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Next on Trump's plate: Fear of meat shortage

Tyson Foods workers earlier this month at the

Tyson Foods workers earlier this month at the Camilla, Ga., poultry processing plant wear face masks and stand between plastic dividers. Credit: Tyson Foods via AP

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Not playing hunger games

Before coronavirus, President Donald Trump's need to provide red meat to his base meant something else entirely. Now he's hoping presidential action can reverse the threat of meat shortages after disease outbreaks have forced processing plants around the country to shut down.

Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure and order the plants to stay open. Industry officials had warned they were days away from being unable to meet consumers' demands for chicken, pork and other meats.

The order authorizes Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to take actions to ensure that meat and poultry processors continue operations.

It wasn't clear that executive action alone could resolve labor shortages. Thousands of workers have gotten sick from or have been exposed to coronavirus as processing plants, where they often stand shoulder to shoulder, turned into outbreak hot spots. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents 1.3 million food and retail workers, said 20 food-processing and meatpacking union workers in the nation have died of COVID-19.

Trump's order, which was drafted in consultation with meat producers, is designed in part to provide employers with additional liability protections in case workers get sick.

Union president Marc Perrone said more must be done to protect workers' health. He urged the administration “to immediately enact clear and enforceable safety standards” and compel companies to provide protective equipment, make daily testing available to workers and enforce physical distancing, among other measures.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said the administration should have acted earlier to put safety measures in place. “We only wish that this administration cared as much about the lives of working people as it does about meat, pork and poultry products,” he said.

Trump wants strings on state aid

Trump has been open if noncommittal on appeals from states and cities to help budget damage from the pandemic. But on Tuesday, he said there could be a catch — they'd have to help ICE catch immigrants who are here illegally.

Trump said the federal government would “want certain things also” from states and cities asking for money, “including sanctuary city adjustments.” Sanctuary cities like New York and San Francisco limit their cooperation with federal immigration officials seeking to locate and deport undocumented immigrants.

Trump has also questioned why aid should be sent to "poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat run and managed."

Janison: Democracy in quarantine

Before the cancellation of New York's Democratic presidential primary, the outcome of the party's nomination fight already was predetermined. 

How much this summer's party conventions will resemble the usual remains uncertain, but this coronavirus crisis forces you to think about the whole point of the exercise, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. If an outcome is suspense-free and pre-scripted anyway, delegates could cast their votes from afar and end up with the same nominees. Perhaps platform committees could meet over the internet.

What if social distancing must last for months more or is revived in the fall? Are general-election debates even necessary to spin or motivate voters this time, or will our hardships change our political priorities? Americans who pay attention already have a good idea of what Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, are prepared to say about the major issues and each other. 

For all the uncertainty, this campaign retains many of the main features of a reelection contest. The incumbent must argue for an extension in office; the challenger must argue for a change of direction. The loss of lives and serious economic crisis from the pandemic already have changed the substance of their talking points. 

Who was that unmasked man?

Vice President Mike Pence chose not to wear a face mask Tuesday during a tour of the Mayo Clinic, in apparent violation of the world-renowned medical center’s policy.

Pence, the head of the White House coronavirus task force, had no face covering when he met with a Mayo employee who has recovered from COVID-19, even though everyone else in the room appeared to be wearing one. Pence also was maskless when he visited a lab where Mayo conducts coronavirus tests and at a roundtable discussion on testing and research programs at the Rochester, Minnesota, facility.

Mayo tweeted that it had informed the vice president of its mask policy before his arrival. The tweet later was removed, but the clinic reaffirmed that Pence's office was told about the rules.

Pence explained his decision by stressing that he has been frequently tested, so he "thought it’d be a good opportunity" to meet Mayo's staff, "look them in the eye and say ‘thank you.’ ” 

Protective masks do not get in the way of eye contact.

Trump: Friends were COVID-19 casualties

Trump said Tuesday four friends of his are among the more than 58,000 people in the U.S. who have died of COVID-19.

"I lost a very good friend. I also lost three other friends,” Trump said during an event in the East Room of the White House, describing the two who were less close as "people I did business with.”

The total of confirmed U.S. cases has passed 1 million. The death toll as of Tuesday exceeded that from the Vietnam War, and projections the White House is following estimate up to 70,000 lost lives through August. Still, Trump told reporters Tuesday: “Whether it was luck, talent, or something else, we saved many thousands of lives.” He also said "our experts believe the worst days of our pandemic are behind us.”

Reminded about his prediction in February that the 15 known U.S. cases would drop to near zero, Trump said, "Well, it will go down to zero, ultimately." He said "very good experts" had told him coronavirus "would never affect" the U.S. That comment is at odds with the record.

Undercount on virus deaths?

A Newsday analysis of death certificates suggests the number of Long Island fatalities officially attributed to COVID-19 appears to significantly undercount the virus's true toll.

Through April 21, New York State reported 2,357 coronavirus deaths in Nassau and Suffolk counties, a tally that may be short by more than one-third. The estimate is based on comparison with death data reported in 2019.

Nationally, an analysis by the Yale School of Public Health for The Washington Post found that in the five weeks through April 4, the United States recorded an estimated 15,400 excess deaths, nearly two times as many as were publicly attributed to COVID-19 at the time. The number could include people who died not of the disease but because they were afraid to seek medical treatment for other life-threatening conditions. Read more on the Long Island numbers in the story by Jim Baumbach, Matthew Clark, Paul LaRocco and David M. Schwartz.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Hillary Clinton formally endorsed Biden for president on Tuesday during a webstreamed virtual town hall event. "Just think of what a difference it would make right now if we had a president who not only listened to the science, put facts over fiction, but brought us together," said Clinton, who lost the 2016 election to Trump.
  • Biden’s advisers and allies have become torn over whether it's more important for his running mate to be African American or part of the party's progressive wing, Politico reported.
  • House leaders dropped plans to bring lawmakers back to Washington next week, citing warnings about continued coronavirus spread in the nation's capital and its suburbs. The Senate is planning to return next week.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been a persistent voice inside the Trump administration to step up coronavirus testing, said on CNN he's been "told" that every American who needs one should be able to get one by the end of May or beginning of June.
  • Trump's temporary ban on nearly all immigration during the pandemic won 65% support from Americans in a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. In normal times, surveys have found majorities favor immigration as good for the country.
  • Trump tweeted his support for right-wing video bloggers Diamond and Silk following reports the sisters have been sidelined from their usual Fox News appearances after promoting wild coronavirus conspiracy theories. "I love Diamond & Silk, and so do millions of people!” Trump wrote.
  • Fauci said he's pleased with how Brad Pitt portrayed him in a skit on last weekend's "Saturday Night Live." The government's top infectious diseases expert told Telemundo: "He showed he's really a class act when at the end he took off his hair [costume wig] and he thanked me and all the health care workers."

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