Top Trump adviser bluntly contradicts president on covid-19 threat, urging all-out response

A top White House coronavirus adviser sounded alarms Monday about a new and deadly phase in the health crisis, pleading with top administration officials for “much more aggressive action,” even as President Trump continues to assure rallygoers the nation is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic.



Deborah Birx wearing a suit and tie: Deborah Birx delivers remarks on the pandemic in the White House last April. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)


Deborah Birx delivers remarks on the pandemic in the White House last April. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

“We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic … leading to increasing mortality,” said the Nov. 2 report from Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force. “This is not about lockdowns — It hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April. It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented.”

Birx’s internal report, shared with top White House and agency officials, contradicts Trump on numerous points: While the president holds large campaign events with hundreds of attendees, most without masks, she explicitly warns against them. While the president blames rising cases on more testing, she says testing is “flat or declining” in many areas where cases are rising. And while Trump says the country is “rounding the turn,” Birx notes the country is entering its most dangerous period yet and will see more than 100,000 new cases a day this week.

Through a spokesperson, Birx did not respond to a request for comment.

Other health experts, including Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have warned of record surges in cases and hospitalizations as the United States records more than 9 million cases and 230,000 deaths. “We’re in for a whole lot of hurt,” Fauci told The Washington Post late Friday, predicting a long and potentially deadly winter unless there’s an “abrupt change” — prompting Trump to suggest he planned to fire the scientist after the election.

But Birx’s daily missives go further, revealing how much the administration’s internal reports are in direct conflict with Trump’s public pronouncements that downplay the seriousness of the threat and erroneously suggest few people are dying. They also speak to the increasing desperation of health officials to spotlight the risks of a pandemic that is forecast to take thousands more lives as the weather worsens unless people change their behaviors.

Still, the increasingly dire tone of her reports has gotten little traction, according to an administration official who works with Birx and spoke on the condition of anonymity to share sensitive information. “She feels like she’s being ignored,” the official said.

Birx’s message “has been urgent for weeks,” said another administration official, “as has the plea for the administration to ask the American people to use masks, avoid gatherings and socially distance, basically since it became apparent that we were heading into a third surge.”

The report hits hard on the worsening situation: “Cases are rapidly rising in nearly 30 percent of all USA counties, the highest number of county hotspots we have seen with this pandemic,” it said. “Half of the United States is

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Top Trump adviser pleads for ‘more aggressive action’ against covid-19, even as president downplays threat

A top White House coronavirus adviser sounded alarms Monday about a new and deadly phase in the health crisis, pleading with top administration officials for “much more aggressive action,” even as President Trump continues to assure rallygoers the nation is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic.



Deborah Birx wearing a suit and tie: Deborah Birx delivers remarks on the pandemic in the White House last April. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)


Deborah Birx delivers remarks on the pandemic in the White House last April. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

“We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic … leading to increasing mortality,” said the Nov. 2 report from Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force. “This is not about lockdowns — It hasn’t been about lockdowns since March or April. It’s about an aggressive balanced approach that is not being implemented.”

Birx’s internal report, shared with top White House and agency officials, contradicts Trump on numerous points: While the president holds large campaign events with hundreds of attendees, most without masks, she explicitly warns against them. While the president blames rising cases on more testing, she says testing is “flat or declining” in many areas where cases are rising. And while Trump says the country is “rounding the turn,” Birx notes the country is entering its most dangerous period yet and will see more than 100,000 new cases a day this week.

Through a spokesperson, Birx did not respond to a request for comment.

Other experts, including Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have warned of record surges in cases and hospitalizations as the United States records more than 9 million cases and 230,000 deaths. “We’re in for a whole lot of hurt,” Fauci told The Washington Post late Friday, predicting a long and potentially deadly winter unless there’s an “abrupt change” — prompting Trump to suggest he planned to fire the scientist after the election.

But Birx’s daily missives go much further, revealing how much the administration’s internal reports are in direct conflict with Trump’s public pronouncements that downplay the seriousness of the threat and erroneously suggest few people are dying. They also speak to the increasing desperation of health officials to spotlight the risks of a pandemic that is forecast to take thousands more lives as the weather worsens unless people change their behaviors.

The increasingly dire tone of her reports has gotten little traction, according to an administration official who works with Birx and spoke on the condition of anonymity to share sensitive information. “She feels like she’s being ignored,” the official said.

Birx’s message “has been urgent for weeks,” said another administration official, “as has the plea for the administration to ask the American people to use masks, avoid gatherings and socially distance, basically since it became apparent that we were heading into a third surge.”

The report hits hard on the worsening situation: “Cases are rapidly rising in nearly 30 percent of all USA counties, the highest number of county hotspots we have seen with this pandemic,” it said. “Half of the United States is in

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FBI, DHS Warn Hospitals of ‘Credible Threat’ from Hackers

Several federal agencies on Wednesday warned hospitals and cyber-researchers about “credible” information “of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and health-care providers.”

The FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security and known as CISA, said hackers were targeting the sector, “often leading to ransomware attacks, data theft and the disruption of health-care services,” according to an advisory.

The advisory warned that hackers might use Ryuk ransomware “for financial gain.”

The warning comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge across the country. The cybersecurity company FireEye Inc. said multiple U.S hospitals had been hit by a “coordinated” ransomware attack, with at least three publicly confirming being struck this week.

Ransomware is a type of computer virus that locks up computers until a ransom is paid for a decryption key.

The attack was carried out by a financially motivated cybercrime group dubbed UNC1878 by computer security researchers, according to Charles Carmakal, FireEye’s strategic services chief technology officer. At least three hospitals were severely affected by ransomware on Tuesday, he said, and multiple hospitals have been hit over the past several weeks. UNC1878 intends to target and deploy ransomware to hundreds of other hospitals, Carmakal said.

“We are experiencing the most significant cybersecurity threat we’ve ever seen in the United States,” he said. “UNC1878, an Eastern European financially motivated threat actor, is deliberately targeting and disrupting U.S. hospitals, forcing them to divert patients to other health-care providers.”

Multiple hospitals have already been significantly affected by Ryuk ransomware and their networks have been taken offline, Carmakal added. “UNC1878 is one of most brazen, heartless, and disruptive threat actors I’ve observed over my career.”

Attackers using Trickbot malware, which is also cited in the federal advisory, claimed Monday in private communications channel to have attacked more than 400 hospitals in the U.S., said Alex Holden, the founder of the cyber investigations firm Hold Security. By Tuesday, the Trickbot attack group — which frequently works with ransomware operators Ryuk — claimed to have ransomed about 30 medical facilities around the country, Holden said.

Noncriminals running these malware and ransomware operations are known to embellish their achievements, he said.

St. Lawrence Health System in New York, Sonoma Valley Hospital in California, and Sky Lakes Medical Center in Oregon on Tuesday all publicly stated they were affected by ransomware attacks, according to local news reports.

The ransomware that has targeted hospitals, retirement communities and medical centers this year has typically started with emails that purport to be corporate communications and sometimes contain the name of the victim or their company in the text or its subject line, according to a FireEye report released Wednesday. However, the emails can contain malicious Google Docs, typically in the form of a PDF file, that contains a link to malware. The use of multiple links, as well as PDF files, can help trick email filters designed to spot simpler phishing tactics.

—With assistance

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US Authorities Warn Of ‘Imminent’ Cyber Threat To Hospitals

US security authorities warned Wednesday of an “imminent cybercrime threat” to hospitals and healthcare providers, urging them to increase their protection.

An advisory released by the FBI and two other government agencies said they had “credible information” that hackers were targeting the healthcare sector using malware, “often leading to ransomware attacks, data theft, and the disruption of healthcare services.”

The threat comes as US hospitals grapple with rising numbers of coronavirus cases, during a pandemic which has so far killed more than 226,000 people in the country.

Ransomware is a type of malicious software used by cybercriminals to encrypt users’ files until a ransom is paid.

Healthcare institutions have been frequent victims of ransomware for several years in the US and globally.

US federal agencies warned hackers were targeting the healthcare sector using malware that can lead to ransomware attacks US federal agencies warned hackers were targeting the healthcare sector using malware that can lead to ransomware attacks Photo: AFP / NICOLAS ASFOURI

Last month, a suspected ransomware attack disrupted patient care at a large chain of hospitals and clinics operating in the United States and Britain.

In 2017, the UK’s national healthcare system was one of the victims in a wave of global ransomware attacks, prompting some of its hospitals to divert ambulances and scrap operations.

The federal agencies urged US healthcare providers to take “timely and reasonable precautions” to protect their networks.

They encouraged healthcare providers to patch their operating systems, software and firmware as soon as possible, and to conduct antivirus and anti-malware scans regularly.

The agencies also recommended changing passwords regularly and using multi-factor authentication.

Copyright AFP. All rights reserved.

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Quebec fitness centres back off threat to reopen, but province still ready to crack down

Quebec deputy premier Geneviève Guilbault says the province will go ahead with a new decree to allow fines for fitness centres that reopen their facilities, even though a group of owners has backed off its threat to defy red zone regulations.

With the province entering a new four-week partial lockdown, a coalition of fitness centre owners had threatened to reopen their businesses even if the government didn’t allow them to, citing the need to preserve the physical and mental health of their members.

“We will be ready, if ever they were to change their minds,” said Guilbault, after thanking the coalition for its decision this morning while speaking to reporters. “If we have to be severe with people who go to the gym when it is not allowed, we will be ready to do so.” 

Customers who go into the exercise facilities would also be subject to fines, once the province adopts the decree.

Instead of reopening, the coalition encouraged members to gather in front of their respective fitness centres to protest the province’s restrictions.

“This protest — peaceful and in accordance with public health guidelines — will be the first step for a movement we hope will grow to make the Legault government realize it can’t govern just for COVID,” the group said in a written statement.

Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada

Most Quebecers respect rules, Guilbault says

Guilbault also slammed provincial opposition parties — most notably the Liberal Party — for statements she deemed “irresponsible” in regard to Quebecers’ willingness to continue following public health rules.

Opposition parties criticized the CAQ government on Tuesday, saying Quebecers will not blindly follow guidelines unless the province provides more details behind the reasoning for prolonging the red zone restrictions.

Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade said “social peace” was at risk if the government failed to be more transparent.

Guilbault shot down Anglade’s comments, referencing recent survey results from Quebec’s public health research institute, obtained by Le Devoir, that show that more than 75 per cent of Quebecers respect public health guidelines.

“We often play political games, it’s normal,” said Guilbault. “But I think that in the context we’re living in, a public health emergency, we all have to behave responsibly.”

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Quebec fitness centre owners back down on threat to defy COVID-19 lockdown orders

An empty gym is seen in Montreal, on Oct. 26, 2020.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

A group of Quebec fitness centre owners says its members are no longer planning to open Thursday in defiance of the government’s lockdown orders.

The owners released a statement today calling on their clients to instead join them in a series of protests outside their gyms and fitness studios on Thursday.

On Monday, a coalition of more than 250 gym owners threatened to open their doors this week, prompting a warning from Premier Francois Legault that they and their clients would be fined.

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This week Legault extended lockdown orders across regions under the government’s highest pandemic-alert levels – including Montreal and Quebec City – from Oct. 28 to Nov. 23.

Bars, restaurant dining areas, gyms and entertainment venues have been ordered to close.

The gym owners say their protests on Thursday will conform to the provincial COVID-19 health regulations.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Countries around the world are working on a coronavirus vaccine, including right here in Canada. Globe and Mail science reporter Ivan Semeniuk discussed the timeline and challenges in developing COVID-19 vaccines during a facebook live. The Globe and Mail

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.

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Tuberculosis is a major worldwide threat and the pandemic could make it worse, WHO says

In a new report, WHO provides a global update on the state of TB and the fight against the disease, which is both preventable and curable.

The report paints a dire picture of a disease that remains a public health crisis. Just eight countries — India, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and South Africa — account for two-thirds of the world’s TB cases. And because many carriers of the disease are not yet ill, it can go untreated until it’s too late.

Tuberculosis incidences are falling, the agency says — between 2015 and 2019, cases were reduced by about 9 percent. But that still falls short of WHO’s targets.

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to make things worse.

Large drops occurred in TB diagnoses between January and June. Due to the economic effects of the pandemic, WHO models predict that cases could annually increase by more than 1 million in the next five years if resources continue to be diverted to covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The stark report has positive news however. Funding for TB prevention, diagnosis and treatment has doubled since 2006, and seven high-burden countries reached their death reduction milestone. And people living with HIV are more likely than ever to be given preventive treatment for tuberculosis, which is the leading killer of people with HIV worldwide.

The report is available online or as an interactive app. To download, visit bit.ly/TBreportapp.

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Austin-Area Coronavirus Count Exceeds 30K As Flu Threat Emerges

AUSTIN, TX — The number of cases of the coronavirus is now well past 30,000 since the onset of respiratory illness across Travis County, heightening city officials’ pleas for residents to mask up as a way of mitigating further spread of the respiratory illness.

To that end, Austin Mayor Steve Adler points to a number of locations across the city offering free PPE — the acronym for “personal protective equipment” that is now an often=repeated part of our lexicon in an age of pandemic — that is key in blunting the spread of further illness. These centers offer the range of PPE — masks, hand sanitizers and educational material — those those in need.

“We’ve passed 30,700 total positive cases in our city,” Adler wrote in an email. “Our number of hospitalizations is now at 15 for our seven-day moving average. It’s a difficult reality, but we know that masking works.”

The wearing of protective face coverings has implausibly metamorphosed into a political issue creating an ideological fissure between conservative and progressive people in many cases — despite scientific evidence of the effectiveness of masks in blunting the spread of illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stresses the wearing masks is the most effective tactic in combating spread of respiratory illness that is transmitted by respiratory droplest through the air.

Adler agrees, urging people to wear masks while practicing other CDC recommendations: “What we can control is making sure we continue to abide by CDC guidelines and do our part to drive down the numbers consistently by wearing a mask, washing our hands, keeping a distance of 6 ft between us, and taking care of each other,” the mayor wrote. “Most Texans are still susceptible to the virus, so we must remain vigilant to protect our students, teachers, and the general population.”

The latest round of community distribution points for PPE has yet to be announced by the city. In the meantime, a number of health centers offer PPE to those in need:

CommUnityCare patients can request PPE at the following sites.

  • CommUnityCare – Hornsby Bend Health Center, 14312 Hunter’s Bend Rd.

  • CommUnityCare – Southeast Health and Wellness Center, 2901 Montopolis Dr.

  • CommUnityCare – Del Valle Health Center, 3518-A FM 973 Del Valle, Texas.

  • CommUnityCare – Manor Health Center, 600 W. Carrie-Manor St., Manor, Texas

  • CommUnityCare – Rundberg Health Center, 825 E. Rundberg #B1.

  • CommUnityCare – North Central Health Center, 1210 W. Braker Lane.

  • CommUnityCare – Pflugerville Health Center, 15822 Foothill Farms Loop, Pflugerville, Texas.

  • CommUnityCare – Ben White Dental Clinic, 1221 W. Ben White, #112B.

  • CommUnityCare – William Cannon Health Center, 6801 S. Interstate 35, #1.

Prenatal Care Sites

Carousel Sites

  • Carousel Pediatrics – Round Rock, 1201 S. 1-35, Suite 303, Round Rock, Texas.

  • Carousel Pediatrics – North Lamar, 9411 North Lamar Blvd., Suite 120.

  • Carousel Pediatrics – Riverside Plaza, 2237 East Riverside Dr., Suite 101-C.

  • Carousel Pediatrics – Southbrook, 6425 S. 1nterstate 35 Ste 100.

  • Carousel Pediatrics – Springdale, 7112 Ed Bluestein Blvd., Suite

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Why Modern Medicine is the Greatest Threat to Health

There is the essential assumption that modernity translates into better health. A corollary of this logic is that we can live our lives pretty much as we want because we can always buy a repair. You know, the car won't start, the TV is broken, the telephone is dead – no problem. Just call in an expert, spend some money and all is well.

People carry this over to their thinking about health. Our ticker falters, joints creak or an unwanted growth pops up – no problem. Buy some modern medical care. If that doesn't work, it's a problem of money, better insurance, more hospital funding, more research for the "cure," more doctors, better equipment and more technology. Right?

Wrong.

Don't take my word for it. Listen to the perpetrators themselves. The following is taken right from the pages of the Journal of the American Medical Association (July 26, 2000): "Of 13 countries in a recent (health) comparison, the United States (the most modern and advanced in the world) ranks an average of 12th (second from the bottom) … "

For example, the US ranks:

Last for low birth weight
Last for neonatal and infant mortality overall
11th for post neonatal mortality
· Last for years of potential life lost
11th for female life expectancy at one year, and next to last for males
· 10th for age adjusted mortality

The World Health Organization, using different indicators, ranked the US 15th among 25 industrialized nations. (If ranked against "primitive" cultures eating and living as humans were designed, the whole industrialized world would be at the bottom of the heap.)

Some might say these dismal results are because of smoking, alcohol, cholesterol, animal fats and poor penetration of medical care. Not so. Countries where these health risks are greater have better overall health according to epidemiological studies. It's also not due to lack of technology. The US is, for example, second only to Japan in the number of magnetic resonance imaging units (MRIs) and computed tomography scanners per unit of population. Neither can lack of medical personnel be blamed since the US has the greatest number of employees per hospital bed in the world.

So what is the problem? Here are some clues as revealed in the same journal cited above:
12,000 deaths per year from unnecessary surgery
· 7,000 deaths per year from medication errors in hospitals
20,000 deaths per year from other hospital errors
80,000 deaths per year from nosocomial (originating in a hospital) infections
106,000 deaths per year from adverse effects of medications

That totals 225,000 deaths per year, the third leading cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer. Another study – we're talking just hospital related deaths here – estimates 284,000 deaths per year. An analysis of outpatient care jumps these figures by 199,000 deaths for a new total of 483,000 medically related deaths per year. And this assumes doctors and hospitals eagerly report all their mistakes. Think so?

The poor health ranking in the US …

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