Why’d we shut down?! Chinese Coronavirus cases remain low with tiny fatality rate in Montgomery County, while federal stimulus package stalls, as Sturgis bike rally draws huge crowd

Why’d we shut down?! Chinese Coronavirus cases remain low with tiny fatality rate in Montgomery County, while federal stimulus package stalls, as Sturgis bike rally draws huge crowd

Image: Thousands of bikers rode through the streets for the opening day of the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle rally Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, in Sturgis, S.D. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves)

The Golden Hammer Staff Reports

Conroe, Washington, D.C., Sturgis, S.D., August 7 – The total number of active cases of Chinese Coronavirus in Montgomery County is 1,833, but there have been 4,487 recoveries from the illness as well. There have been 82 fatalities from he disease.

When Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough issued the lockdown order on March 27, 2020, he based his decision upon a Montgomery County Public Health District report which predicted there would be at least 100,000 cases of Chinese Coronavirus, and between 1,000 and 3,000 deaths from the disease, by April 24, 2020. There was no data backing up the report, however.

The actual incidence of the Chinese Coronavirus disease in Montgomery County has been 0.3% of the population. The mortality rate for the disease has been 0.01%. Far more people die from the flu during each year’s flu season.

Chinese Coronavirus incidence in Montgomery County, Texas. Source: Montgomery County government.

Last-ditch virus aid talks underway; Trump team at Capitol

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks to reporters as White House chief of staff Mark Meadows stands left on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The Trump administration and Democratic leaders launched a last-ditch effort to revive collapsing Washington talks on vital COVID-19 rescue money, summoning administration negotiators to the Capitol on Friday in hopes of generating progress.

Both sides said the future of the negotiations was uncertain after a combative meeting on Thursday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi convened a new meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows Friday afternoon. President Donald Trump says he is considering executive orders to address evictions and unemployment insurance, but they appear unlikely to have much impact.

A breakdown in the talks would put at risk more than $100 billion to help reopen schools, a fresh round of $1,200 direct payments to most people and hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments to help them avoid furloughing workers and cutting services as tax revenues shrivel.

In a news conference on Friday Pelosi said she offered a major concession to Republicans.

“We’ll go down $1 trillion, you go up $1 trillion,” Pelosi said. The figures are approximate, but a Pelosi spokesman said the speaker is in general terms seeking a “top line” of perhaps $2.4 trillion since the House-passed HEROES Act is scored at $3.45 trillion. Republicans say their starting offer was about $1 trillion but have offered some concessions on jobless benefits and aid to states, among others, that have brought the White House offer higher.

“That’s a non-starter,” Mnuchin said of Pelosi’s split-the-difference offer as he entered her office.

It is clear that Pelosi does not want to walk away from the talks that promise up to $2 trillion in aid, an enormous sum when compared with a federal baseline budget of about $4.7 trillion. She has offered to reduce her almost $1 trillion demand for state and local governments considerably, but some of her cost savings would accrue because she would shorten the timeframe for benefits like food stamps.

Pelosi and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer say the federal coronavirus aid package needs to be huge to meet the moment: double-digit joblessness and the threat of poverty for millions of the newly unemployed.

“It’s clear the economy is losing steam. That means we need big, bold investments in America to help average folks,” Schumer said. “And when the economy starts losing ground, the only choice is for a strong package. And yet at times yesterday, our Republican friends seem willing to walk away from the negotiating table.”

On Friday, the Democrats pointed to the July jobs report to try to bolster their proposals. The report showed that the U.S. added 1.8 million jobs last month, a much lower increase than in May and June.

Senate Republicans have been split, with roughly half of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s rank and file opposed to another rescue bill at all. Four prior coronavirus response bills totaling almost $3 trillion have passed on bipartisan votes despite intense wrangling, but conservatives recoiled at the prospect of another Pelosi-brokered agreement with a whopping deficit-financed cost.

The White House is also promising that Trump will attempt to use executive orders to address elements of the congressional package involving evictions and jobless benefits. But there’s no evidence that the strategy would have much impact or be anything close to what’s necessary.

Pelosi and Schumer staked out a firm position to extend a lapsed $600-per-week bonus jobless benefit, demanded generous child care assistance and reiterated their insistence for food stamps and assistance to renters and homeowners facing eviction or foreclosure.

“This virus is like a freight train coming so fast and they are responding like a convoy going as slow as the slowest ship. It just doesn’t work,” Pelosi said Friday. “And what we put in our bill is what we saw as necessary, necessary to save the lives of the American people, the livelihoods of the American people.”

McConnell has sent the Senate home rather than forcing impatient senators to bide their time while Democrats play hardball. That suggests a vote won’t come until late next week or even after.

Harleys everywhere, masks nowhere: Sturgis draws thousands

STURGIS, S.D. (AP) — Thousands of bikers poured into the small South Dakota city of Sturgis on Friday as the 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally rumbled to life despite fears it could lead to a massive coronavirus outbreak.

The rally could become one of the largest public gatherings since the pandemic began, with organizers expecting 250,000 people from all over the country to make their way through Sturgis during the 10-day event. That would be roughly half the number of previous years, but local residents — and a few bikers — worry that the crowds could create a “super-spreader” event.

Many who rode their bikes into Sturgis on Friday expressed defiance at the rules and restrictions that have marked life in many locales during the pandemic. People rode from across the country to a state that offered a reprieve from coronavirus restrictions, as South Dakota has no special limits on indoor crowds, no mask mandates and a governor who is eager to welcome visitors and the money they bring.

“Screw COVID,” read the design on one T-shirt being hawked. “I went to Sturgis.”

Bikers rumbled past hundreds of tents filled with motorcycle gear, T-shirts and food. Harley Davidson motorcycles were everywhere but masks were almost nowhere to be seen, with an Associated Press reporter counting fewer than 10 in a crowd of thousands over a period of several hours.

For Stephen Sample, who rode his Harley from Arizona, the event was a break from the routine of the last several months, when he’s been mostly homebound or wearing a mask when he went to work as a surveyor.

“I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to be cooped up all my life either,” he said.

Still, Sample, who is 66, feared what could happen if he caught COVID-19 at the rally. He said he was trying to avoid indoor bars and venues, where he felt the risk of infection was greater. But on the opening day of the rally, he said he ate breakfast at an indoor diner.

As Sample weighed the risks of navigating the crowds, the same thrill-seeking that attracted him to riding motorcycles seemed to win out.

“I think we’re all willing to take a chance,” he said.

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has taken a largely hands-off approach to the pandemic, avoiding a mask mandate and preaching personal responsibility. She supported holding the Sturgis rally, pointing out that no virus outbreak was documented from the several thousand people who turned out to see President Donald Trump and fireworks at Mount Rushmore last month.

Daily virus cases have been trending upward in South Dakota, but the 7-day average is still only around 84, with fewer than two deaths per day.

The rally attracted crowds of retirees and people in age ranges considered to be at higher risk from the coronavirus. But for many who see the rally as an annual pilgrimage, the camaraderie and atmosphere couldn’t be missed.

“I fell in love with the rally. I love the sound of the bikes,” said Bill Sudkamp, who was making his 20th consecutive rally appearance.

He and his wife, who declined to give their ages but said they were at elevated risk for COVID-19, were among the handful of people seen wearing masks in downtown Sturgis, a community of about 7,000 that’s roughly 25 miles (40 kilometers) northwest of Rapid City. They were also planning to avoid bars. Sudkamp felt it was inevitable that infections would spread in the packed bars and concert venues.

“It looked like South Dakota was plateauing mostly,” Sudkamp said. “It will be interesting to see what it looks like in two weeks.”

Marsha Schmid, who owns the Side Hack Saloon in Sturgis, was trying to keep her bar and restaurant from becoming a virus hot spot by spacing out indoor tables and offering plenty of hand sanitizer. She also scaled back the number of bands hired for the rally, hoping the crowds would stay thin but still spend the cash that keeps her business viable for the rest of the year.

She pointed out that many of her employees depend on the rally and the tips they can make.

“You’ve got people coming from all over the world,” she said. “I just hope they are being responsible and if they don’t feel good, they stay away.”

Several locals said they would be spend the rally hunkered down at home. Carol Fellner stocked up on groceries and planned to stay away from any gatherings. Her husband suffers from bouts of pneumonia and kidney problems, and COVID-19 would be a “death sentence” for him, she said.

Fellner felt that the risk of an outbreak would be felt long after the bikers leave. The city plans to mass test residents to try to detect and halt outbreaks, but the area’s largest hospital system is already burdened with the influx of tourists and bikers who inevitably need hospital care during this time.

Sample was aware his trip to the rally could end in the hospital, which seemed to weigh on him.

“This is a major experiment,” he said. “It could be a major mistake.”

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