The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

The Concerning COVID Deaths Trend

Joe Garcia has his heart rate and temperature checked before getting tested for the coronavirus, in Austin, Texas, June 28, 2020. (Sergio Flores/Reuters)

On the menu today: Coronavirus deaths in the U.S. exceed 1,000 for the first time in a while as researchers work to pinpoint the virus’s fatality rate, a biological woman who identifies as a man has sued a Catholic hospital for refusing to perform “transition surgery,” and Chuck Schumer joins Joe Biden in signaling his willingness to end the legislative filibuster in the Senate.

The Number of U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Is Rising Again

Yesterday, there were a little over 1,000 new deaths from coronavirus reported in the U.S., the highest daily death toll reported since late May, aside from a few aberrations in June when higher numbers were reported from unknown dates. According to the New York Times database that tracks reported infections and deaths, the “seven-day average of deaths in the United States reached 810 on Tuesday, up from an average of about 475 in early July, though still far below the country’s April peak of 2,232.”

We’re nowhere near where we were in the spring, that’s for sure, but the trend is a little concerning. In a press conference, President Trump acknowledged that the situation with the virus likely will “get worse before it gets better.” He has also begun emphasizing mask wearing, tweeting earlier this week that “many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can’t socially distance” and acknowledging to reporters that “[masks] have an impact.”

While the president thankfully is unlikely to follow Gretchen Whitmer’s rather absurd advice that he ought to issue a nationwide mandate requiring mask wearing in public, it’s clear that Trump sees the case numbers and deaths ticking upwards again and is hoping to avoid a second wave as bad as the first.

Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control released new data on the likelihood that far more people have been infected with COVID-19 than have presented symptoms. The newest statistics suggest that the number of Americans infected could be anywhere between two to 13 times higher than the cases that have been reported.

“These data continue to show that the number of people who have been infected with the virus that causes Covid-19 far exceeds the number of reported cases. Many of these people likely had no symptoms or mild illness and may have had no idea that they were infected,” Dr. Fiona Havers, who led the CDC study, told the Times.

On one hand, that’s bad news, because it means that many more asymptomatic people have been feeling fine and not feeling any need to stay home, especially as more states and localities have begun to reopen. Some percentage of people who were carrying the virus asymptomatically likely have been staying home, but surely not all the time, and not all of these people have been wearing masks, avoiding work, etc., leading them to spread the virus unwittingly.

But on the flip side, the good news about high numbers of asymptomatic cases is that they drive the fatality rate down. For every unreported case out there where the infected person never has any symptoms and doesn’t die of the disease, it means the actual death rate of COVID-19 is just a bit lower than we thought. And there are potentially millions of those people out there.

That more or less comports with what researchers have found in largescale studies conducted over the last few months. As the Wall Street Journal put it in a report on the topic yesterday afternoon, “The percentage of deaths among people with confirmed infections is higher than the percentage of deaths among infections overall, researchers say, because so many milder and asymptomatic Covid-19 cases go missed.”

It makes perfect sense. And while it doesn’t mean that we should stop worrying about the virus entirely, it’s important to keep in mind as cases slowly tick up, especially in southern and southwestern states.

Most studies so far have put the death rate somewhere in the realm of 0.6 percent. The study from February that looked at data from China and the coronavirus outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship estimated a fatality rate of 0.6 percent. In a paper from March, researchers at Imperial College London estimated the fatality rate in China at 0.66 percent. And, per the Journal, “An analysis of 26 different studies estimating the infection-fatality rate in different parts of the globe found an aggregate estimate of about 0.68%, with a range of 0.53% to 0.82%,” though that analysis has yet to be peer reviewed.

The CDC is using that report’s fatality-rate calculations as its own estimate when planning for the future of the pandemic, settling on .65 percent as of earlier this month. That death rate is about six times greater than the seasonal flu. As has been the case for months now, the most that we can do is watch and wait.

Catholic Hospital Faces a Lawsuit over “Gender-Reassignment” Procedure

A biological woman who identifies as a man has filed a lawsuit against University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center after the Catholic hospital refused to perform a hysterectomy on the individual’s healthy uterus. Unsurprisingly, the lawsuit cites the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock from this past term, in which Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority that civil-rights protections against sex discrimination in employment actually extend to sexual orientation and gender identity.

The plaintiff argues that because the hospital performs hysterectomies for other diagnosed conditions, it was discrimination not to provide the surgery as treatment for gender dysphoria — even though there’s intense disagreement within the medical community and even among transgender-identifying individuals over whether such a surgery is the appropriate response to gender dysphoria.

This lawsuit is the latest example of Catholic theology and ethics coming into conflict with progressive views on sexuality, which increasingly demand that everyone, regardless of faith or conscience, comply with and participate in a radical vision of sex and gender. It’s the same mindset as the one involved in dragging the Little Sisters of the Poor, a charitable order of Catholic nuns, to court over and over again because they refuse to subsidize contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in employees’ health-care plans.

University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center describes itself as guided by the Catholic health-care tradition and it “observes the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” which are laid out by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Those directives, based on the fundamental teaching of the Catholic Church, forbid Catholic hospitals from performing abortions, as the Church recognizes abortion as a procedure that intentionally ends an innocent human life. In a similar way, the Church has always recognized the fundamental reality of biological sex as an immutable characteristic, and Catholic hospitals aim to offer health care that heals and treats the human body rather than distorting it to conform with an individual’s self-identification or self-expression of gender.

Though the lawsuit argues that the denial of the hysterectomy was discrimination, it’s fairly clear that the decision not to operate on a healthy uterus was in line both with the Catholic faith tradition and guidance from plenty of experts — not an example of invidious bias against any particular individual. Here’s more from the Catholic News Agency:

A 2016 letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services signed by the general counsel for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, together with other groups, affirmed that refusing surgery to someone seeking surgery that would allegedly change their gender would not be discriminatory.

“It is not ‘discrimination’ when a hospital provides care it considers appropriate, declines to perform procedures destructive to patients’ welfare and well-being, or declines to take actions that undermine the health, safety, and privacy of other patients,” the letter said.

“A hospital does not engage in ‘discrimination’ when, for example, it performs a mastectomy or hysterectomy on a woman with breast or uterine cancer, respectively, but declines to perform such a procedure on a woman with perfectly healthy breasts or uterus who is seeking to have the appearance of a man.”

This lawsuit is, unfortunately, one of several like it that are pending against Catholic hospitals across the country. While this past Supreme Court term featured a few victories for religious liberty, this continued clash between progressive orthodoxy on gender and a Catholic, natural-law understanding of the human person does not bode well.

Goodbye to the Filibuster?

Just last week, Joe Biden told reporters that he’d be open to the Senate abolishing the legislative filibuster, which requires 60 votes, if Republicans stand in the way of passing legislation he supports. “It’s going to depend on how obstreperous they become. But I think you’re going to just have to take a look at it,” Biden said.

In a press conference yesterday, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) echoed Biden’s comments, saying that abolishing the filibuster would be on the table for Democrats if they win the majority in November.

“Job number one is for us to get the majority. We don’t take anything for granted but it’s looking better and better. Once we get the majority, we’ll discuss it in our caucus. Nothing’s off the table,” he said.

According to our own Brittany Bernstein, the number of Democrats open to ending the filibuster is growing and now includes “18 of the original 26 democratic presidential candidates: Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), Pete Buttigieg and Andrew Yang who expressed full support, and Senators Cory Booker (D., N.J.), Kamala Harris (D., Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), Bernie Sanders (D., Vt.) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D., Texas).”

In late June, Senator Chris Coons (D., N.J.), who has long defended the legislative filibuster, signaled his openness to reconsidering. “I will not stand idly by for four years and watch the Biden administration’s initiatives blocked at every turn,” he told Politico. “I am gonna try really hard to find a path forward that doesn’t require removing what’s left of the structural guardrails, but if there’s a Biden administration, it will be inheriting a mess, at home and abroad. It requires urgent and effective action.”

ADDENDUM: In case you missed it, here’s the link to yesterday’s Three Martini Lunch podcast, which I cohosted with Greg Corombos in the illustrious Jim Geraghty’s absence. One of our topics was the fact that Planned Parenthood of New York has finally disavowed Margaret Sanger for her racist views and support for eugenics, and I have a Corner post on that here.

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