Video screenshot, KVIA-TV

As Donald Trump fiddles, the coronavirus pandemic is still burning across America. Tuesday, the US had 159,431 new cases and 1,583 deaths, and so far, 248,400 people have died. We've had some good preliminary news on vaccines, but they're not going to be ready to distribute widely for months. So where are we today? Same as ever: The federal government is AWOL while the states are left to figure this out on their own, and in two months, people who know what they're doing will be in charge.


Texas: Inmates, National Guard Needed To Handle All The Bodies

The morgue in El Paso is so over capacity that not only has the facility had to supplement storage with refrigerated trailers, inmates from the county jail were brought in to assist with moving bodies, the Texas Tribune reports. Between four and eight misdemeanor offenders who qualify for the jail's trustee program are helping out any given day; while volunteer work in the trustee program is usually unpaid, said Chris Acosta, an El Paso County Sheriff's Office spokesperson, the inmates refused to haul corpses on gurneys without pay, so they're getting the princely sum of $2 an hour. The county morgue currently has eight trailers; that will soon be increased to 10.

The use of inmate labor, Acosta explained, is an interim measure until the Texas National Guard is deployed to supplement overworked medical staff in the city.

Also, at the beginning of November, county Judge Ricardo Samaniego had issued an order closing most nonessential businesses until December 1, but that order was blocked last week after several local restaurants and state Attorney General Ken Paxton sued to ensure the sacred right of El Pasoans to choose to spread the virus as the Founders intended.

North Dakota: Finally A Mask Mandate, With Nearly One In 1,000 Residents Dead

An analysis by the Federation of American Scientists found that North Dakota has the highest COVID-19 mortality rate in the world, with 18.2 deaths per million last week from the disease (although the state doesn't quite have a million people). South Dakota was close behind in third place, with 17.4 deaths per million, with only the Czech Republic in between the two. On top of that, North and South Dakota also have the lowest rate of face mask use in the USA, too, a testament to personal responsibility and not believing Marxist scientists who want to take away your freedom. As of Monday, 749 residents of North Dakota had died of the coronavirus; with a total population of 762,000, that means just a smidge under one in every 1,000 north Dakotans has been killed by COVID-19.

On Friday, Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, finally issued the state's first mask mandate, several days after he'd signed an earlier order permitting healthcare workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 to continue working with infected patients, as long as the healthcare workers haven't developed symptoms. The Guardian notes that the order is in compliance with CDC guidance for mitigating staff shortages. With hospitals around the country being overwhelmed and staff shortages becoming common, expect other states to start taking similar steps.

South Dakota: Going Full-On Death Cult

Meanwhile, in South Dakota, Gov. Kristi Noem still refuses to mandate mask wearing, because limited government, Fox News, and she's a hero to people who can still breathe OK. Noem has told multiple publications she will never institute a mask mandate, not even if Joe Biden orders a national mask mandate after he's sworn in. Monday, a Noem spokesperson — ignoring all the evidenceinsisted that "The facts are simple: Mask mandates, harsh lockdowns, massive testing and contact tracing haven't worked – in the United States or abroad." This is, of course, pure bullshit.

Noem has a simple answer to those pushy experts who think masks would help contain the spread of the pandemic, and it hasn't changed since late October: Be nice, why don't you!

Since then, she hasn't had a lot to say about the pandemic, because she's just too polite, apart from agreeing Friday with Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito that the pandemic is a threat to individual liberty, and offering her condolences to the 550 South Dakotans who have died, not that anything could have been done to prevent their deaths. Other than prayers; prayers are good!

Have a nice day, and please don't be uncivil.

Assume Chuck Grassley ... Well Don't Assume That

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced Tuesday that he's got the virus. He says he feels just fine but that "it's important we all follow public health guidelines to keep each other healthy." Good luck to him.

Over the weekend, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Bat Boy) also said he will be quarantining following an exposure, The Hill notes that Republicans ended up short of votes to move forward on confirming wackadoodle Gold Standard loon Judy Shelton to the Federal Reserve board. Three Republicans opposed Shelton, but one of 'em, Lamar Alexander, was away on family business. Kamala Harris, who hasn't been coming to the Senate for many votes since she became all la-dee-dah Vice President-elect, was in the chamber yesterday and cast the deciding vote against Shelton.

Oh, yeah, and Ted Cruz complained that Sen. Sherrod Brown was "being a complete ass" Monday for wearing a mask on the Senate floor and asking presiding Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) to wear a mask. Sullivan grumped back, "I don't wear a mask when I'm speaking, like most senators, I don't need your instruction."

Cruz contended on Twitter that Brown's mask wearing was "an ostentatious sign of fake virtue" because "nobody [was] remotely near" either senator. You know, other than Senate aides right in front of Sullivan, but they don't count as human the way senators do. Twitter's favorite historian, Kevin Kruse, who no doubt resents having even a homophonic relationship with the senator, read Cruz for green filth and ham:

Normal Shiny Nice Thing: Interview With Biden Task Force Member Céline Gounder

We won't leave you riding a bummer, however, so please take a look at this New York Times interview with Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at New York's Bellevue Hospital and also a prof at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. She's one of 13 members of the coronavirus task force for the incoming Biden-Harris administration, which, as we keep reminding you, is full of grownup adults who know things and speak in complete sentences. That will take some getting used to!

Gounder explains that beyond having weekly meetings with Biden and Harris, the task force will also brief members of the transition team, and will serve as liaisons to state and local health departments following the inauguration. And what a difference from Trump's "you're on your own" approach:

Race disparities are definitely going to be a through line for all the plans — for example, with respect to testing, making sure that you are locating testing facilities in communities of color. They have not been adequately served, and the lines to wait to get tested, the turnaround times, have not been equitable.

Gounder notes that schools are indeed more important than bars, and, thankfully, less likely to be sites of infection, too, although constant testing will be needed to keep them safe. If there's a high level of community spread somewhere, then sure, go to virtual classes. As for businesses that may need to close temporarily, the goal needs to be supporting them to get through it, not just forcing closures and letting them go belly-up.

And for fuckssake let's return the CDC to its place as the gold standard in public health (we wish we were quoting verbatim there), and use the Defense Production Act to ensure there'll be enough PPE going forward.

It's really very encouraging to see people in government who actually want to make government work. Weird, but we'll adjust.

That's the state of the pandemic today; no word on whether a just and merciful God would condemn Ted Cruz to an eternity of having to carry corpses around, but Rod Serling sure as hell would.

[Texas Tribune / HuffPo / Guardian / ABC News / Capital Journal / The Hill / NYT]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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