tv KQED Newsroom PBS May 14, 2022 1:00am-1:31am PDT
e the state of our state. coming up next, here, on kqed 9, or of the pbs app. tonight on kqed newsroom, and update on the current rising covid-19 cases. dr. bob walker joins us and talks about his own close call with the virus. plus, in the category of the rich keep getting richer, j david mcswain shares his investigation in the pandemic profiteering, which meant hundreds of new billionaires. and what is in the multimillion dollar package to bolster reproductive health services that governor newsom just announced? look at the week's big political and budget news. can you guess where we are headed for something beautiful? it is a place where people ca turn trash into treasure.
coming to you from kqed headquarters in san francisco this friday, may 13th. hello and welcome to kqed newsroom. i am scott shafer in for priya david clemens. it is been a while since we started the show with a discussion of covid-19, but the pandemic has never been far from any of our minds. covid infections are flaring up again. new case rates in may are about double that of early april. here in the san francisco bay area, we have some of the highest levels of infections in the state, according to the new york times. at the death rate from covid is low and continues to decline. joining us now is dr. bob walker, chair of the department of medicine at ucsf. dr. walker, you become one of several go to experts in the bay area. you've helped guide us to this pandemic with advice on masking and social distancing. you have been very cautious, and yet your wife recently contracted covid. what is up and like for you?
>> yeah, she got it speaking at a science writer's workshop. she was fairly careful, although they did eat meals indoors and came back and had it. it has been hard watching her. this idea that it is like a cold is wrong. she was quite ill for several days. we feel quite grateful that it happens now it's not a year or two ago. she has been vaccinated and boosted. she is doing better now, she is five days out. i have continued to test negative despite the fact that we hung out together for a day or two while she was already infected. that just demonstrates the power of the vaccination and the boosting and the fact that i am also a little bit lucky. >> we are glad for both of you. can you describe this current rise that we are seeing? what stands out for you? >> how big it is and how many people who have dodged the bullet for two years have gotten it. i'm sure you are the same. i know more people now than i can think of at any time who
have not gotten covid for two years, have gotten it. it is a combination of this variant or sub- variant being wildly infectious and people are being less careful. i think we are also a little bit lulled the number of cases. they look like they're going up, but not massively so. but it is an underestimate. probably a threefold underestimate of the true únumb my wife tested positive on the rapid test we did in the house. so the city and county of san francisco does not know she has covid because it doesn't get reported. there are a lot of cases like that right now. >> when you look at hospitalizations, when we ok at deaths. how many of those people are unvaccinated? >> in a place like the bay area, a fair number of them are vaccinated. has 80 to 85% of the people in the bay area are vaccinated. we are seeing more people who are hospitalized who are vaccinated, because they're more vaccinated people. the people who end up dying, though, are almost invariably
either unvaccinated or, in our case, we see some people who have multiple medical comorbidities. they are very ill or immunosuppressed. it is still very clear that if you are vaccinated in boosted, you are massively protected against a severe outcome. i think one of the more striking things about this surge is, despite the number of cases at ucsf, we have about 15 covid patients in the hospital now. in the height of the omicron surge in january, we had 150. about 1/10 as many hospitalized patients. there is definitely a disconnect between the number of cases and the number of severe cases. if you are vaccinated, boosted, and if you get sick and are eligible, you begin antiviral medicine. the chances you're going to get sick enough to go to the hospital and the chances he will die are nearlyzero. >> some of the nation's leading úexperts are signaling caution. dr. faucher said he skipped the white house correspondents center because he didn't want to get sick.
dr. wilensky from the cdc shared photos of herself being masked indoors. here in the bay area some health officers are again talking about getting together outside. and if you are indoors, masking once again. what is your advice? >> i am with them. i think there is a lot of covid around. if you go into an indoor setting with 20 or 30 other people, it is almost a certainty that one of them has covid with the amount of covid that is around. if you get on a plane with 150 people, it is 100% sure that someone on that plane has covid. if you have decided that you don't care about getting covid at this point, that you are over it. that is a decision. i don't think it is a good decision. i think it is best to avoid it if you can. i will have a few close friends and family over for dinner if i know they are vaccinated, if i know there boosted. in terms of indoor dining, in terms of large groups indoors. if i'm going to be indoors with
a lot of people i'm wearing a mask. >> we are coming up to the summer. there will be gatherings at graduations, summer travel. what is your prediction for the trajectory of covid cases over the next month or so? >> it is hard to know, because we are used to these surges that go up fast and come down fast. but the reason they come down fast is partly because there is more immunity, more people get infected, and therefore they are not vulnerable in the short term. also that when there is a surge people say oh my god, there is a surge, and they start being careful. they cut down on indoor activities, they put on masks. in the old days we saw mandates in response to surges. we are not seeing that now. my guess is this surge will last longer than prior surges. i think this is our future for the next several years. we will have surges, they will come down, we will have surges, they will come down. we could have one over the summer. i think we're certainly going to have a sub angel one next fall or winter. >> all right. thank you so much. stay well. >> thank you.
you as well. >> there is a number we are hearing frequently this week. 1 million. america is hitting the 1 million mark for covid deaths since the pandemic began according to the centers for disease control. here is another number. 500. that is not a particularly big number, except it is how many people became billionaires during the pandemic according to our next guest. j david mcswain, author of pandemic ink chasing the capitalist and thieves who got rich while we got sick. david joins us now. let me begin by asking you about the title of that book. it includes the phrase capitalists and thieves. obviously those are not the same thing. is it fair to say that some of his money was made legitimately? >> sure. i mean, you know, one chapter in the book i focus on the development of vaccines. that is a product that is extremely valuable that the u.s. government invested really heavily and. but a few people who were at the right place at the right time made, you know, many
hundreds of millions of dollars. i don't loft them in with profiteers who, you know, really saw an opportunity to take advantage and lie and cheat and steal. >> gives us an example of the latter. some of the biggest games he found. not sure. there was just this frenzy in the early months of the pandemic because the federal government was so ill prepared. we had something like 1% of what we needed in the strategic national stockpile in terms of masks and gloves and gowns and things. we saw people coming out of the woodwork forming an llc, getting a multimillion dollar contract from the federal government by the end of the week. many of those contractors didn't deliver or they delivered subpar goods or, you know, just charged extreme prices for those desperately needed lifesaving equipment. >> how much of that was poor vetting? >> i found there was virtually no vetting within the federal
government. one major contractor i focused on in the book got his 34 1/2 million dollar deal with the veterans administration, which oversees the largest hospital network in the country, which was really besieged. he got it just by saying i have 6 million masks and somebody within the va said, the guy seems legit. that is how he got his contract. there was really no oversight. >> some of this, of course, was during the trump administration. i'm wondering, is most of the book during that period of time? or does it also go into the past, you know, year or so? >> yeah, the book, sort of, ins in fall of 2021. we do make our way into the biden administration. but just by virtue of those really scary months and just the outflow of, you know, tens of billions of dollars with the various programs including just
purchasing things. most of the action happens within the trump administration which, you know, willfully failed. >> california was not immune from this. and i know you focused on at least one company out in california and southern california. vpl medical. tell us about them. >> yeah, so this is a company that i saw, here, from washington, d.c. just in the data got, you know, a big deal with the health and human services, which oversees the national stockpile. and fema. looked into the company and realized it had just formed. got these major contracts. and the proprietors behind that company had a history of fraud allegations and, in fact, there was a shadow owner involved. a guy nad jason cardiff, who has been sued by the federal trade commission for a variety of alleged scams perpetrated all of california. he is living a lavish lifestyle while selling things like bogus sex enhancement pills. started to look into that, and
met up with, you know, a plucky juicer salesman. he sold high-end juice equipment out near venice beach. ded up going to this facility and found that, you know, this company had essentially been given seed money by the federal government to bring in chinese masks and up charge them and taxpayers ended up paying a premium. >> was this the same company were california was about to pay, i think it was $100 million for, like, you know, 500 million masks. they had to claw the money back. was at a different case? >> is a different case. i think you are referring to be yd, where the governor essentially assumed the federal government wasn't doing its part, tried to strike its own deal, and received a lot of criticism. in concept, maybe it wasn't the worst idea. states were really left to their own devices. >> that is a good point. if that had been more of a coordinated effort on the part of the trumpet ministration, maybe states like california and the other 49 wouldn't have
been scrambling without the kind of vetting that was required. >> yeah, it was a cascading failure starting with the federal government's failure to listen to its own experts. you have cities and states and hospitals are competing for the same supplies. and you have these poor, you know, government purchasing people who, you know, they're used to buying shares in paperclips and desks. now they are in charge of lifesaving equipment. a lot of money went out the door. a lot of bad deals were struck. i certainl have some empathy for those folks. it was a really tragic situation. >> does the book suggest we need to change something? or is this, as you suggest i think early in the book, just unfettered capitalism. this system we have? >> there are certainly things we could change. i knew, just as a reporter instinctively, after the cares act was passed and we knew billions of dollars were going to go out the door, there was going to be some fraud. but i was really struck at the
breath in the brazenness of this fraud. people really thought they could get away with, you know, scoring over the federal government and taxpayers. historically, you don't see that. usually fraud is perpetuated by, you know, consumer to consumer, business to business. things like that. it really was astounding. basically, you know, this book is a blueprint of exactly what not to do. we were so ill prepared, we didn't have the things we needed. and that really left us vulnerable to these mercenaries who took taxpayers for a ride. hopefully we don't do that the next time around. >> tell us about these 500 billionaires. these were newly minted that did not exist before the pandemic? any one or two or three jump out at you? >> yeah, the book really focuses on individual cases of people trying to profiteer and ending up in these absurd scenariothat i detail in the book. that figure, 500 billionaires, really comes from forbes magazine, which, sort of,
looking at the broader pandemic economy. which we all know, really, covid highlighted our inequities throughout our system. and it was really the poor and vulnerable who suffered most. and those who had the capital to withstand it and move money around in smart ways. >> were there any consequences, or might there be for some of those thieves you allude to in the title? >> yeah, my reporting journey really set off in april of 2020. i ended up contacting a contractor with the va and that ú34 1/2 million dollar deal. ended up on a private jet a few hours later, come to find out he didn't have the masks. there is this underworld of brokers and investors that he was working with that detail that, sort of, first story. it propelled me on about a year and a half of reporting. in that time, the contractor, as a result of that reporting, was charged with three federal crimes and he is in prison. many others got away with it
and got paid. in other programs like the paycheck protection program, the federal government prosecutors are catching up to widespread fraud in those programs for many years. >> i guess you could say, just in closing, that this was done with the best of intentions on the part of governments. not only was there no federal coordination, but people were dying. if you need toget ventilators, you need to get ventilators. >> right. money needed to be spent. these programs were necessary. but because we had so failed to prepare and heed the warnings of experts in the trump administration's decision to downplay the pandemic. by the time we caught up it was just right for the picking. it was a bonanza for fraudsters. we knew we were going to spend money, it was an emergency. but we really got in our own way and grade really frustrated the
pandemic response at every turn. >> hopefully there will be some lessons learned and consequences for those who you write about in the book. j david mcswain, investigative reporter and author of pandemic ink, thank you for so much for your work and for sharing your insights with us today. >> thank you for having me. earlier today governor gavin newsom unveiled a revised budget for the state of california, which affects everything from the minimum wage to relief for high gas prices. it also includes a huge surplus. >> we are simply without precedent. no other state in american history has ever experienced a surplus as large as this. in fact, this is actually significantly larger than last year's operating surplus. >> joining me next, kqed politics and government reporter . and los angeles times political writer. welcome to both of you. guy, let me start with you. these budget rollouts are always marathon events. the government likes to talk. $306 billion overall spending plan. what stood out for you?
>> newsom is always in a sweet spot when he gets to go down the list of the spending proposals. i think you have to start with the top line surplus number. $97 billion, that is an incredible amount of money. it speaks to the tax revenue we are getting from high income earners in the state. i thought it was, kind of, overshadowed by the fact that newsom has still not reached an agreement with legislative and necrotic leaders to provide inflation relief to californians who are still experience incredible rises in prices. government basically resolute that he is sticking with his plan that he wants to do it through the dmv sending out debit cards to people based on their car ownership. the legislature wants to take a broader approach saying inflation is not just about gas prices. they want to target this more broadly. but really focus on low income californians. we, kind of, circled this date of the may revise. friday the 15th is when we might see an agreement reached on this. but it hasn't happened yet. you have to imagine whenever a deal is reached, it is many more months after that.
>> why do you think he is digging in on this. why does he want to die on this hill. >> i think the argument he has made is how quickly the relief can get through the dmv compared to the franchise tax port, which is how california has distributed belief in the past. it is the way the legislature wants to do it. newsom made the point today that his golden state stimulus went through ftb last year and those checks are still trickling out. i think he views the dmv is a better way to do that to get those debit cards out. but the legislature, i think, has the moral argument that they are really targeting this relief and nodding were high income earners on fancy cars get a slice of this relief. >> also some money in the budget, about 125 million for women's or productive health. >> it was definitely not a top line number in terms of how much it cost, but it was something he really wanted to articulate and touted his press conference today. money that would include, you know, 57 million more dollars for things like grants to reproductive health care allowing folks who don't have the healthcare to get that care. and so it is definitely
something in a contrast he wants todraw with red state governors. >> let's listen to what he had to say about that. >> health, understandably, has expanded even deeper in one's conscious as relates to what happened years ago at the supreme court, but what is now manifesting as a consequence of what happened over the last few years. with the politicalization, from my humble perspective, ever since mitch mcconnell delayed the nomination and ultimately just exposed the harsh realities of hyper- partisan politics. and tipped that third appointee in donald trump's hands. this is what we get. >> what does it tell you that governor newsom and other democrats are making a big deal out of this? we should say, this is all in the context of that leaked draft opinion that would strike down roe v wade. >> exactly. i think democrats overall, there was concern that, u.s. voters were pretty unhappy because of inflation and homelessness and crime.
republicans have argued that they are trying to divert attention from the states many problems. but californians are very, you know, in favor of women having access to abortions. this has allowed him to talk about an issue that he is obvious the passionate about, the democrats are passionate about. he is also got some national attention for this. he is up for re-election this year. he has a lot of money in the bank, he does not have any prominent challengers. this allows him to, sort of, get some attention and try to position himself to run for higher office once he's done being governor. >> governor newsom is up for re- election in the fall. he is running against a republican state editor, brian dally, who is, by the way, antiabortion. whe newsom is not likely to lose, he might get some mileage out of this issue. >> right, and as of the top democrat on the tippet, i think he bears irresponsibly for turnout. he bears responsibility to get the base out for this election. particularly in plac where it is needed for the party in those very competitive congressional districts. i think you combine the money newsom is going to spend on the
air touting his abortion policies combined with the possible constitutional amendment he is pursuing to actually put this question on the ballot i think is driven getting the base out in november. >> of course we have some pretty up for grabs congressional seats in purple districts. three to five depending on how you count them. what impact did you see this abortion issue having in those races? >> a number of these districts have a large number of college educated women. democrats are really counting on this issue motivating these women area and some who might not be registered democratic voters, but might be moderates or maybe even republicans. one of those is michelle steele's district in orange county. each has more than 40% of the voters as college-educated women. republicans are widely starting to take control congress this year. the question is, what is the margin. we have three incredibly competitive congressional races in california. some others might be in play. this is going to determine how much the republican party holds in congress. democrats are looking back to
1992. that was the year of the clarence thomas hearings were anita hill was really grilled and it was major news. there was also the of another supreme court ruling, which upheld roe, but it did check back at abortion rights. this really motivated women to volunteer, donate, vote. democrats are hoping to see the question is, will be enough in this district? there is only a couple weeks to go before election day. >> exactly. the ballots are out. guy, do you see any downside for democrats running in congressional districts in places like central valley orange county? >> i think it is something. it is a way to get conversation away from issues democrats may not want to be talking about. take public safety. that is an issue that is dominated the conversation around the attorney general race. you have to think incumbent rob bonta facing a statewide electorate for the first time would love nothing more than to pivot and talk about abortion. that, of course, is a lot easier if he is able to avoid a general election contest with the sacramento county d.a. running as an independent, who
is pro-choice. >> down in l.a. we have a hot mayor's race. garcetti trying to get out of town to become the ambassador to india. that may or may not happen. what is going on with that mayor's race? it has really turned into, you know, it took person race group. caruso has just been putting so much money in. he is obviously very well- placed. you can't turn on the tv here without seeing one of his ads. but abortion and row is playing because what he is going to democrat he's to be republican, he gave a lot of money to republican elected officials and politicians who don't support access to abortion. the democrats in the city are really turned to him or that issue. >> to what extent is crime playing out down there? we know that your d.a. is facing a potential recall úhimself, as ours is.
is that playing out there? you mentioned the formal office meant and fishel dropped out of the race. >> right. crime is, homelessness, those are issues pulling out in the city. that is sort of the basis of caruso's whole argument for why he believes he should lead the city next. he is a businessan, but he is also worked on police. he worked at the problems that usc that he has, you know, had proven results. karen bass and other people, they point to the fact that he has been a democrat for a very small amount of time and this is an overwhelmingly democratic city. also, you know, the question whether that is the right way to lead the city. >> and very well known. has picked up a lot of endorsements. i, about a minute left. ballots have landed here in the bay area and everywhere throughout the state. there are some changes in voting in the bay area. can you tell us quickly with some of those are?
>> the latest counties to say goodbye to your neighborhood polling place. they're not going to assign you a polling place to go on election day. this is the voters choice act model where they open larger voting locations, but fewer of them. there is a growing body of research that says your voting locations are not good if you want to close the turnout disparity between white voters and let you know and black voters. >> but that is where the state is going right? the bay area is just the latest without that system. >> certainly. and there are counties all the way down and san diego doing this this june. >> thank you both very much. don't forget. check it out. kqed's voter guide. it is at kqed.org/voter guide. you can find it there and get all your voter and election questions answered. what do you do with home goods, fabrics, paper, and other items that you no longer need, but hate to throw away as they still have plenty of life left in them? one lovely option is to donate them to the east bay depot for creative reuse in oakland.
>> covid's tragic toll and fallout. pres. biden: one million empty chairs around the dinner table, irreplaceable losses. >> a, grim new milestone one million americans dead from covid-19. in their memory, flags fly at half staff. >> the fall will be too late. >> but the biden administration warns of another surge in the coming months, up to 100 million new infections, as congress is deadlocked on funding for covid. meanwhile -- the backlash over abortion grows louder as the key vote to protect access to abortion fails in the senate. plus -- >> donald trump loves west virginia and west virginia loves donald trump.