As coronavirus spreads, Trump lashes out at science that contradicts him

“A Trump enemy statement,” he said of one study.

“A political hit job,” he said of another.

As President Donald Trump pushes to reopen the country despite warnings from doctors about the consequences of moving too quickly during the coronavirus crisis, he has been lashing out at scientists whose conclusions he doesn’t like.

Twice this week, Trump has not only dismissed the findings of studies but suggested — without evidence — that their authors were motivated by politics and out to undermine his efforts to roll back coronavirus restrictions.

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First it was a study funded in part by his own government’s National Institutes of Health that raised alarms about the use of hydroxychloroquine, finding higher overall mortality in coronavirus patients who took the drug while in Veterans Administration hospitals. Trump and many of his allies had been trumpeting the drug as a miracle cure and Trump this week revealed that he has been taking it to try to ward off the virus — despite an FDA warning last month that it should only be used in hospital settings or clinical trials because of the risk of serious side effects, including life-threatening heart problems.

“If you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape. They were very old, almost dead,” Trump told reporters Tuesday.

“It was a Trump enemy statement.”

He offered similar pushback Thursday to a new study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. It found that more than 61% of COVID-19 infections and 55% of reported deaths — nearly 36,000 people — could have been been prevented had social distancing measures been put in place one week sooner. Trump has repeatedly defended his administration’s handling of the virus in the face of persistent criticism that he acted too slowly.

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”Columbia’s an institution that’s very liberal,” Trump told reporters Thursday. “I think it’s just a political hit job, you want to know the truth.”

Trump has long been skeptical of mainstream science — dismissing human-made climate change as a “hoax,” suggesting that noise from wind turbines causes cancer and claiming that exercise can deplete a body’s finite amount of energy. It’s part of a larger skepticism of expertise and backlash against “elites” that has become increasingly popular among Trump’s conservative base.

Yet Trump has made clear that, at least when it comes to hydroxychloroquine, he has prioritized anecdotal evidence, including a letter he told reporters he’d received from a doctor in Westchester, New York, claiming success with the drug.

Asked this week what evidence he had that the drug was effective in preventing COVID-19, Trump responded: “Are you ready? Here’s my evidence: I get a lot of positive calls about it.”

That veterans study, funded by grants from the NIH and the University of Virginia, was not a rigorous experiment, but a retrospective analysis by researchers at several universities looking at the impact of hydroxychloroquine in patients at veterans’ hospitals across the nation. It found no benefit and more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care alone. The work was posted online for researchers and has not been reviewed by other scientists.

The Columbia study, in draft form, also hasn’t yet been published or reviewed by other experts. The researchers ran numbers through a mathematical model, making assumptions about how quickly the coronavirus spreads and how people behave in hypothetical circumstances.

Trump’s criticism of the studies also comes as his allies have been eager to counter messaging from public health experts who say Trump is putting lives at risk by pushing states to quickly reopen in an election year. Republican political operatives have been recruiting pro-Trump doctors to go on television to advocate for reviving the U.S. economy as quickly as possible, without waiting to meet federal safety benchmarks.

Gostin said Trump should leave it to his public health agencies to assess emerging data and the value of various studies.

“I think there are real dangers,” he said, “for the president to play scientist and doctor on TV.”

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Associated Press writer Carla K. Johnson contributed to this report from Seattle.

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Doctor who put off retirement to treat coronavirus patients dies of COVID-19

A New York doctor made the ultimate sacrifice after he delayed his retirement to treat low-income coronavirus patients and later died of the virus.

Dr. James Mahoney, a physician at University Hospital of Brooklyn and Kings County Hospital Center, died of COVID-19 in late April, the New York Times reported.

His family encouraged him to step away from his work when it became apparent how serious the virus was. Their family cruise in January was meant to mark his upcoming retirement, Mahoney’s sister, Saundra Chisolm, told the Guardian.

But without hesitation, his plans were put on hold to help during the pandemic.

“There were people who were really reluctant to go into the rooms, and you could understand why,” Dr. Robert Foronjy, Mahoney’s boss, told the Times. “He saw another human being in need, and he didn’t hesitate to help.”

Mahoney treated patients day and night, either in person or via telecounselling. In the second week of April, the Times reports, he came down with a fever. By April 20, he could barely walk when he was admitted to University Hospital.

“He gave everything to that hospital. He gave his life for that hospital,” Mahoney’s older brother, Melvin, told the Washington Post. “There are two hospitals crying. Non-stop. I’ve heard men crying like you wouldn’t believe.

“That’s how much they loved my brother.”

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Mahoney, 64, was well-loved by his patients, and he often gave out his personal cellphone number, checking in on them even while he was fighting the virus.

“As a young Black man, I looked at this guy and said to myself, ‘Twenty years from now I want to be like him,’” Latif Salam, one of Mahoney’s previous students, told the Times. “When a Black medical student, a Black resident sees him, he sees a hero. Someone that you can be one day.

“He’s our Jay-Z.”

A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to raise money for a scholarship in Mahoney’s name. The funds will be used to “provide tuition support to enable a deserving and talented African American applicant to attend SUNY Downstate Medical School.”

More than US$42,000 has been raised of the $100,000 goal.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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Coronavirus: Europe’s economy suffers worst drop since records began

The European economy shrank by a record 3.8% in the first quarter as business activity from hotels and restaurants to construction and manufacturing was frozen by shutdowns aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

The drop in the 19-country eurozone was the biggest since statistics began in 1995 and sharper than the plunge in the midst of the global financial crisis in the first quarter of 2009 after the bankruptcy of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers.

The drop compares to a 4.8% contraction in the U.S. during the first quarter as the shock from the outbreak hits economies around the world.

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Unemployment rose only slightly, however, even amid the massive shutdowns that idled everything from florists to factories. The jobless figure rose to 7.4% in March from 7.3% in February, statistics agency Eurostat said Thursday. Millions of workers are being supported by temporary short-hours programs under which governments pay most of their salaries in return for companies agreeing not to lay people off.

The statistics in Europe likely understate the depth of the fall since shutdown measures were mostly put in place only in March, the last of the three months in the quarter.

Figures from France and Italy showed both countries fell into recession, defined as two quarters of economic contraction. The French economy shrank 5.8%, the most since the country’s statistics agency began keeping the figures in 1949. The drop was particularly pronounced in services that involve face to face interaction, such as hotels and restaurants, retail stores, transportation and construction.

The figures come ahead of a meeting of the European Central Bank, which analysts think may expand its bond purchase program that supports governments and borrowing markets. That decision may not come Thursday but markets are awaiting an assessment from bank head Christine Lagarde.

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