Infectious Disease Expert: The ‘Darkest Of The Entire Pandemic’ Has Yet To Come

Michael OsterholmMichael Osterholm, an expert at the University of Minnesota, stressed that a lack of public confidence is largely to blame.

Michael Osterholm, a renowned infectious disease expert, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that “the next six to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic” and expressed concern that the U.S. lacks a leading voice to guide the public.

“Vaccines will not become available in any meaningful way until early to [the] third quarter of next year. And even then, about half of the U.S. population at this point is skeptical of even taking the vaccine,” said Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Osterholm pointed to the daily tally of 70,000 new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Friday, the highest level since July. Between now and the holidays, the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. will likely “blow right through that,” he said.

He stressed that one reason for concern is that there are a number of voices guiding the public instead of just one, “which is part of the problem.”

“This is more than just science. This is bringing people together to understand why we are doing this. This is FDR fireside chat approach, and we’re just not doing that,” he said, referring to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s evening radio addresses during the Great Depression that boosted public confidence.

Osterholm said the goal is to achieve herd immunity, not by allowing people to contract the virus, but by inoculating them through a vaccination program. That requires strengthening public confidence.

“We need somebody to start to articulate, ‘What is our long-term plan? How are we going to get there? Why are we asking people to sacrifice distancing? Why are we telling people if you really love your family, you won’t go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas and end up infecting mom or dad or grandpa and grandma.’ We don’t have that storytelling going on right now, and that’s every bit as important as the science itself,” he said.

Osterholm expected COVID-19 cases to rise in coming weeks, but he vehemently dismissed the idea that herd immunity can be a solution to the pandemic or that it can be achieved with just 20% of the population infected. That low percentage was reportedly proposed by Trump medical adviser Scott Atlas.

“First of all, that 20% number is the most amazing combination of pixie dust and pseudoscience I’ve ever seen,” Osterholm said. “It’s 50% to 70% at minimum.” 

Dr. Anthony Fauci has also dismissed the idea that herd immunity can be achieved with such a low percentage.

Attempts to achieve herd immunity by infection, and not by vaccination, will have negative results, Osterholm added. “There will be lots of deaths, a lot of serious illnesses,” he said.

Even if 50% to 70% of the population becomes infected, virus transmission is merely slowed down, not stopped, he said.

“So this virus is going to keep looking for wood to burn for as long as it can. ... So our goal is to get as many people protected with vaccines,” he said.

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Millions of Americans are entering poverty amid pandemic as stimulus runs out

Millions of Americans have been thrown into poverty as government aid dried up in the last five months, according to a pair of studies, and those ranks will likely swell without more relief on the way.

“Poverty is rising in the United States,” Zach Parolin, a researcher at the Columbia University's Center on Poverty and Social Policy told Yahoo Finance (video above). “More families, once again, are struggling to put food on the table, struggling to provide for their families at a time when we have the means to be able to help them out.”

Read more: How to file for unemployment insurance

Eight million more Americans fell below the poverty threshold since May, a study by Columbia University found. A similar study from the University of Chicago and Notre Dame estimated 6 million Americans entered poverty for the same period. 

Without further government intervention, more Americans could follow, facing food insecurity, utility shutoffs, and even homelessness.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 24: People stand in line to receive food donations at a Food Bank for New York City pop up food pantry outside Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on September 24, 2020 in New York City. The fourth phase allows outdoor arts and entertainment, sporting events without fans and media production. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

‘Unless we see a miraculous employment recovery’

Poverty in the U.S. actually declined at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, thanks largely to two provisions in the CARES Act: stimulus checks and the extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits.

Since then, there has been no second round of checks, and the extra unemployment benefits expired at the end of July. The Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) program — enacted by the president to make up some of the difference in unemployment — mostly expired in September, leaving unemployed workers with only their regular state benefits that replace much less of their wages.

At least 38 states have paid out all their funds available under the Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) program. (David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

“That's just a lot of money that they're going to have to do without,” Bruce Meyer, a University of Chicago economist, told Yahoo Money. “It means people are going to be cutting back on what they can.”

While the funding provided under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act was the largest economic stimulus package in history, its effects won’t last long enough to support those in financial hardship, especially when the job market and the economy haven’t recovered.

Read more: Here’s what you need to know about unemployment benefits eligibility

“Unless we see a miraculous employment recovery,” Parolin said, “it's certain that families are going to need some extra income support to be able to pay the bills and put food on the table.”

It's not sustainable

The unemployment rate remains elevated at 7.9% — the highest since 2012 — while 25 million Americans receive some type of unemployment insurance, according to the Labor Department. 

Any benefits that out-of-work Americans were able to sock away earlier are evaporating. Jobless workers more than doubled their liquid savings between March and July, according to a new study by the JPMorgan Chase Institute, but they spent two-thirds of those accumulated savings in August alone. 

Jobless workers more than doubled their liquid savings between March and July, according to a new study by the JPMorgan Chase Institute, but they spent two-thirds of those accumulated savings in August alone. (David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

“The trajectory of the August data shows that this is a trend in motion, it hasn't yet stabilized,” Fiona Greig, director of consumer research at the JPMorgan Chase Institute, told Yahoo Money. “And certainly since people were using their savings buffer, it also implies that it's not sustainable.”

Read more: Coronavirus: How to apply for food stamps

Unemployed workers also pulled back on spending, recording a 14% drop in August after a 22% increase when they got the extra $600 in benefits, the JPMorgan Chase Institute study found. This will likely hurt aggregate spending, according to Greig.

‘We can probably expect to see an increase in homelessness’

The fading effect of the stimulus comes as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continue talks for a bipartisan stimulus deal. But disagreements on price tag and key provisions, lack of GOP support, and the proximity of the election all lower the prospects of a deal before the election.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 24: People stand in line to receive food donations at a Food Bank for New York City pop up food pantry outside Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on September 24, 2020 in New York City. The fourth phase allows outdoor arts and entertainment, sporting events without fans and media production. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

With no additional support, experts warned that the economy will slow and fewer jobs will be created. Protections for renters and borrowers also are set to expire, likely leading to another increase in poverty.

“Poverty is going to continue to rise,” Meyer said. “You're going to have people having had more and more weeks out of work, and only a fraction of those lost earnings replaced. That's going to accumulate over time.”

The financial hardships caused by this will likely mean a rise in people who can’t pay rent and utility bills, who will struggle to buy food, and who could even lose their homes.

“It’s sad to say,” Parolin said, “we can probably expect to see an increase in homelessness in the United States.”

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John Leguizamo slams Latino support for President Trump: 'It's self-defeating and selfish'

man holding out his hand

John Leguizamo slammed Latino support of President Trump in a new interview with Real Time’s Bill Maher.

On Friday, the Critical Thinking actor and director appeared virtually on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher and responded to a report suggesting that President Trump is popular among young Latino voters.

“There was an article I saw in the paper this week that talked about how ... Trump is doing rather well with young Latino men because of the machismo factor. I see you shaking your head,” Maher told Leguizamo, likely citing an Oct. 14 New York Times article stating that nearly 30 percent of Hispanic voters say they support him, “despite his anti-immigration rhetoric and policies.”

“Latin people for Republicans are like roaches for Raid. Let’s just get real,” Leguizamo told Maher. “I just feel like there’s a level of self-hate or just lack of care for the rest of your Latin brothers and sisters who are in cages, who are being demonized by this president."

Leguizamo added, “Hate crimes against Latin people are way up. How can you not ... 23 people were shot in El Paso for just being Latin, and you don’t care so you’re gonna vote for this braggadocio president?” referring to the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, that killed 20 people and left dozens more injured. “I just feel like it’s self-defeating and selfish."

The actor suggested that President Trump was attempting to gain supporters by downplaying Biden’s faith. “They’re microtargeting Latin people in Arizona through WhatsApp ... and they’re spreading this stuff that Biden is about to steal the Virgin Mary,” said Leguizamo.“First of all, he’s a super Catholic. ... What’s he gonna be, like the Grinch with a big bag stealing the Virgin Mary? Who’s gonna carry those heavy-a** statues? Come on! He’s not taking the Virgin Mary.”

Earlier this year, Leguizamo told Mother Jonesof Trump, “He’s a horrible human being who does a lot of horrible things, but he’s so horribly blatant about it that he galvanizes us. We were asleep at the helm, bro. All of us⁠ — white liberals, moderate Republicans, independents, Latin activists, black activists. He got us woke. We are in a moral correction right now in our society, trying to make everything right because he does everything so wrong.”

Last month, Leguizamo told Yahoo Entertainment that he planned to boycott the Sept. 20 Emmy Awards in in the absence of Latinx representation in TV and film. “If you don’t have Latin people, there’s no reason for me to see it,” he said. “What’s the point? It’s unbelievable that our stories aren’t being told, and there’s one reason for that. Executives don’t see us, don’t get us — don’t care about us.”

That void is why Leguizamo is working to create projects that highlight the lives of Latinx people. “I’m just dying to see positive Latin stories out there. ... It’s just not OK to ignore us, exclude us,” he added. “We’re the largest minority group in the country. We’re the biggest voting block. We’re going to decide who the president is this year.”

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