Monday saw an end to legal mandates on social distancing and face coverings, with the Prime Minister saying “Freedom Day” had to take place in a press briefing. But Professor Anthony Glees, intelligence and security expert at Buckingham University, has blasted ending lockdown rules as “wrong and risky”.
The professor shared his doubts about the Prime Minister’s Covid strategy, and pointed out there have already been many other “freedom days” for Britain.
He said: “The choice to reopen is wrong and risky and indicates, once again, that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ready to bet on people’s lives without worrying about the deaths that could be avoided.
“Restrictions were already lifted, for the first time, in mid-July last year, after the first lockdown that began in March, and then again in December 2020, after the removal of the second lockdown introduced in November.
“And these freedom days were followed by new waves of Covid. Boris Johnson had promised that, this time, he would decide on the basis of data and not dates.
“That is, he would look at the number of infections and vaccinations before making a final decision on openings, but that’s not what’s happening.”
READ MORE: Boris on the brink: Senior backbencher threatens to overthrow PM
Speaking to Italian news outlet Avvenire, Prof Glees noted experts who have railed against Mr Johnson ending restrictions.
He told the website: “Experts, who are against the removal of restrictions, predict that we will reach 100,000 infected.
“Even if the number of deaths and resuscitation patients remains low, the impact on the life of the country will be devastating.”
The expert then said England could have waiting one more month to ensure “30 percent more of the population would be protected and, perhaps, we would be able to achieve herd immunity”.
He said: “There is no reason to open now. It is reasonable to wait another month.”
In a press briefing, delivered while self-isolating in Chequers on Monday, the Prime Minister defended the move out of lockdown for England.
He said: “there comes a point when restrictions no longer prevent hospitalisations and deaths, but simply delay the inevitable.
“And so we have to ask ourselves the question: if not now, when?
“Though both hospitalisations and deaths are sadly rising, these numbers are well within the margins of what our scientists predicted at the outset of the roadmap.
“And so it is right to proceed cautiously in the way that we are.”
July 19 saw 46,558 new cases and 96 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test in the UK.
In total, the UK has seen 5,519,602 cases and 128,823 deaths from the virus.
As of July 19, 4,567 patients are currently in hospital and 611 are on ventilation.
Another 35,670 first doses and 143,560 second doses of coronavirus vaccine were administered on Monday.
In total, 46,349,709 first doses and 36,243,287 second doses have been administered, equalling 88 percent and 68.8 percent of the population respectively.
The Government’s chief scientific adviser said on Monday that sixty percent of hospitalisations from coronavirus were fully vaccinated patients. However, he later took to Twitter to correct his statement, pointing out that 60 percent of Covid hospitalisations were unvaccinated people.
He wrote: “Correcting a statistic I gave at the press conference today, 19 July.
“About 60% of hospitalisations from Covid are not from double-vaccinated people, rather 60% of hospitalisations from Covid are currently from unvaccinated people.”
But Sir Patrick was met with criticism from Twitter users, with some calling on him to correct the error in a press conference.
One Twitter user said: “I have a friend double vaxxed who is 40 and healthy terrified to leave the house and quoting what you said as a reason!
“At some point we need to dial down the fear so people can live again.”
Another person added: “Jesus that’s quite a big error – that needs to be clarified in a press conference not just here.”
A third person wrote: “Sir, with all due respect, I do not think a government chief scientific adviser should be making that kind of a mistake.
“I don’t see how the public will be able to trust anything you say without waiting for corrections in future.”
The Prime Minister also addressed the nation on Monday to provide the latest coronavirus updates while in isolation after being contacted by the NHS test and trace app.
“And for most people who get this Delta variant, it’s going to be the most serious virus that they get in their lifetime in terms of the risk of putting them in the hospital,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration during the Trump administration, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday.
Delta is the most transmissible Covid-19 variant yet, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN. And experts say it is exacerbating the rise in cases among unvaccinated Americans.
In Los Angeles County, the rate of new Covid-19 cases has increased 300% since July 4, the county health department said. Covid-19 hospitalizations have more than doubled from the previous month.
And 48 states are now seeing new case numbers surge at least 10% higher than the previous week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
That is concerning, Murthy said, because often a rise in cases and hospitalizations is followed by a rise in Covid-19 deaths. Experts are particularly worried about the unvaccinated populations, as 99.5% of the deaths from Covid-19 occur among people who have not been vaccinated, Murthy said.
The only way to stem the rise in cases is vaccination, Murthy told CNN’s Dana Bash Sunday.
The fight to increase vaccinations is transitioning to the hands of local leaders, Murthy said. Springfield, Missouri, Mayor Ken McClure told “Face the Nation” he hopes community leaders will convince people to get vaccinated before it is too late.
“So it gets down to the community leaders, the community institutions that people trust saying you have to get vaccination. That’s the only way that we are going to emerge from this,” McClure said.
Delta variant sends younger people to the hospital
The Delta variant might spread faster than other strains of coronavirus because it makes more copies of itself inside our bodies at a faster pace, researchers found.
In research posted online, scientists examining 62 cases of the Delta variant found viral loads about 1,260 times higher than those found in 63 cases from the early epidemic wave in 2020.
The Delta variant is also sending younger and previously healthy people to hospitals — the vast majority of which have not been vaccinated, say doctors in several states suffering surges.
“This year’s virus is not last year’s virus,” said Dr. Catherine O’Neal, an infectious disease specialist at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“It’s attacking our 40-year-olds. It’s attacking our parents and young grandparents. And it’s getting our kids,” O’Neal said. She said her Covid-19 unit now has more patients in their 20s than previously during the pandemic.
In the face of rampant misinformation about the virus and the vaccine, McClure urged people to use trusted sources and to “make sure people have good information.”
Misinformation “takes away our freedom,” Murthy said, adding that the inaccurate information inhibits people’s power to make educated decisions about the health of themselves and their families.
And with the virus’ disproportionately higher impact among people who aren’t vaccinated, the consequences can be severe.
“All this misinformation that’s floating around is having a real cost that can be measured in lives lost, and that is tragic,” Murthy said.
Children under 12 likely won’t get vaccinations soon
One important reason adults should get vaccinated, experts have said, is to protect children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
Currently, Covid-19 vaccines are only authorized for children 12 and older, but studies are underway to test the safety and efficacy of vaccinating younger children.
On Saturday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, shed light on the timeline for approving Covid-19 vaccines for children younger than 12.
Right now, he told CNN’s Jim Acosta, scientists are conducting studies in de-escalating age groups, looking at children from 12 to 9-years-old, then 9 to 6, 6 to 2 and then 2-years to 6-months old.
“Thus far, things look good, but the final decision is going to be up to the FDA. And I would imagine that likely will not happen until we get well into the winter, towards the end of this year,” Fauci said.
11 people show up to three-hour vaccination event
In Alabama, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the US, a three-and-a-half-hour vaccination clinic at a church outside of Birmingham Sunday yielded little progress as only 11 people showed up.
MedsPlus, the health care provider on site, has been holding clinics at churches, business and community centers, in hopes of partnering with local leaders that people trust. But according to Alabama Public Health Department’s dashboard, the number of vaccines administered in the state has dropped off in a steep decline since the peak in March and April.
According to data from the CDC, just 33.7% of Alabama’s residents were fully vaccinated as of Sunday.
Since April 1, 529 people have died in Alabama from Covid-19. According to the Alabama Public Health department, about 96% of them were unvaccinated.
Shuntasia Williams, 15, said she got her first dose of vaccine at the event because she wants to be protected when school starts next month. She told CNN she’s proud of her friend group for being vaccinated, but she has also seen rumors online that her peers are falling for.
“I seen somebody that said their arm got so swollen, it had to get amputated off,” Williams said. “That is the most crazy thing. One thing about vaccines is they start spreading rumors about it, but you have to get out and see it for yourself.”
Williams said these are not first-hand accounts by people, but rather misleading posts and articles that continue to be shared.
“Take it from me. I’m 15 years old. Go get the vaccine. It’s not shocking. My arm is not swollen. I’m not getting my arm amputated. I’m actually feeling great,” she said.
CNN’s Aya Elamroussi, Holly Yan,Claudia Dominguez, Ben Tinker and Natasha Chen contributed to this report.
Gauff, 17, made the announcement on social media Sunday.
Editor’s Note: The video above is from July 2019.
American tennis star Coco Gauff will not be participating in the Olympic Games in Tokyo, after testing positive for COVID-19, the 17-year-old confirmed on social media Sunday.
“I am so disappointed to share the news that I have tested positive for COVID and won’t be able to play in the Olympic Games in Tokyo,” Gauff said in an image shared on Twitter and Instagram. She goes on to add, “I want to wish Team USA best of luck and a safe games for every Olympian and the entire Olympic family.”
Gauff was set to make her Team USA debut in Tokyo, alongside Jennifer Brady, Jessica Pegula and Alison Riske for women’s singles.
— Coco Gauff (@CocoGauff) July 18, 2021
Gauff was also expected to team up with Nicole Melichar in the women’s doubles competition. According to NBC Sports, Gauff would have been the youngest tennis player in the Olympics since 2000. In her social media post, Gauff said she hopes she’ll have “many more chances” to represent Team USA in the future. So far there’s been no word on who might replace Gauff.
In a statement on Twitter Sunday, the USTA said, “The entire USA Tennis Olympic contingent is heartbroken for Coco.”
USTA Statement: We were saddened to learn that Coco Gauff has tested positive for COVID-19 and will therefore be unable to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The entire USA Tennis Olympic contingent is heartbroken for Coco. (1/2)
— USTA (@usta) July 18, 2021
Gauff is currently ranked 25th in women’s singles by the Women’s Tennis Association. Her last match was a loss in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon where she fell to 22-ranked Angelique Kerber of Germany.
The Tokyo Games are scheduled to start their first events Wednesday, while the country of Japan is under a state of emergency because of the rising number of coronavirus cases. Earlier in the weekend, two South African soccer players became the first athletes inside the Olympic Village to test positive for COVID-19. A South African video analyst has tested positive as well.
Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
The number of COVID-19 cases is going up in every state as the Delta variant continues to spread across the nation.
An analysis by The New York Times of data from state and local health agencies showed a 7-day average of about 28,000 new cases a day on Thursday, a major jump from around 11,000 daily cases on June 20. That’s still better than the last surge in January, when there was a 7-day average of about 255,000 new cases a day.
“This will definitely be a surge,” Michael Osterholm, PhD, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told the Times. “It won’t be as big as what happened in January. But we still have 100 million people in the United States who are susceptible to COVID-19.”
The CDC says the Delta variant is now responsible for about 59% of new COVID-19 infections in the nation.
Hospitalizations are not nearly as high as during the dark days of January, but they’re rising from last month, especially in areas with low vaccination rates.
In Springfield, MO, health officials are seeking state funding to set up a field hospital to handle the overflow of patients, USA Today reported. That was a tactic used in California during the worst days of the pandemic.
“Over the past week, we have seen dramatic increases in COVID-19-related cases,” said Katie Towns, the interim Greene County, MO, Health Department director. “We need help.”
Less than half of the adults in Missouri are fully vaccinated, according to the Times.
The Times said new cases are up 70% in the last 2 weeks in Mississippi, where only 43% of adults are vaccinated. That’s the lowest rate in the nation.
The Mississippi State Department of Public Health is now advising everybody over 12 to get vaccinated, all people to wear masks when indoors in public areas, and everybody over 65 to avoid indoor mass gatherings — whether they’re vaccinated or not.
National health officials keep urging people to get vaccinated, especially because the three vaccines given emergency use authorization have been shown to give strong protection against the Delta variant.
But vaccine hesitancy remains, especially in the Southern and Midwestern states.
The Times said only about 530,000 people in the U.S. are being vaccinated a day, down from 3.3 million a day in April. Less than half the U.S. is fully vaccinated, the CDC says, though 79% of people over 65 — the most vulnerable demographic — are fully vaccinated.
“In March, people flooded to our vaccination sites — all we had to do was open a door,” Ben Weston, MD, the director of medical services for the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management in Wisconsin, told the Times. “Now we have to go out and find people.”
About 48% of people in Milwaukee County are fully vaccinated, The Times reported.
L.A. County Makes Indoor Masking Mandatory
Los Angeles County public health officials are once again making face masks in indoor public places mandatory — not just advisable — regardless of a person’s vaccination status. The new masking order takes effect Saturday.
Because of the Delta variant, case counts have soared since the state government reopened the economy on June 15, L.A. County Public Health said in a news release.
The Health Department reported 210 new COVID cases on June 15, compared to 1,537 new cases on Thursday — the highest number since mid-March. Thursday’s test positivity rate was 3.7%, up from .5% on June 15.
The Delta variant accounted for 71% of all sequenced cases from June 27 to July 3, the Health Department said.
“We expect to keep masking requirements in place until we begin to see improvements in our community transmission of COVID-19,” L.A. County Health Officer Muntu Davis, MD, said in the release.
Sacramento and Yolo counties in California are now recommending, but not requiring, that residents wear masks in indoor public places, according to SFGate. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week there was no immediate plan for a statewide requirement.
Austin, TX, Brings Back COVID Protocols
Because of a surge in infections, the city of Austin, TX, is returning to Stage 3 protocols, the city government said in a news release.
The city recommends that unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people wear masks at indoor and outdoor gatherings or while dining, shopping, and traveling. People who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated and considered high-risk should avoid those activities altogether.
Vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks during those activities, the news release said.
“While the Delta variant has likely been circulating in our area for a while, we now have confirmation through sequencing that it is here,” said Desmar Walkes, MD, the health authority for Austin-Travis County.
“Disturbingly, we are now experiencing a rise in COVID hospitalizations that could overwhelm our city’s ICUs. Almost all these hospitalizations involve those who have not been vaccinated. This is a plea for people to become vaccinated, so we do not put our ICU capacity at risk,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in the news release.
But the Texas Tribune pointed out that the Stage 3 guidelines don’t carry the weight of law. Last May, Gov. Greg Abbott banned pandemic mandates.
MLB Game Postponed After Six Yankees Test Positive
A Thursday game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees was postponed when six Yankee players tested positive for COVID-19, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, according to CNN.
“We have three positives, and we have three pending that we’ve had rapid tests on,” Cashman said. The rapid tests are being confirmed with other tests, he said.
The three players with confirmed positive tests were all vaccinated, he said. In March, eight “breakthrough” cases were reported with the Yankees.
The New York Times: “After a Steep Plunge in Virus Cases, Every State Is Seeing an Uptick,” “See How Vaccinations Are Going in Your County and State.”
USA Today: “Health leaders ask for funding to set up ‘alternate care site’ as hospitals strain under new COVID-19 infections.”
Mississippi State Department of Public Health: “Preventing COVID-19: Recommendations and Requirements.”
L.A. County Public Health: “L.A. County Community Transmission of COVID-19 Increases from Moderate to Substantial; Reinstating Masking Indoors for Everyone — 1,537 New Confirmed Cases of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County and 3 Deaths.”
SFGate: “LA County requires masks again, 2 California counties recommend.”
City of Austin: “COVID-19 News Update.”
Texas Tribune: “Austin announces stricter coronavirus protocols for unvaccinated residents as cases increase. But it can’t legally enforce them.”
CNN: “Game postponed after 6 New York Yankees have tested positive for Covid-19, team says.”
Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
People hospitalized with acute COVID-19 who developed acute severe respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) had poorer exercise capacity, health-related quality of life, and overall health than the general population a median of 8 months after initial COVID diagnosis, according to a prospective cohort study.
Findings from the cohort, composed of 113 COVID-19 survivors who developed ARDS after admission to a single center before to April 16, 2020, were presented online at the 31st European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases by Judit Aranda, MD, from Complex Hospitalari Moisés Broggi in Barcelona, Spain.
Median age of the participants was 64 years, and 70% were male. At least one persistent symptom was experienced during follow-up by 81% of the cohort, with 45% reporting shortness of breath, 50% reporting muscle pain, 43% reporting memory impairment, and 46% reporting physical weakness of at least 5 on a 10-point scale.
Of the 104 participants who completed a 6-minute walk test, 30% had a decrease in oxygen saturation level of at least 4%, and 5% had an initial or final level below 88%. Of the 46 participants who underwent a pulmonary function test, 15% had a forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) below 70%.
And of the 49% of participants with pathologic findings on chest x-ray, most were bilateral interstitial infiltrates (88%).
In addition, more than 90% of participants developed depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, Aranda reported.
Not the Whole Picture
This study shows that sicker people — “those in intensive care units with acute respiratory distress syndrome” — are “more likely to be struggling with more severe symptoms,” said Christopher Terndrup, MD, from the division of general internal medicine and geriatrics at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.
But a Swiss study, also presented at the meeting, “shows how even mild COVID cases can lead to debilitating symptoms,” Terndrup told Medscape Medical News.
The investigation of long-term COVID symptoms in outpatients was presented online by Florian Desgranges, MD, from Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland. He and his colleagues found that more than half of those with a mild to moderate disease had persistent symptoms at least 3 months after diagnosis.
The prevalence of long COVID has varied in previous research, from 15% in a study of healthcare workers, to 46% in a study of patients with mild COVID, 52% in a study of young COVID outpatients, and 76% in a study of patients hospitalized with COVID.
Desgranges and his colleagues evaluated patients seen in an emergency department or outpatient clinic from February to April 2020.
The 418 patients with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis were compared with a control group of 89 patients who presented to the same centers during the same timeframe with similar symptoms — cough, shortness of breath, or fever — but had a negative SARS-CoV-2 test.
The number of patients with comorbidities was similar in the COVID and control groups (34% vs 36%), as was median age (41 vs 36 years) and the prevalence of women (62% vs 64%), but the proportion of healthcare workers was lower in the COVID group (64% vs 82%; P =.006).
Symptoms that persisted for at least 3 months were more common in the COVID than in the control group (53% vs 37%). And patients in the COVID group reported more symptoms than those in the control group after adjustment for age, gender, smoking status, comorbidities, and timing of the survey phone call.
Association Between Persistent Symptoms and COVID-19
Adjusted Odds Ratio
Shortness of breath
Loss of smell or taste
Levels of sleeping problems and headache were similar in the two groups.
“We have to remember that with COVID-19 came the psychosocial changes of the pandemic situation” Desgranges said.
This study suggests that some long-COVID symptoms — such as the fatigue, headache, and sleep disorders reported in the control group — could be related to the pandemic itself, which has caused psychosocial distress, Terndrup said.
Another study that looked at outpatients “has some fantastic long-term follow-up data, and shows that many patients are still engaging in rehabilitation programs nearly a year after their diagnosis,” he explained.
The COVID HOME Study
That prospective longitudinal COVID HOME study, which assessed long-term symptoms in people who were never hospitalized for COVID, was presented online by Adriana Tami, MD, PhD, from the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands.
The researchers visited the homes of patients to collect data, blood samples, and perform PCR testing 1, 2, and 3 weeks after a diagnosis of COVID-19. If their PCR test was still positive, testing continued until week 6 or a negative test. In addition, participants completed questionnaires at week 2 and at months 3, 6 and 12 to assess fatigue, quality of life, and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Three-month follow-up data were available for 134 of the 276 people initially enrolled in the study. Questionnaires were completed by 85 participants at 3 months, 62 participants at 6 months, and 10 participants at 12 months.
At least 40% of participants reported long-lasting symptoms at some point during follow-up, and at least 30% said they didn’t feel fully recovered at 12 months. The most common symptom was persistent fatigue, reported at 3, 6, and 12 months by at least 44% of participants. Other common symptoms — reported by at least 20% of respondents at 3, 6, and 12 months — were headache, mental or neurologic symptoms, and sleep disorders, shortness of breath, lack of smell or taste, and severe fatigue.
“We have a high proportion of nonhospitalized individuals who suffer from long COVID after more than 12 months,” Tami concluded, adding that the study is ongoing. “We have other variables that we want to look at, including duration viral shedding and serological results and variants.”
“These cohort studies are very helpful, but they can lead to inaccurate conclusions,” Terndrup cautioned.
They only provide pieces of the big picture, but they “do add to a growing body of knowledge about a significant portion of COVID patients still struggling with symptoms long after their initial infection. The symptoms can be quite variable but are dominated by both physical and mental fatigue, and tend to be worse in patients who were sicker at initial infection,” he told Medscape Medical News.
As a whole, these studies reinforce the need for treatment programs to help patients who suffer from long COVID, he added, but “I advise caution to folks suffering out there who seek ‘miracle cures’; across the world, we are collaborating to find solutions that are safe and effective.”
We are in desperate need of an equity lens in these studies.
“There is still a great deal to learn about long COVID,” said Terndrup. Data on under-represented populations — such as Black, Indigenous, and people of color — are lacking from these and others studies, he explained. “We are in desperate need of an equity lens in these studies,” particularly in the United States, where there are “significant disparities” in the treatment of different populations.
However, “I do hope that this work can lead to a better understanding of how other viral infections can cause long-lasting symptoms,” said Terndrup.
“We have long proposed that after acute presentation, some microbes can cause chronic symptoms, like fatigue and widespread pain. Perhaps we can learn how to better care for these patients after learning from COVID’s significant impact on our societies across the globe.”
Aranda and Desgranges have disclosed no relevant financial relationships or study funding. The study by Tami’s team was funded by the University Medical Center Groningen, the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development (ZonMW), and Connecting European Cohorts to Increase Common and Effective Response to SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic (ORCHESTRA). Terndrup has disclosed no relevant financial relationships
31st European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID): Abstracts 4511, 1876, and 1725. Presented July 11, 2021.
Tara Haelle is an independent science/health journalist based in Dallas.
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Celia Israel was putting finishing touches on her wedding last week when she learned that, instead, she had to drop everything and leave.
The Democratic state representative from Texas had driven with her partner of 26 years, Celinda, to see a family friend who was making her outfit. They were set to get married on the floor of the Texas state House early in the morning on Thursday. But before Israel’s partner got fitted last Sunday, her phone buzzed with a text from fellow state legislator Gina Hinojosa.
“She said, ‘I need to talk to you.’ And I could just sense, like, ‘Oh no,’” Israel said. “So I called her and I said, ‘Are you in jail?’ She said, ‘No, I’m going to have some news. I hate to tell you this, but your wedding isn’t going happen on Thursday.’”
Israel is one of the over 50 state House Democrats who fled Texas on Monday to deny Republicans a quorum for a major new elections bill that has stirred backlash: axing pandemic-era practices to expand voting access adopted in a large Democratic-leaning county, further restricting mail voting in the state and making election workers liable for new potential civil or criminal penalties. Democrats are in the minority in Texas, but Republicans can’t pass the legislation without them there — so they left for Washington, D.C.
In interviews with a dozen Texas lawmakers during their first week in Washington, they described a hectic, last-minute scramble to pack and get out of the state.
Many found out on Sunday that the quorum break was a go, but they didn’t know how long they would be gone — or, until hours before they departed on Monday, where they were actually heading.
“One thing I had to do early Monday morning was stock up on insulin,” said state Rep. James Talarico, who has Type 1 diabetes, “because I didn’t know where we were going to be and if I was going to have access to a pharmacy. It’s those little things you don’t think about.”
State Rep. John Bucy piled into a car with his 27-weeks-pregnant wife and their 17-month-old daughter and drove 22 hours to join the rest of the caucus, after deciding not to fly. State Rep. Erin Zwiener brought her young daughter with her to D.C., keeping her entertained during meetings with members of Congress. Tearing up, state Rep. Ina Minjarez described leaving her husband at home as he grieves the recent death of a parent.
“I don’t think the public understands what we leave behind is important to us. It’s important,” Minjarez said. “And for me, it was just trying to get my house in order.”
And the trip is still happening amid a pandemic. On Saturday, three of the Texas Democrats tested positive for coronavirus, the caucus announced in a statement. One of them was Israel. Caucus leadership, which did not specify the members who tested positive, said all three of them were fully vaccinated.
All of this effort and expense — and personal health — is pouring into a quixotic-at-best quest to kill the GOP bill. It’s the second time Democrats have walked out to deny a quorum in the state legislature, but Republicans can just keep calling special legislative sessions and keep trying to pass the legislation, presuming the Democrats will return to the state eventually.
“We have a short window here,” state House Democratic caucus chair Chris Turner told reporters on Tuesday, when the members arrived at U.S. Capitol. “We can’t hold this tide back forever. We’re buying some time. We need Congress and all our federal leaders to use that time wisely.”
Indeed, furious Republicans have promised not to negotiate over the bill despite the Democratic block, instead promising arrests for the fleeing lawmakers once they return, decrying them for abdicating their responsibilities and hammering them over the case of Miller Lite pictured on one of their getaway buses to the airport.The Republican State Leadership Committee and the Associated Republicans of Texas launched a joint six-figure ad campaign targeting Texas House Democrats in swing districts, calling their move a “publicity stunt.” And Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has already promised to call a second special session on Aug. 8, immediately after the current one expires.
The Texas Democrats’ hope their second walkout helps galvanize the Democratic Party in Washington and nationally around the cause of voting rights — and gets Democrats unstuck on their own federal elections legislation that has stalled in the Senate. The Senate filibuster and intra-party concerns that Democrats’ main election legislation goes too far halted its progress. In meetings with members of Congress, they are pleading for federal action that would override or preempt the Republican bill they are fighting back home.
The effort has turned the Texans, briefly, into Washington mini-celebrities: They’ve become regulars on cable news, while young Hill staffers shuffled over to them while eating in a Capitol office cafeteria on Tuesday to ask for pictures and cheer them on.
But their endgame is unclear. Every House Democrat who spoke to POLITICO indicated they intend to stay out of Texas until the current special legislative session is over, but they demur about what comes after that. It isn’t even clear how long they’ll stay in D.C. — or even their current hotel, the Washington Plaza. Lawmakers say the party caucus is footing the bill so far, but that’s an expensive long-term proposition. Posts asking about potentially housing the lawmakers have sprouted on D.C. neighborhood listservs.
And among the lawmakers, rumors swirl about whether they’ll stay in D.C. or take their show on the road to a different state.
“If you find out, let us know,” one Texas legislator joked, when asked where they’re going next.
By noon on Thursday, Israel’s wedding ceremony would have wrapped up, and she and a group of friends and family would have been celebrating at brunch. Instead, she was on a bus leaving a small rally in front of the AFL-CIO building, off of Black Lives Matter Plaza, heading back to the group’s hotel for a Zoom interview with a local TV station and a call with her staff still working back in Austin.
The lawmakers were relatively quiet, still figuring out what the rest of their day would look like. A constant theme of their first week in Washington was uncertainty, as they tried to squeeze into the offices of as many members of Congress and interest groups as possible, sometimes with little notice, to argue their case for new federal voting-rights legislation. As they drove, a shout from the back of the bus went out: “The black pastors are overwhelming the capitol!”
The lawmakers who weren’t already scrolling through Twitter picked up their phones, trying to find video of a group of faith leaders and activists protesting back in Austin. “Gromer’s got it,” Israel said, referencing a video from a Dallas Morning News reporter. “Let’s all retweet it.”
The trip is about meeting members of Congress, but the Texans also want to make sure the public knows that they’ve left Austin — and why. Media appearances are a regular part of members’ schedules, part of an effort to make sure they stay plugged in with constituents back home, through the local press, social media and virtual town halls.
Media contact has increased “about ten-fold,” Israel said once she arrived back at the hotel, where she tucked away in a conference room converted into a makeshift Zoom studio, propping her iPad up on a box of manila folders behind a ring light for a hit with her local NBC affiliate.
“Thank God someone thought to buy a Texas flag,” she joked right before the TV interview, where she talked about her postponed wedding and Republicans’ pressure campaign.
Almost immediately after the interview, she was on the phone with her chief of staff, Taryn Feigen, who is still working back in Texas. Israel wanted details on how the trip is being received back home. “How are things going? And we should probably talk about — I’m not sure where to go on social media,” Israel said.
“And how are the constituents’ calls?” she continued. “Are they real constituents, or are they just make-believe angry people?”
“It’s both,” said Feigen. “If they’re displeased, I would say 95 percent are just anywhere from Texas” and not necessarily constituents, she continued, noting that angry callers often decline to give their information. “We’re getting a lot of attention … We’ve gotten a lot of thank yous, constituents and not.”
The two discussed pulling together a newsletter to let constituents know what Israel and the rest of the Texas Democrats have been up to. Israel said she was frustrated about how Republicans have portrayed the trip.
“I am angry that we’re being portrayed as not working,” she tells Feigen. “The speaker put out a list of people that are still taking their per diem, and I’m like, ‘Well, no shit, because we’re doing more work than you are.’ They’re just going in at 10 o’clock, saying a prayer and yucking it up. And then what are they doing?”
Amid planning a town hall with other Austin-area members to talk about their trip and handling more routine office duties like a delegation letter about a highway, they agreed to pull together a newsletter, emphasizing “we’re doing things that are designed to just help shed light on the horrible Texas [elections] bill,” Israel told Feigen.
“Let’s get a newsletter out,” Israel says. “Like, ‘a week in D.C.?’ It feels like two months.”
At 2:30 p.m., the newly wed Israel and her wife would have been driving to West Texas, to stay in a historic hotel with their sisters in a town called Marathon. “That’s our special place,” she said earlier in the day, holding back tears. “It would have been iconic sunsets that just go on forever. The stars at night really are big and bright. We would have been deep in the heart of Texas and just thinking about our 26 years together.”
Instead, she was wrapping up about an hour of downtime at the D.C. hotel. She spent the time reading messages wishing her a happy birthday, looking at a map of the Metro — “I want to ride the train on my birthday … I’m a train chick” — and quizzing lawmakers and reporters cycling through the lobby about birthday dinner options. Some options were quickly ruled out: “I don’t trust barbecue in D.C.,” she told a fellow lawmaker who asked if she was going to a delegation lunch.
Israel and state Rep. Jarvis Johnson were due for a meeting with Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) on Capitol Hill. After a short Uber ride, Espaillat staffers greeted them outside the Longworth House office building to sign them in and escort them around the Capitol complex, which is still not open to the general public.
Espaillat ushered them into a private room just off a House committee chamber — where many members of Congress hid during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol — and they began the pitch they have given to members throughout the week. They started by describing what was in Texas Republicans’ proposal for new state election rules, focusing in particular on the provisions that grant new powers to poll watchers, and urged Congress to act.
The conversation quickly turned to one of the Washington Democrats who, perhaps more than anyone else, holds the fate of the Texans in his hands: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has called Democrats’ “For the People” election bill over-broad but signaled openness to other legislative approaches on voting rights. Members of the delegation met with Manchin earlier on Thursday, and Israel had been briefed by her colleagues before meeting with Espaillat.
“My goal is for us to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Israel said. “Let’s find the three or four good things that we can get through the senator, and let’s move forward. That would be a big help to us. My big message is, to whatever extent, you can be reassured we don’t need the perfect thing.” Israel has been a big advocate for opening up online voter registration in the state, and she raised throughout the day the potential penalties election workers would face under the GOP bill.
Throughout the day, Israel has repeated this message, stressing that Texas Democrats don’t need the “combo plate” of federal help, as she put it — just “rice and beans” will do.
Many of them publicly call for the passage of the For the People Act — Democrats’ sweeping elections legislation that would set a slew of new federal standards for state election administration — as well as the restoration of a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But they know why Congress has not acted yet, and they’re prepared to accept smaller-scale, compromise legislation that would protect voting rights.
“We run out of clock on Aug. 7. The governor just announced he’s going to call another special session,” Israel told Espaillat. “It just so happens that Aug. 6 is the anniversary of when LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act. So, we’re working around an event on Aug. 6, to try to put some pressure on the Senate to act.” (She declined to share details with POLITICO.)
As the 20-minute meeting wrapped up, the conversation returned to Manchin. “So Manchin was receptive?” Espaillat asked.
“Yes,” Israel, she repeated. “That’s good to hear,” the New York Democrat responded.
Israel’s postponed wedding has also been on the minds of her colleagues. “[I realized it] pretty immediately,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, who is Israel’s deskmate at the state Capitol and was supposed to officiate the wedding. “Ever since the law was changed to recognize same-sex marriage, I’ve been hounding her to get married and let me be a part of it.”
Once she knew about the quorum break, Israel dreaded having to tell her partner Celinda, who had been headed out the door to meet her seamstress. “It was like forcing these words out of my mouth,” Israel said, adding: “And she could tell what’s up.”
“And she said, ‘Well, you’re not going,’” Israel continued. “And I didn’t say anything, because I knew better. … She was pissed. She’s a South Texas Latina, they’re fierce.”
Once her partner returned, “I didn’t say anything, because I needed her to tell me,” Israel said. “So she said, ‘Let’s just postpone it.’ And I was crushed.”
The pair began their drive back to Austin, to make preparations for Israel to leave. “All I could do was say, ‘I’m sorry.’ I said, ‘Politics is dumb.’ And she said, ‘Yeah, politics is dumb. Let’s go home.’” They arrived back in Austin on Sunday night, and Israel started to pack.
Before they broke the news to Israel, Howard and Hinojosa began plotting ways to make it up to her, including getting Celinda to Washington so they could get married there instead. They mulled trying to set something up at an iconic D.C. landmark, and even getting a special guest to officiate.
“First I called Donna and I was like, ‘Donna, you know what? I know you’re marrying Celia, but what if we could get Nancy Pelosi?’” Hinojosa said, laughing. “We had no reason to believe that she could, but I thought that would be a great story for Nancy Pelosi and maybe she’ll do it.”
Before they tried to rope the speaker of the House into their plans, Hinojosa first floated the idea by Israel.
“I said, ‘No fucking way,’” Israel recalled. “We’re Texans.”
She wants to get married on the floor of the Texas state House — whenever she can get back there.
Kirstie Allsopp, 49, has shared how she believes coronavirus will not be disappearing anytime soon as case numbers continue to rise in the UK. The Location, Location, Location host sparked backlash after saying Covid is “low down” on the list of things that might kill us, but added, “something has to after all”.
Kirstie typed: “Covid is here to stay, it is one of the many things that may kill us, though quite low down that list, something has to after all.
“Luckily in the last 150 years we have taken many things off that list, and we’ve added a few.
“Life is like that, but thank God for life,” she added.
Fans were divided by her comments as some claimed other countries had managed to stamp out the spread of the disease.
READ MORE: Prince Harry’s relaxed nature ‘not appealing anymore’, claims Lady C
The figure is a rise on Friday’s 51,870 cases, which was the highest since mid-January. Some 49 deaths were reported on Friday.
On vaccinations, 67,956 people had their first dose on Friday, while 188,976 completed their course.
It brings the total number of people who have had both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine across the UK to 35,732,297 – 67.8% of adults.
The numbers come amid disruption on some parts of the UK’s transport network, with the NHS COVID-19 app alerts leaving some services suspended due to a lack of staff available.
London’s Metropolitan Tube Line has been fully suspended, while the Piccadilly and District Lines face severe delays.
Elsewhere, Sajid Javid revealed he has tested positive for COVID-19, and is now awaiting the results of his confirmatory PCR test.
Mr Javid’s symptoms emerged just three days after he visited a care home in Streatham, south London.
He was there on Tuesday, having earlier been in parliament. He returned to the Commons on Wednesday and spoke about the Health and Care Bill in the afternoon.