The virus is winning. That much is certain more than six months into a shape-shifting pandemic that’s killed more than 454,000 people worldwide, is gaining ground globally and has disrupted lives from Wuhan to Sao Paulo.
While promising, fast-moving vaccine projects are underway in China, Europe and the U.S., only the most optimistic expect an effective shot to be ready for global distribution this year.
If, as most experts believe, an effective vaccine won’t be ready until well into 2021, we’ll all be co-existing with the coronavirus for the next year or longer without a magic bullet. And this next phase of the
In their view, success isn’t defined as returning to life as it was in 2019. Rather, it’s about buying time and summoning the staying power and policy flexibility to limit the destructive capacity of an expanding pandemic, which may result in global deaths of more than one million according to one estimate, until there are medical tools to effectively treat and immunize against the virus. “People
Complicating matters, the perceived threat varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, let alone country to country. Much depends on the severity of local outbreaks and the effectiveness of testing, contact tracing, social distancing, hospital systems and public-health messaging that is free of political shading. Leaders such as U.S. President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson or B
Not all the news is grim. In the first half of the year, governments worldwide resorted to emergency measures like forced business closures, stay-at-home rules and bans on large gatherings. The moves slowed infection, saved lives and gave leaders time to stockpile medical equipment and supplies. Yet that progress came at the cost of economic contraction, soaring unemployment and trillions of doll
Instead, the biggest economies seem intent on reopening, even if the pace varies. That, in turn, means more social mobility and more opportunities for the virus to spread. Already, scientists who track virus trends are seeing signs that re-opening is leading to a spike in cases. “I understand there is a perception of the need to balance on these economic considerations,” said Ada Adimora, an epidemic.
NEW YORK – Walmart is testing a store that will only offer self-checkout.
The retailer is removing cashiers and standard conveyor belt lines at one of its popular superstores in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Workers will still be available to help customers who have trouble doing the checkout themselves.
Depending on the success of the test run, Walmart could expand the program to more stores.
The retailer recently launched a touch-free payment system also aimed at helping mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
Health officials ordered the closure of a Walmart in suburban Denver in April after three people connected to the store died after being infected with the coronavirus and at least six employees tested positive.
South Korea said Tuesday that North Korea’s military demolished an inter-Korean liaison office building just north of the tense Korean border, only days after the Hermit Kingdom threatened a “tragic scene” at the site.
The building, located in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, was destroyed at 2:49 p.m. local time, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.
NK News, an organization that tracks North Korean state-run media, reported that the North’s KCNA said the nation had cut off all communication between the two countries. North Korea had previously cut a key hotline with the South and had threatened to shut down all communication with its neighbor to the South.
“The north-south joint liaison office was completely ruined on Tuesday,” the propaganda statement read. “The relevant field of the DPRK put into practice the measure of completely destroying the north-south joint liaison office in the Kaesong Industrial zone in the wake of cutting off all communication ties between the north and the south, corresponding to the mindset of the enraged people to surely force human scum and those, who have sheltered the scum, to pay dearly for their crimes.”
CHINA AND NORTH KOREA RAMPING UP THEIR NUCLEAR WEAPONS ARSENALS: REPORT
North Korea had earlier threatened to demolish the building, blaming the South’s failure to stop activists from flying propaganda leaflets across the heavily militarized border, the AP reported.
Some experts believe North Korea is frustrated because Seoul is unable to resume joint economic projects due to U.S.-led sanctions.
The provocative move comes at a time of increased tensions between the two nations and stalled nuclear negotiations between North Korea and the United States, which at their high-points led to two peace summits and an in-person meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
AMID KIM JONG UN’S HEALTH RUMORS, EXPERTS ASK: IS NORTH KOREA READY FOR A FEMALE LEADER?
The North, still under harsh American sanctions, in recent days has lamented that it did not get substantial concessions out of the negotiations.
“The question is whether there will be a need to keep holding hands shaken in Singapore, as we see that there is nothing of factual improvement to be made in the DPRK-U.S. relations simply by maintaining personal relations between our supreme leadership and the U.S. president,” Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon said in comments published Friday in state media. “Never again will we provide the U.S. chief executive with another package to be used for (political) achievements without receiving any returns.”
NORTH KOREA MARKS 2-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF TRUMP-KIM SUMMIT BY VOWING TO BUILD UP MILITARY
The South Korean Ministry of Unification released a statement last week criticizing the activists who flew the leaflets across the border, saying it damaged relations between the nations.
“The ROKG has decided to file a complaint against ‘Fighters for a Free North Korea’ … and ‘Kuensaem’ … for violating the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act, and begin procedures to cancel their status as non-profit corporations,” a June 10 statement read.
It continued: “The ROKG judged that the two groups violated the inbound and outbound regulations of the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act by flying leaflets and releasing plastic bottles toward North Korea. Such activities, directly going against agreements reached by the leaders of the two Koreas, are considered by the Government to have harmed public interests by creating tensions between the South and the North and posing a risk to the lives and safety of residents living in the border area.”
South Korea’s Blue House, in a press briefing, said that North Korea is “entirely” responsible for the provocation, and its defense ministry said it would take a “strong” stance in response, according to the Korean-language JTBC News.
On Saturday night, Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korea’s leader, warned that Seoul will soon witness “a tragic scene of the useless North-South liaison office (in North Korea) being completely collapsed.” She also said she would leave to North Korea’s military the right to take the next step of retaliation against South Korea.
“We’re taking the situation seriously,” South Korea’s Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo told a briefing, according to Reuters. “Our military is maintaining readiness posture to be able to respond to any situation.”
President Trump on Monday slammed presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as “weak & shot,” claiming that he has done more in his first term than the former vice president did in his entire career of public service.
“I’ve done more in less than 4 years than Biden’s done in more than 40 years, including for Black America,” Trump tweeted early Monday morning. “Biden has been a part of every failed decision for decades. Bad Trade Deals, Endless Wars, you name it, he has shown a complete lack of leadership.”
He added: “He’s weak & shot!!!”
The president’s tweet comes as he prepares to return to the campaign trail this week with a large rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday.
The rally was slated to take place on Friday, June 19, but was rescheduled after controversy over the event coinciding with Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the date in 1865 that President Lincoln’s order to free American slaves reached Texas.
“We had previously scheduled our #MAGA Rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for June 19th – a big deal. Unfortunately, however, this would fall on the Juneteenth Holiday,” the president wrote late Friday. “Many of my African American friends and supporters have reached out to suggest that we consider changing the date out of respect for this Holiday, and in observance of this important occasion and all that it represents. I have therefore decided to move our rally to Saturday, June 20th, in order to honor their requests.”
During an exclusive interview last Friday with Fox News’ Harris Faulkner on “Outnumbered Overtime,” Trump said the originally planned June 19 rally should have been viewed as a “celebration” of Juneteenth rather than a scheduling conflict.
Meanwhile, a Fox News poll earlier this month revealed that Biden had a 9-point edge over Trump, at 49-40 percent, for the general election.
Biden, for his part, has repeatedly slammed Trump for his handling of the unrest over George Floyd’s death on May 25 while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
“We need a president who heals — not one who fans the flames of hate. We need a president who unites — not one who sows further discord for political gain. We need a president who leads the way with a steady hand — not one who incites violence with his erratic tweets,” Biden tweeted Sunday.
WHEN YOU’RE FACED with a threat, the adrenal glands perched atop your kidneys flood your body with the stress hormone cortisol (which amps up your metabolism and fights inflammation) and adrenaline (which speeds up your blood circulation and breathing). This is the biochemistry of your fight-or-flight response—it helps you either flee danger or stand your ground and brawl.
But it can also be overwhelming at times like this, when our brains are being bombarded by an absolute onslaught of crises: the Covid-19 pandemic, economic distress, and nationwide civil unrest as people across the country protest police brutality. You might at this point feel lost or numb, and that’s perfectly natural. Psychologists call it crisis fatigue: Your body is well adapted to handle temporary stresses, but it can get overwhelmed by the constant, unrelenting pressures of this horrible year.
There’s a reason why your body is prepared to ride out a high-stress, highly fearful state of affairs for a short time—when you’re super alert, you’re better able to detect and evade threats. But over the course of weeks, high cortisol levels wreak havoc on the body, resulting in problems like anxiety and insomnia. An ailment called Cushing syndrome, in which your body is exposed to high cortisol levels over an extended period of time, shows just how powerful the hormone is: It comes with weight gain, high blood pressure, and even bone loss. Stress can kill.
“Our bodies can’t sustain that level of nervous load,” says Adrienne Heinz, a clinical research psychologist at the National Center for PTSD, which is part of the US Department of Veterans Affairs. “Things start to fail, the wheels start to fall off. We experience a whole host of consequences—right now we’re seeing an uptick in national anxiety and depression. You start to see insomnia, relationship distress.”
Crisis fatigue manifests itself on two levels. On a societal level, it can tempt people to collectively throw up our hands and give up on civic engagement. “Why not, if we’re going to hell in a handcart? Let’s just enjoy tomorrow,” Matthew Flinders, founding director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics at the University of Sheffield, told WIRED earlier this week.
With social media and cable news, we’re constantly bombarded with doom and gloom—and have been for at least a generation. In the 20 years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United States and the UK have seen an almost constant stream of troubles that have emotionally exhausted their citizens: the 2008 economic collapse, wildfires ravaging the American West, ever-stronger hurricanes pounding the East Coast, and Brexit, just to name a few. “So I think there is a big issue out there around almost the layering, or sedimentation, of crises upon crises upon crises, that risks eroding our sense of social achievement, actually, and resilience,” Flinders said.
On a more individual level, that constant pumping of cortisol, an essential hormone for our survival, has become a burden. Much of the stress comes from uncertainty: Will I get Covid-19? If I do, will I be asymptomatic or end up in the emergency room? Will I inadvertently pass it to my grandparents? Will the presumed second wave of the pandemic that could arrive in the winter be worse than the first? None of us has lived through a pandemic like this, and none of us is equipped with the knowledge to weather it safely. And instead of a federal government standing ready to give us guidance, we have a president who will apparently allow the tear-gassing of peaceful protestors to make a photo op happen. “It’s a wholly different type of crisis, and it just fatigues us in ways that we’re not as used to,” says Heinz.
This is different than the uncertainty we might experience following a regional disaster like, say, a wildfire or a hurricane, which would devastate a much smaller community and be over relatively quickly. “Uncertainty is not new in disasters. It is a common feature of disasters,” says Joshua Morganstein, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on the Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters. But, he continues, “this disaster has some uniqueness in that the uncertainty is about some more fundamental things. It is lasting longer than it typically does in many disasters, and it is affecting far more people than other sort of climate-related disasters would affect.”
President Trump’s final decision to speak in the Rose Garden last evening as protests raged outside the gate was made only hours before, reflecting chaos on both sides of the fence.
Why it matters: Trump’s ultimate remarks fell where his instincts always were: blunt, brutal law and order, with extreme demonstrations of militarized “strength” and blustery threats.
- “I am your president of law and order,” he declared. “Where there is no justice, there is no liberty.”
For the previous 48 hours, aides and outside political advisers hotly debated whether Trump should address the nation.
- Some top officials argued against the idea — telling Trump that his speech would change nothing, that the protests would continue regardless of what he said.
- But others were getting desperate. A number of people reached out directly to the president or his top aides to tell them, with great urgency, that he needed to be seen. They saw signs on Twitter that the conservative base was turning against him, with the question: “Where is Trump?”
A senior White House official said Trump was especially infuriated watching footage of shopkeepers defending their stores against violent looters.
- “He felt like they’ve been in lockdown [for COVID] and now the minute they’re allowed to open they have to close again because of this,” the official said. “Not gonna let it happen.”
The senior ranks of the Pentagon had been in flux:
- Trump wanted to federalize forces across the nation — a decision that has been held off for the moment. But he also wanted a massive display of force in Washington.
- Two senior administration officials said planners had doubts about whether there were enough National Guard members to handle the increasingly violent protests in D.C. So discussions turned to boosting that with possible additions of neighboring state National Guard.
Not everyone in the White House was thrilled with the church photo op.
- One senior aide was exuberantly telling friends the photograph of him holding a Bible in front of the church that had been attacked by vandals was an “iconic” moment for the president.
- But a senior White House official told Axios that when they saw the tear gas clearing the crowd for Trump to walk to the church with his entourage: “I’ve never been more ashamed. I’m really honestly disgusted. I’m sick to my stomach. And they’re all celebrating it. They’re very very proud of themselves.”
Agents reportedly rushed Trump to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) – which was used after the 9/11 terror attacks and is equipped with secret tunnels – on Friday night.
It is located in the ground below the East Wing of the White House, but its exact placement is kept secret.
The PEOC was constructed to protect Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II and was originally built to hold out against a direct nuclear hit.
The White House detailed that the PEOC can be accessed by an elevator “located behind multiple vault-type doors with biometric access control systems.”
The bunker has previously been utilized by Vice President Dick Cheney during 9/11, when authorities feared that one of the hijacked planes was headed towards the White House.
What is the Presidential Emergency Operations Center?
The Presidential Emergency Operations Center is a bunker-like structure underneath the East Wing of the White House.
It serves as a secure shelter and communications center for the president and his key staff in cases of an emergency.
The PEOC is differentiated from the White House Situation Room which is located in the basement of the West Wing.
During the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secret Service agents and other staff were evacuated to the PEOC.
President Bush was in Florida at the time of the attacks.
Dramatized versions of the PEOC were featured in the 2013 films Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down.
The first White House bunker was constructed during WWII to protect President Franklin D. Roosevelt from an aerial attack on Washington.
Former First Lady Laura Bush opened up in a 2010 memoir about her experience during 9/11, describing that the bunker was accessed through “a pair of big steel doors that closed behind me with a loud hiss, forming an airtight seal.”
She witnessed “unfinished subterranean hallways underneath the White House” as she was taken to the PEOC.
Bush recalled old tile floors, pipes hanging from ceilings, and mechanical equipment in the underground command center.
Back in 1950, a White House underground tunnel system connecting the West Wing and East Wing were building, allowing access to the bomb shelter.
Another secret tunnel – which can be accessed through a secret staircase by the press of a wall panel – was created in 1987.
A book released earlier this year, titled The Trump White House: Changing the Rules of the Game, claims a bunker also exists under the North Lawn, according to the Washington Examiner.
“At least five stories deep, the bunker, which was completed near the end of Obama’s tenure, can house the staff of the entire West Wing indefinitely in the event of a weapons of mass destruction attack,” author Ronald Kessler wrote.
“After Trump became president, top staffers toured the bunker, whose existence is classified.”
As of Monday morning it remains unclear why the president was moved to the underground bunker, but it is known the Secret Service has protocols to adhere to when the building is threatened.
Sources told CNN that First Lady Melania Trump and their son, Barron, we also taken to the hidden bunker.
President Trump was in the bunker for less than an hour, the news outlet reported.
At one point, amid the riots, the lights which illuminate the White House were turned off – apparently so the Secret Service could use night vision to monitor protesters.
US Marshals, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, and Secret Service agents have been sent onto the city’s streets to support under-pressure cops and Homeland Security agents.
The National Guard is also reportedly being drafted in to help combat rioting outside the White House and elsewhere in the nation’s capital.
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, told the Times that officials would not comment on why the president was rushed to safety.
On Friday, the White House went into lockdown as angry crowds marched on the Capitol.
Secret Service officials reportedly placed Trump’s abode on high alert in response to the Washington DC protesters before the lockdown concluded just before 8.30pm.
Antifa, the far-left militant movement that calls itself “antifascist,” has no defined organizational hierarchy or membership process. The collection of autonomous Antifa groups in mostly left-wing cities sees itself as a descendant of the European anti-Nazi movements, and generally agrees that the best way to combat ideas they find odious is not through speech or debate but by direct action and physical confrontation.
The first modern Antifa group traces its roots back to Portland, Ore., in 2007, and more than a decade later that city has proven a hotbed for many Antifa members’ preferred activities: threatening and violently assaulting journalists, declaring that all police officers should be killed or at least fired, wearing dark clothing and ski masks that sometimes obscure their artificially colored hair, and even engaging in performative clashes with right-wing groups to dull the monotony of typical suburban life.
Jeffrey Dean Garten, then-28 and of Oakland, was arrested at a violent antifa riot in Berkeley in August 2018. He was charged with carrying a banned weapon. At the riot, extremists threw explosives at police and set a car on fire. https://nypost.com/2018/08/06/berkeley-police-arrest-20-seize-dozens-of-weapons-from-alt-right-and-far-left-protesters/ … #AntifaMugshots
Antifa was present during the infamous and deadly August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. The event saw violent clashes between white supremacists, individuals protesting the removal of a Confederate statue, and left-wing groups. In a haunting moment caught on video, a neo-Nazi drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one.
President Trump quickly condemned white supremacists, while noting that not everyone protesting the statue removal was necessarily a neo-Nazi or white supremacist. However, his comments were widely misinterpreted as praising white supremacists, galvanizing Antifa and bolstering its momentum.
Following one of many clashes between Antifa and right-wing groups, Trump tweeted last year that “major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an ‘ORGANIZATION of TERROR.’” Nevertheless, Antifa has remained one of the most visible and violent left-wing groups in the United States.
In May 2020, Trump said the U.S. would indeed designate Antifa a “terrorist organization,” after a rash of violent protests following the in-custody death of George Floyd. The move gives authorities more tools to track and prosecute criminal members of Antifa.
It remained unclear exactly who was behind the escalation of what began as peaceful protests against police over Floyd’s death, with accusations lobbed against both far-left extremists and white nationalists. The president has been forceful in pointing the finger at the former. “It’s ANTIFA and the Radical Left. Don’t lay the blame on others!” Trump tweeted.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was less decisive in stating who is behind the looting, arson, and violence that has taken place. While he called rioters “Antifa-like” during an appearance on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” he said, “I think it still remains to be seen exactly how” the situation devolved from peaceful protests to something entirely different.
Amid the mayhem, the son of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison tweeted that he is declaring his support for Antifa. Jeremiah Ellison, who is a member of the Minneapolis City Council, noted in the tweet that he believes “white power” terrorists are actually the ones engaging in the looting, arson and other riot activities. Democrats have made scattered claims that the Russians and outside white supremacists are leading the violence, despite contrary evidence indicating that most arrested individuals are local.
Also in late May, Twitter suspended an account claiming to belong to Antifa. The suspension came after the small account urged members to go into “white hoods” and “take what’s ours.” The account, it later emerged, was actually set up by a known white supremacist group. (Twitter and President Trump have sparred over censorship.)
Although several videographers and reporters have covered Antifa, Portland-based independent journalist Andy Ngo has perhaps most extensively documented attacks by self-described Antifa members on journalists, police officers, and even other Antifa members and left-wing supporters in recent years.
Last June, Ngo himself was attacked by Antifa while covering their confrontation with the far-right Proud Boys group, and suffered a brain injury.
“During today’s events, there were multiple assaults reported, as well as projectiles thrown at demonstrators and officers,” the police said in a statement after Ngo’s injury. “There were also reports of pepper spray and bear spray being used by people in the crowd. Officers deployed pepper spray during the incident. There were reports of individuals throwing ‘milkshakes’ with a substance mixed in that was similar to a quick-drying cement. One subject was arrested for throwing a substance during the incident.”
Ngo told Fox News that Trump’s efforts to consider Antifa a terror group “will provide a framework for local authorities and, especially, federal authorities to start investigating this criminal cartel for the street thugs that they are.”
“In addition to the street hooliganism that we see over and over on the streets of America, this movement also has a political ideology that is agitating for a violent political revolution,’ Ngo added.
A few weeks later, an individual who said he was associated with Antifa upgraded from cement to molotov cocktails and an AR-15, as he waged an assault on a federal immigration facility in Washington state. Willem Van Spronsen, 69, was shot dead quickly by responding authorities.
Calls for reform
Top Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, sought a federal investigation of the episode, saying Portland’s mayor and police department are incompetent and failing to adequately protect citizens’ civil rights.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., joined Cruz in advancing federal legislation to take on Antifa.
“It would give law enforcement greater tools, greater permission to use tools, in order to combat Antifa. Antifa is spreading from the West Coast, where it started, to different cities. Their intimidating tactics should be stopped where they are and not allowed to spread,” Cassidy said on “Fox & Friends.”
Local authorities, meanwhile, have shown little interest in the matter.
“We’re not going to come out and save you,” police told a journalist last week as Antifa militants chased him away with pepper spray.
Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner released a statement last year after a flareup of Antifa violence, blaming Portland Mayor Wheeler for lack of enforcement and saying the mayor must “remove the handcuffs from our officers and let them stop the violence through strong and swift enforcement action.”
In response, Wheeler distanced himself from responsibility for the police response to Antifa — and took a shot at Cruz for calling for the feds to step in.
“I thought it was beneath a United States senator,” Wheeler told the outlet. “The truth is, I wasn’t even here. I wasn’t even in the United States. I was with my family in Ecuador on a wildlife tour.”
He added: “One of the things I would like the public to know, is there is a unified incident command center that’s engaged during these demonstrations.”
Antifa attacks people on a bus. They try to pull them out and hit them with a hammer. #PortlandProtests
Three people were arrested in early February after a demonstration in downtown Portland turned “violent” and a war memorial was vandalized.
The Portland Police Bureau said the protesters gathered to counter a demonstration outside the Multnomah County Courthouse that was abruptly canceled.
Police did not provide details about the previously planned demonstration, but Oregon Live reported it was rumored to be a Ku Klux Klan white supremacy rally at a downtown park. Counter-protesters, including members of Antifa, still showed up even though police said the original event was scrapped.
“While the rally was being held and was peaceful, Portland Police officers stayed away,” the police bureau said. “However, some people in the group began acting in a violent, threatening manner against attendees who were legally capturing photos and videos.”
According to police, some people used metal-tipped umbrellas to “jab toward people and chase them down the street.” Other objects, such as rocks, concrete, batons, cans and food were thrown at members of the public and officers.
At least two incendiary devices, believed to be flares, were thrown into nearby traffic, police said. The event spanned nearly four hours and required a “large police response” that limited the department’s ability to respond to calls for service citywide.
Messages reading “Punch Cops,” “Kill Cops,” and “All Cops are Bastards” could be seen on the memorial in photos released by police.
The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said Willy Cannon, 25, was charged with a misdemeanor for abusing a memorial and a felony for criminal mischief. In addition to Cannon, the sheriff’s office said Brandon Farley, 31, was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and Heaven Davis, 19, was charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief.
The word I keep hearing is numbness. Not necessarily a sickness, but feeling ill at ease. A sort of detachment or removal from reality. Deb Hawkins, a tech analyst in Michigan, describes the feeling of being stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic as “sleep-walking through my life” or “wading through a physical and mental quicksand.” Even though she has been living in what she calls an “introvert heaven” for the past two months—at home with her family, grateful they are in good health—her brain has dissented. “I feel like I have two modes,” Hawkins says: “barely functioning and boiling angry.”
Many people are even more deeply unmoored. Michael Falcone has run an acupuncture clinic for the past decade in Memphis, Tennessee. When he temporarily shut it down, the toll on his mental health was immediate. “I went into a pretty instant depression when I realized that my actual purpose was disintegrating,” he says. He began spending his days staring at his bookshelves. Falcone and I have exchanged emails for weeks now, and while his notes have been full of whimsical musings about adjusting to home life, one included a jarring line: “I’ve lost faith in myself. I don’t know if I can actually justify taking up space and resources.”
After I confirmed with Falcone that he had no intent to harm himself, I recommended that he seek medical help. But given the unprecedented circumstances we’re all in, I’m not sure whether I under- or overreacted—or even what “help” should look like, exactly. The pandemic is a moment of historic loss: unemployment, isolation, stasis, financial devastation, medical suffering, and hundreds of thousands of deaths globally. Suddenly droves of people are being thrown into a state like Falcone’s, feeling lost, hopeless—in his words, “depressed.”
Over the past month, Jennifer Leiferman, a researcher at the Colorado School of Public Health, has documented a tidal wave of depressive symptoms in the U.S. “The rates we’re seeing are just so much higher than normal,” she says. Leiferman’s team recently found that people in Colorado have, during the pandemic, been nine times more likely to report poor mental health than usual. About 23 percent of Coloradans have symptoms of clinical depression.
As a rough average, during pre-pandemic life, 5 to 7 percent of people met the criteria for a diagnosis of depression. Now, depending how you define the condition, orders of magnitude more people do. Robert Klitzman, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, extrapolates from a recent Lancet study in China to estimate that about 50 percent of the U.S. population is experiencing depressive symptoms. “We are witnessing the mental-health implications of massive disease and death,” he says. This has the effect of altering the social norm by which depression and other conditions are defined. Essentially, this throws off the whole definitional rubric.
Feelings of numbness, powerlessness, and hopelessness are now so common as to verge on being considered normal. But what we are seeing is far less likely an actual increase in a disease of the brain than a series of circumstances that is drawing out a similar neurochemical mix. This poses a diagnostic conundrum. Millions of people exhibiting signs of depression now have to discern ennui from temporary grieving from a medical condition. Those at home Googling symptoms need to know when to seek medical care, and when it’s safe to simply try baking more bread. Clinicians, meanwhile, need to decide how best to treat people with new or worsening symptoms: to diagnose millions of people with depression, or to more aggressively treat the social circumstances at the core of so much suffering.
Clearly articulating the meaning of medical depression is an existential challenge for the mental-health profession, and for a country that does not ensure its people health care. If we fail, the second wave of death from this pandemic will not be directly caused by the virus. It will take the people who suffered mentally from its reverberations.
Andrew Solomon, the author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, groups people based on four basic ways they’re responding to the current crisis. Two are straightforward. In the first are people who are drawing on huge stockpiles of resilience and truly doing okay. When you ask how they feel and they say “eh, fine,” they actually mean it. In the second, at the opposite end of things, are people who already have a clinical diagnosis of major depressive disorder or a persistent version known as dysthymia. Right now, their symptoms are at high risk of escalating. “They develop what some clinicians call ‘double depression,’ in which the underlying disorder coexists with a new layer of fear and sorrow,” Solomon says. Such people may need higher levels of medical care than usual, and may even need to be hospitalized.
The remaining two groups constitute more of a gray area. One group consists of the millions of people now experiencing depressive symptoms in a real way, but who nonetheless will return to their baseline eventually, as long as their symptoms are addressed. People in this group are in urgent need of basic interventions that help create routine and structure. Those might involve regularizing sleep and food, minimizing alcohol and other substances, exercising, avoiding obsessions with the news, and cutting back on other aimless habits that might be easier to moderate in normal times.
The fourth group encompasses people who are starting to develop clinical depression. More than simply a wellness regimen or a Zoom with friends, they need some type of formal medical intervention. They may have seemed fine and had adequate resilience in normal times, to deal with normal difficulties, but they’ve always had a propensity to develop overt depression. Solomon describes this group as “hanging on the precipice of what could be considered pathologic.” It can be especially precarious because people in this state—what some researchers refer to as “subclinical depression”—have not dealt with depression before, and may not have the capacity or resources to proactively seek treatment.
The earlier specific types of depression can be identified, the better people can be directed toward proper treatment. The mental-health system has always had barriers to identifying and helping people early—issues like access to care and stigma around seeking it out. In the midst of this pandemic, not only is the current population of psychiatrists insufficient to suddenly treat several times as many people as usual, but their basic capacities of diagnosis are also hindered by distance, volume, and confounding variables. “It takes considerable wisdom to delineate who has a clinical condition and needs medication and therapy, and who is just stressed out within the bounds of good mental health,” Solomon says. Clinicians train for years to understand that line, and placing people on one side or the other typically requires long interviews in which every element of a person’s affect is noted.
Even for people who manage to connect with clinicians, subtleties are difficult to read over video calls, says Meghan Jarvis, a trauma therapist who has been seeing a spectrum of reactions to the pandemic, including depression. Normally, Jarvis sends maybe one patient a year to the hospital for a pathologic response to trauma. Since March, she has already had to hospitalize four people. Typically, she explains, symptoms of depression are considered problematic if they last six weeks after a traumatic event. The precise length is arbitrary, but is meant to generally help distinguish depression from periods of grieving, such as after the death of a loved one. That distinction is largely useless in the pandemic. “I mean, we’re all going to have that,” Jarvis says, “because we’ve been in this mode for more than six weeks.”
Now Jarvis and others have to develop new thresholds. Just as, in the time of COVID-19, not everyone with a cough can go to the hospital, clinicians are working to identify and prioritize those who truly need in-person mental-health attention. Jennifer Rapke, the head of inpatient consultation at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in New York, has seen a surge in teenagers reporting suicidal ideation and instances of self-harm, so she has been carefully turning away the less severe cases to make sure that inpatient facilities aren’t overwhelmed. “We’re only seeing people who absolutely need to be here,” she says. Meanwhile, those with milder, emerging cases are sometimes left in limbo. “The places we would normally send people, the things we would put in place to address the depression or the anxiety in early phases—they don’t exist or they’re unavailable,” Rapke says.
With less preventive and maintenance care accessible, people are more likely to come to hospitals in more severe states. During crises, extreme events like self-harm and suicide lag in time. At first, being anxious about the proximity of death, or sad about the loss of loved ones is logical; any other reaction would be bizarre. Our minds and bodies can’t endure that state for too long, though. The United States was slow to test for the coronavirus, and COVID-19 cases accumulated before we knew just how widespread it was. Rapke and others are now bracing for a similarly delayed wave of severe depression—and the difficult decisions they will have to make about treatments.
The elusive definition of depression has always been a source of academic tension with serious consequences. Among the many challenges the pandemic is posing, it is exposing the borders of medicine’s ability to distill human suffering into a billable diagnostic code. Some people with symptoms of depression will be told, “Everyone feels that way,” or advised to try breathing exercises when they need urgent medical attention. Others will be diagnosed with clinical depression, changing their life and self-conception indefinitely, when the problems were truly circumstantial. The system has never been flawless, but its limitations are now brought into stark relief.
For most of human history, depression was not treated in the same medical model as were diseases of the body. People with mental illnesses were written off as morally bankrupt or simply “insane.” Only in the latter half of the 20th century did the profession of psychiatry become a medical specialty and create systematic approaches to treatment. The process for diagnosing a condition in psychiatry and clinical psychology will never be as straightforward and objective as saying whether a bone is broken or not, or whether a person has had a heart attack. But it provides a common, basic language for what a clinician means when he or she diagnoses a patient with something like depression. It also helps patients get the insurance coverage and health-care service they need.
Today, depression—the clinical condition, otherwise known as major depressive disorder—is defined by the American Psychiatric Association in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as a mood disorder.* To receive the diagnosis, a person must have five or more symptoms such as the following, nearly every day during a two-week period: fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt, reduced physical movement, indecisiveness or impaired concentration, a decreased or increased appetite, and a greatly diminished interest or pleasure in regular activities.
Experts are trained to identify exactly how much “impaired concentration” or “loss of energy” is enough to qualify for a diagnosis, and the criteria are intentionally flexible enough to factor in patients’ individual circumstances. But as the pandemic has made clear, the DSM-5 and medical model as a whole don’t provide the richness of language to account for all the nuanced ways people might look or feel depressed, even when they don’t need medical intervention. Well-meaning attempts to standardize the diagnostic process have created a false binary wherein you are a person with depression, or you are not.
Outside of medicine, depression has been most cogently defined through metaphor. As Sylvia Plath wrote: “The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.” David Foster Wallace described depression as feeling that “every single atom in every single cell in your body is sick.” Even some clinical models reach for alternative ways of articulating despair beyond the conventional medical model. James Hollis, a psychodynamic analyst and the author of Living Between Worlds: Finding Resilience in Changing Times, says that depression is sometimes the result of “intrapsychic tension,” a conflict between two areas of our psyche, or identity. The tension is created, Hollis observes, “when we’re forced to try to make acquaintances with ourselves in new ways.”
Many Americans do seem to be experiencing something like this tension during the pandemic. People who define themselves by their work can lose a basic sense of self if that work disappears. In such moments, Hollis says, many people regress. Many also try to escape—whether by organizing an already well-organized sock drawer, baking bread they don’t even want, or endlessly scrolling through Instagram. Jarvis, the trauma therapist, is seeing similar escapist tendencies: “For someone’s response to a huge global pandemic to be like, I’m going to work out really hard, is just as pathological and sort of dissociative as if you went to bed and didn’t get up for five days.”
For people whose response to the pandemic turns from acute anxiety into general malaise, Jarvis recommends facing the numbness head-on. It’s treatable, and not necessarily with medication. First, she says, create regimens of simple tasks that give structure to the day. The approach is working for Falcone, the acupuncturist. He starts every day with 30 minutes of stretching, no matter what. Then he walks his dog, makes coffee, and sits down to teach massage via Zoom. Deb Hawkins, the tech analyst, sent me a list of things she’s doing to help others and stay busy: She donated money to a couple of worthy causes, and made an appointment to give blood. She has created a small social bubble and signed up for an online ballet class. She says her sense of self is returning.
Small steps like these will not work for everyone, but they may help many in the subclinical realm to mitigate a dangerous slide. With the medical system already stretched thin, these could buy some time to build its capacity to care for the people who will emerge from the pandemic with severe and lasting symptoms. As important as preventive behaviors can be, human resilience has limits. Those will be tested for months to come.
The individual model of depression was never meant to address a significant percentage of a population. When the diagnosis seems to apply so widely, it’s not the people or the entire medical system that’s broken, but the social context. While many people will find ways to recalibrate their expectations and individual thresholds for joy in the pandemic, ultimately basic needs still have to be met. This means eliminating sources of anxiety, such as by ensuring financial, housing, and food security. In Colorado, Leiferman’s group is among those scrambling to help stem the tide of depressive symptoms. “Our nation is under stress. It may be that more people need [medical] treatment,” she says. “It may be that we need to, as a population, do more to relieve the stress.”
The Minneapolis police chief acknowledged Thursday that his department contributed to a so-called “deficit of hope” that plagued his city well before the death of George Floyd, a black man who died while in police custody on Memorial Day.
Chief Medaria Arradondo said during a news conference that the Minnesota city has experienced a lot of trauma in the wake of Floyd’s death and that he could not allow others to compound that trauma with looting, robbing and torching buildings in the name of the First Amendment.
“I know that there is currently a deficit of hope in this city and I know as I wear this uniform before you, this department has contributed to that deficit of hope, but I will not allow to continue to increase that deficit by re-traumatizing those folks in our community.”
He continued: “I am committed to restoring peace and security in our community.”
Arradondo’s remarks came hours after the Justice Department said it was making the federal investigation into Floyd’s death a “top priority.” It also promised a “robust” probe by the FBI.
Floyd, 46, was pronounced dead Monday night after he was pinned to the ground by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
The circumstances surrounding Floyd’s death have weighed on the city.
Chauvin, along with three other police officers involved in the incident, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and J. Alexander Kueng, were fired from the force Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey demanded the arrest of Chauvin, the police officer seen on camera kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he struggled to breathe.
Frey also called for Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to “act on the evidence before him” and charge the “arresting officer” shown with his knee on Floyd.
“I’ve wrestled with, more than anything else over the last 36 hours, one fundamental question: Why is the man who killed George Floyd not in jail?” Frey asked during a news conference. “If you had done it, or I had done it, we would be behind bars right now.”
A man was found dead Wednesday night on a sidewalk. Police, who responded to the area of Bloomington and Lake Street at 9:25 p.m., said the initial call was a reported stabbing, but the wound turned out to be from a gunshot.
The man, who has not been identified, was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
The Star Tribune reported local law enforcement officials were still working early Thursday after at least five people were struck by gunfire throughout the night.
In the case of the fatality, the newspaper reported it is believed the man was killed when the owner of a pawn shop opened fire on a man he believed was burglarizing his business.
A 59-year-old man is in custody in connection to Wednesday night’s fatal shooting, but the details of the case were “still being sorted out,” police spokesman John Elder told reporters.
He said the death is being investigated as a homicide.
Demonstrations broke out in the early afternoon Wednesday near the city’s 3rd Precinct station, in the southern part of Minneapolis, where Floyd died on Memorial Day after Chauvin knelt on his neck until he became unresponsive.
City Council VP Andrea Jenkins, in the same news conference as Arradondo on Thursday, condemned the violence in the city overnight.
“You have every absolute right to be angry,” she said. “However, you have no right to perpetrate violence and harm on the very communities that you say that you are standing up for.”
She added: “We need peace and calm in our streets and I’m begging you for that calm.”
Footage from the ground showed protesters milling in streets, some running in and out of nearby stores. A Target, a Cub Foods, a Dollar Tree, and an auto parts store all showed signs of damage and looting. As darkness fell, a fire erupted in the auto parts store before protesters set other fires in the street.
On Thursday morning, blocks of buildings with broken-out windows and other damage were seen.
Frey tweeted for calm early Thursday. “Please, Minneapolis, we cannot let tragedy beget more tragedy,” he said on Twitter. He also asked for the public’s help in keeping the peace.
Arradondo said the protests on Wednesday night had a “different tenor” than previous demonstrations.
It was the second night of violent protests since the death of Floyd, whom police were seeking to arrest outside a Minneapolis grocery store on a report of a counterfeit bill being passed. A bystander’s cellphone video showed an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost eight minutes as he eventually becomes unresponsive.
Protesters damage properties at the Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct in Minneapolis on May 27. The mayor of Minneapolis called Wednesday for criminal charges against the white police officer seen on video kneeling against the neck of a handcuffed black man who complained that he could not breathe and died in police custody. (Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune via AP)
Frey also asked the governor to deploy the Minnesota National Guard to help with the response to the protests. A spokesperson with the governor’s office told FOX 9 the state has so far deployed 50 to 60 state troopers to assist Minneapolis police.
Arradondo, who urged calm, told FOX 9 there is an internal investigation as well an FBI investigation of Floyd’s death underway.
“Justice historically has never come to fruition through some of the acts we’re seeing tonight, whether it’s the looting, the damage to property or other things,” he said.