutical companies over insulin for U.S. seniors on Medicare. “If he feels that he’s not going to do it, all he has to do is tell us and then we’ll have to pick another location, and I will tell you a lot of locations want it.”

The convention is set to start on August 24 in Charlotte.

In the news conference, Trump also repeated his claims that mail-in ballots would lead to fraud.

Earlier in the day, Twitter placed a notification fact-checking Trump’s tweets claiming that mail-in ballots will be “substantially fraudulent” and result in a “rigged election.”

The notification, which displays a blue exclamation mark underneath the tweets, prompts readers to “get the facts about mail-in ballots” and directs them to a page with news articles and information from fact-checkers debunking the claim. (Reuters)

(Production: Arlene Eiras)

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