Usher’s News & Analysis for May 15, 2020

Interest in antibody tests from employers has fallen in recent weeks as reports have suggested that it is too early to conclude that antibodies to the new coronavirus translate into immunity. The American Medical Association cautioned on Thursday that these tests do not determine an individual’s immunity.

“Many employers … are realizing that antibody testing isn’t going to be a silver bullet and really isn’t going to bring them any value,” said David Zieg, a lead consultant on clinical services at Mercer.

Other employers worry about their liability if they administer and interpret such tests ….

U.S. Employers Wary of Coronavirus ‘Immunity’ Tests as They Move to Reopen

Be advised:

FROM: [California] Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara
DATE: May 14, 2020

The California Unfair Practices Act sets forth several practices that constitute unfair methods of competition or unfair or deceptive acts or practices, including but not limited to:

• Not attempting in good faith to effectuate prompt, fair, and equitable settlements of claims in which liability has become reasonably clear;
• Compelling insureds to institute litigation to recover amounts due under an insurance policy by offering substantially less than the amounts ultimately recovered in actions brought by the insureds, when the insureds have made claims for amounts reasonably similar to the amounts ultimately recovered;
• Failing to settle claims promptly, where liability has become apparent, under one portion of the insurance policy coverage in order to influence settlements under other portions of the insurance policy coverage.
Cal. Ins. Code §790.03(h).

Insurers and other persons engaged in the business of insurance in this state are hereby directed to comply with their various legal obligations under the California Unfair Practices Act (Cal. Ins. Code §790.03 et seq.) to promptly and fairly settle insurance claims.
Any person who or which engages in any unfair method of competition or any unfair or deceptive act or practice defined in Section 790.03 is subject to a civil penalty to be determined by the Insurance Commissioner, not to exceed $5,000 for each act, or, if the act or practice was willful, a civil penalty not to exceed $10,000 for each act. The Insurance Commissioner has the discretion to establish what constitutes an act. Cal. Ins. Code § 790.035(a)
Please be advised that Commissioner Lara intends to exercise the full extent of his authority under the Unfair Claims Practices Act to pursue all available administrative remedies including substantial civil penalties against any person engaged in the business of insurance in this state that has been knowingly committing or performing any of the enumerated unfair claims settlement practices set forth in the Unfair Practices Act with such frequency as to indicate a general business practice. Cal. Ins. Code §790.04

Concerning Kawasaki-disease-like symptoms and COVID-19 in children right now:

… neither PCR nor antibody testing for SARS-CoV-2 is terribly reliable, and a significant proportion of affected children has tested negative on one or both.

Inflammatory Syndrome Affecting Children: Kawasaki Disease, COVID-19 . . . or Something Else?

When President Trump, Republican leaders, right-wing think tanks and billionaire CEOs aggressively push to send people back to work before the coronavirus is contained, this is not a “reopening.” It’s the opposite: an unraveling of the conditions that we need to safely and sustainably reopen our society. While the red herring of a “reopening” has dominated news cycles and Trump administration press conferences, the United States has moved ever further away from what we all desperately seek: a point at which this all ends, and it’s safe to go to the library, stroll maskless through a park, eat dinner with a loved one, and go to work without fear. The Right doesn’t own the “reopening” terrain—it has forfeited it by barreling down a road that leads to mass death, suffering, and more and more closures down the road.

Forty-two states have either started “reopening” their economies or imminently plan to do so, despite the fact that most of them have failed to meet even the non-binding criteria put forward by the White House: that they have a 14-day “downward trajectory” of known coronavirus cases or rates of positive tests (this standard was criticized by public health experts for being ill-defined and insufficient). …

… Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Tom Frieden has been vocal about the dire consequences. “We’re not reopening based on science,” he told the Times. “We’re reopening based on politics, ideology and public pressure. …

… we’re not taking the steps we need to find our way out of the woods. Social distancing is just one tool to slow the spread of the virus and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed by the need for acute care. But until we have a vaccine, additional tools are vital to minimize the spread of the virus: contact tracing and testing.

Contact tracing involves identifying and contacting those who have tested positive for Covid-19, discovering who they have been in contact with, and reaching out to those contacts to ensure that they quarantine themselves. Of course, any such effort must remain firmly under the purview of public health, subject to the highest privacy standards like HIPAA protections, and never be used for surveillance, policing, or private data collection [emphasis added] (some states’ reliance on the National Guard and tech companies for contact tracing raises profound concerns).

I am a civil libertarian who balances rights and needs. I totally oppose blanket rights for one side at the expense of the other. That’s why I added the emphasis above where I did.

There’s zero good reason to oppose all contact tracing before protections have even been debated and addressed. We can have both contact tracing and needed and constitutional protections. Contact tracing is not a slippery slope. It does not automatically usher in anti-democracy and totalitarianism. It does not grant Bill Gates the status of Caesar over the world. We can be free and protected at the same time!

Trump’s “Reopening” Is a Red Herring

“When residents attempted to evacuate, many found that the rear exit door had been barricaded,” attorneys led by Richard Eglet said in the lawsuit.

Building Owner, Alarm Companies Sued Over Deadly Vegas Fire

California has had 60% more wildfires so far in 2020 than last year because of drier weather, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Wednesday, and he promised increased funding for firefighting even as the state’s budget faces a $54 billion hit from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

… Greater emphasis will be placed on quickly and aggressively mounting aerial attacks on all new fires, he said, even in remote areas where fires might have been allowed to burn in the past, to reduce risks to ground crews and the public from smoke that could make them more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 illness.

California Prepares for More Wildfires as Coronavirus Challenges Budget

Premium renewal rate change by line of business for April 2020 highlights include:

Commercial Auto: 4.8%, up from 4.75% last month.
BOP: 5.22%, up from 4.85% at the end of March.
General Liability: 3.29%, up from 3.18% the month prior.
Commercial Property: 5.51%, up from 5.28% in March.
Umbrella: 3.18%, down from 3.22% the month prior.
Workers’ Compensation: -2.06%, down from -1.96% last month.

For the full first quarter, premium renewal rate change for BOP insurance averaged 4.65% and the average premium renewal rate change increased slightly from 4.57% recorded in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Here’s What Happened to Commercial Insurance Renewal Premiums in April

Washington Mandates New Farmworker Housing Emergency Rules for Pandemic

It didn’t occur to the right that a more terrifying series of words than “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help” would turn out to be “I’m from the government, and I guess I anticipated that the private sector would have engaged.”

The Dismantled State Takes on a Pandemic

A UC San Francisco study of thousands of residents and workers in the city’s Mission District found that 57% of those tested must leave their homes for work, and those who had to leave home to work accounted for 90% of the positive cases.

The two big reasons why California is struggling to control coronavirus

More than 70 people in Wisconsin have tested positive for coronavirus after admitting they attended a ‘large gathering’ in the state – around the same time that thousands of protesters were pictured ignoring social distancing and shunning face masks at a mass anti-lockdown rally.

More than 70 people in Wisconsin test positive for coronavirus after admitting they attended a ‘large gathering’ in the state – around same time hundreds turned out for anti-lockdown protest

Decades ago, America started down the road of creating two economic worlds. Our once-mighty brick-and-mortar economy went into decline and began to be exported overseas, to cheap labor zones and countries with less-stringent environmental laws — places that, as economist Larry Summers infamously put it, were “vastly underpolluted.” That American factory workers would be left behind by this process was just their bad luck, another thing requiring a “suck it in and cope” attitude.

Not so for their bosses, though, who were rescued from the decline by transitioning to even-more-profitable work in a new, “financialized” economy. This world emphasized making money by moving it around in the capital markets — prioritizing fees, interest, capital gains, etc. A generation of minds that were trained in the logic of “financialization,” and its underlying principles — which include the idea that workers are fungible, parasitic drains on the more crucial “wealth creators” above — accelerated the aggressive tilt to the political right by America’s wealthy in recent decades.

Even the experts at the Federal Reserve, whose official mandate includes attaining “maximum sustainable employment,” became more and more removed from their real-world purpose over the years, devoted instead to tending to the needs of this second, sandcastle economy over the problems of disenfranchised working people, whose fates mostly couldn’t be helped. And why not? What Fed official ever interacts with anyone not employed in the financial sector? How could the real world ever seep in?

The coronavirus bailout could end up being the last chapter in this hideous story. Although we’re seeing a graphic demonstration of how “unskilled” workers like home health aides and delivery people and grocery clerks are actually the vitally important people in our society, they’re not getting the radical rescue. There’s no sudden universal health care, no guaranteed sick leave, no massive jobs plan, just Band-Aids. They will die in massive numbers and emerge from this crisis, if and when it ends, poorer and more vulnerable than before.

“They will die in massive numbers and emerge from this crisis, if and when it ends, poorer and more vulnerable than before” unless they take over the government.

How the COVID-19 Bailout Gave Wall Street a No-Lose Casino

The criminal rule requires “leave of court” to dismiss. This is a formality, as the district judge lacks the authority to order the executive branch to prosecute Flynn [did you think otherwise?] once the determination has been made that “the evidence is insufficient to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.” The district judge may have a reason to conduct hearings into prosecutorial compliance with the court’s order to disclose relevant evidence to the defense, including the prosecution’s Brady obligation to timely produce to the defense all exculpatory evidence material either to guilt or to punishment. Recently discovered and disclosed information, particularly FBI agent notes and emails, clearly satisfy the definition of exculpatory.

This evidence should have been disclosed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his prosecutors. The knowing failure to produce Brady materials is a serious matter.

Nothing done to Flynn was “by the book” unless the book was “How to Conduct an Illegal Coup.”

Apparent mishandling of Flynn case requires letting the sun shine on James Comey’s FBI and Robert Mueller’s prosecutors: Patrick M. McLaughlin


Flaws in Cybersecurity Software Expose Hundreds of Networks to Cyberattacks

Brazil’s president defiant as coronavirus death toll soars

The number of coronavirus infections in Brazil has risen to more than 200,000, while it registered a daily record of 13,944 new cases on Thursday.
But President Jair Bolsonaro continues to push state governors to ease lockdowns and open the economy.
In the region, Argentina is slowly lifting its lockdown but Peru is reeling from a rising number of infections despite imposing movement curbs.

New leases for Manhattan apartments plunged by 71% in April, and vacancies soared as the rental market froze amid the coronavirus pandemic and more residents left the city, according to a new report.

The number of new leases fell to 1,407, the lowest total in a decade, according to a report from Douglas Elliman and Miller Samuel. The vacancy rate climbed to its highest level in 14 years, according to the report.

Manhattan new rentals plunge 71% as coronavirus freezes the market

Federal aid, low interest rates, and widespread price discounting of consumer goods have made it easier for households to weather the storm early on, though it’s unclear how long that will last.

Consumers were still more worried about the threat to their health from COVID-19 than the pandemic’s damage to their financial well-being.

Bottoming out? U.S. consumer sentiment improves in May as households buoyed by massive federal aid

What they’re saying: Thomas Sullivan, vice president of small business policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, tells Axios the survey reflects what he’s hearing.

• “There have been more calls of sheer desperation in the last two weeks than in the last two months,” Sullivan says, choking up as he describes his conversations with small business owners.

• “I’m not talking about equity ownership or cashing in 401(k)s. I’m talking about food stamps, cutting down to one meal a day, not knowing if someone will have access to pay this month.”

Swing states hit as coronavirus rips small businesses

It was the first time that King County had recorded no new coronavirus deaths in a 24-hour period since March 7.

King Co. records no new coronavirus deaths for first time in over 2 months

FROM: Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara
DATE: May 15, 2020

Commissioner Lara hereby requests that the grace period to pay insurance premiums be extended until July 14, 2020, which is 60 days from the date of this Notice. Accordingly, insurance companies should not cancel or non-renew a policyholder for failure to pay insurance premiums during this time period.

The results imply that by April 27, the number of cases would have been 35 times higher without any of the measures — suggesting the U.S. would have reported 35 million (rather than 1 million) COVID-19 cases.

“Our results suggest that light measures don’t work, and strong measures do, but they don’t really say anything about intermediate measures — like opening restaurants at reduced capacity, or allowing socialization with masks,” Courtemanche said. “Since we don’t know what each intermediate step towards reopening will do, it makes sense to go one step at a time and look carefully for signs that the rate of spread is picking back up.”

Study Finds State, Local Measures Have Reduced Coronavirus Cases by 34 Million