The media’s coverage of these developments has also been at “breakneck speed” — because finding any way to stall the spread of this disease is so imperative. For example, several scientists recently called me both on and off the record to relay their optimism that a vaccine could be available by the beginning of next year. It would be a remarkably fast process, given that vaccine development is typically measured in years or decades, not months. So this past week, I took a step back to dig deeper into the studies and look into the source of this optimism. I was surprised at how thin the available data actually is in peer-reviewed medical journals.
There is no question that in this environment, speed is of the essence. Scientists are scrambling to learn about the virus, the disease and how to keep people from dying. Health officials are working hard to put sound public health measures in place that don’t overburden society or shut down the economy. And journalists are running ragged trying to cover it all.
But there are also growing concerns — on the part of scientists and journalists — that the studies being offered up and showcased are not ready for “prime time.” In fact, many are not studies at all, but subjective conclusions based on data, and methods that remain hidden and thus difficult to validate. Never before has full and immediate transparency been so important, and never before has the scientific picture around Covid-19 been so opaque.
What difference does the source make?
Press releases, pre-print papers and published papers all serve different purposes, and carry different weight for both scientists and journalists.
A study published in a credible scientific journal is — in theory — the final, complete version. To get published here, a study has to undergo a process called peer review. Kate Grabowski, an assistant professor in the department of pathology at Johns Hopkins University, calls the peer-review process “multiple, independent sets of eyes” on a paper. While peer review is by no means fool-proof, it typically reflects the expertise of many people in a particular field who don’t necessarily have a “dog in the race.”
“I think it’s just so valuable to picking up potential errors that are largely unintentional, and also just making the science better. Usually when we submit papers, they’re like rough drafts, and then may get refined [several times] until they’re much better,” Grabowski said. She described the process, to us, as “iterative.”
But the past few months have highlighted that the road to solid science can be full of potholes, speed bumps, blind spots and hairpin turns. If you are not careful, sometimes that road can lead you straight off a cliff.
Here are several recent examples of the story getting ahead of the science:
In fact, when it comes to the vaccine race, despite all the talk you may have heard from Moderna or Oxford University or “Operation Warp Speed,” or having billions of doses by the end of the year, remember: We’ve only seen that one study published in The Lancet. That’s it. We need to remember to temper our hopes and enthusiasm with the facts we have.
I include these examples because they show how different parts of the process can break down.
“Trying to do science by press release, without backing it up, either with a traditional journal or a preprint … has universally led to misunderstanding and has no place in science. The biotechs are doing it because they’re writing for their shareholders, they’re writing for their investors, but it’s being done in a way that’s oblivious to its public health impact and needs to stop,” Hotez said.
Whiplash for consumers of health news
When this happens — and especially when errors are revealed or papers are retracted — public trust is eroded and people begin to doubt science.
“It’s like whiplash,” Oransky said. “I’d be really confused.”
But nowadays that whiplash has become almost inevitable because that back and forth is how science moves forward in this Covid way of life.
Adding to the whiplash and confusion is just the sheer number of studies coming out. According to Grabowski, who based her estimate on the NIH’s iSearch COVID-19 Portfolio, approximately 35,000 articles have been amassed to date on the topic — and they keep coming.
To get a handle on all of them, Grabowski heads up a team of about 50 Johns Hopkins University researchers at the Novel Coronavirus Research Compendium, which curates and reviews emerging research. She estimates they screen between 1,500 and 2,000 articles per week, and have looked at more than 10,000 of them total. As you might expect, some are garbage and some are gems.
“I would say there’s definitely some excellent studies that are being conducted under a really rapid timeframe,” Grabowski said. “It’s really amazing to see science moving at this pace. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this before.”
Buyer and seller beware
All the experts said it is great news that so much research is being done, despite the fact that so much of the work is emerging through press releases and pre-prints.
“The fact that scientists are getting work out there earlier so that other scientists can pore over it and we can maybe learn things more quickly — that’s a good thing,” Oransky said. “The fact that we’re treating it all equally as if it’s all been … subject to the same level of scrutiny — that’s the problem.”
Schwitzer cautions journalists and those who disseminate information to take the time to do it right. “Just reminding people to slow down. So much of what we’re doing, reporting breathlessly at breakneck speed, doesn’t need to be reported restlessly at breakneck speed,” he said, adding, “Words matter and the data matter.”
So, what does this all mean for you? “I think that someone reading, viewing, watching, listening should never make any decisions based on a single report they read, whether it’s a study or a news report on a study,” Oransky said. “Particularly if that news report doesn’t put into context everything that’s come before and doesn’t explain what we still don’t know.”
CNN’s Andrea Kane and Nadia Kounang contributed to this report.
The test results cast Trump’s risky decision to go ahead with an indoor rally that doctors fear turned into a super-spreader infectious event in an even worse light. They also show how the virus — now marching through southern and western states despite Trump’s insistence that the US has already “prevailed” in the fight — is having a disastrous impact on the “Great American Comeback” narrative at the heart of his reelection bid.
Trump, who described his remark as “semi-tongue in cheek,” continued to argue that the problem in the United States is not that the virus is so widespread, but that testing keeps discovering how deeply it has penetrated in the community.
“Instead of 25 million tests, let’s say we did 10 million tests, we’d look like we were doing much better because we’d have far fewer cases. You understand that. I wouldn’t do that, but I will say this: ee do so much more than other countries it makes us in a way look bad but actually we’re doing the right thing,” Trump said.
The comments seem to set off yet another new political storm that will further complicate attempts by the President’s campaign team to rebound after Saturday’s embarrassment. The campaign team is now considering smaller venues for Trump events — a move that would surely bruise the commander in chief’s ego, or outdoor locations where supporters might feel more comfortable.
Limits on campaigning would be intolerable for any President seeking reelection. For Trump, such a crimping of his style would be even worse, given the centrality of his big rallies to his political id and the morale boosting role they fulfill for a president who is an outsider in Washington.
A strong base
And Fox News said that Trump’s return to the trail secured its biggest Saturday night television audience in its history, suggesting that while some Trump fans might have been concerned about the virus, their absence from Tulsa was not down to diminished enthusiasm.
Trump has always defied political gravity — and the effect of months of stay-at-home orders and lockdowns makes it even more difficult than usual for political analysts to get a solid assessment on how much of the country now views the President.
Saturday night’s event was meant to send a signal that the worst of the danger from the pandemic has expired and that America is on the comeback trail. Instead, it suggested that even Trump’s supporters who elected not to show up in an indoor event that brought the risk of infection, may not yet believe the core message of their hero’s campaign.
With every chance that thousands more Americans die before Election Day, Trump must face the prospect that his denial and mismanagement of the pandemic that left the country ill prepared for a deadly public health crisis is becoming a millstone that his campaign may never be able to shake off.
The President’s response to a miserable 48 hours was typical — an all-out attack. His targeting of Biden and the Democrats, demonstrating his ferocious tenacity in a way that also hinted at concern in his inner circle.
The President’s team followed up with a new offensive against Biden’s health and mental faculties. They claimed that the former vice president’s decision to stick to convention and only sign up for the three official presidential debates in the fall — and not the extra encounters Trump is demanding — shows the former vice president has trepidation about taking on the President. The tactic was a return to the effort to define Biden as unfit to serve as President — that does not appear to be working, if battleground state polls are anything to go on.
On Tuesday, Trump will head to Arizona to tour a section of his border wall that was so fundamental to his appeal to conservative base supporters in his first presidential election campaign.
While the President is out of town, two of his top public health officials, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield and the government’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, will testify before a House committee on the increasingly grave situation in many states.
Trump will attempt to put the embarrassing scenes of Saturday night behind him when he addresses a “Students for Trump” event in Arizona.
Attendees have been told to bring face masks to the event but will not be forced to wear them.
Democrats are already seeking to exploit Trump’s remark about slowing testing in Oklahoma, portraying it as emblematic of a mismanaged effort to tackle a virus that caused a shutdown of the economy.
“Two nights ago in his diatribe, he told them to stop testing because the numbers were going up … I mean, my God,” Biden told a fundraising event, according to a pool report on Monday.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.
Bolton also says that it’s hard for him to think of a single decision Trump made during his stint at the White House “that wasn’t driven by reelection calculations.”
Trump had no problem with China’s concentration camps
Bolton describes several instances where Trump waffles on China-related issues after conversations with Xi, notably on the mass concentration camps Beijing was using to imprison and “re-educate” Uyghur Muslims. Bolton writes that according to the US interpreter in the room during a conversation between Xi and Trump at the G-20 meeting in June 2019, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was “exactly the right thing to do.”
Bolton adds that Trump didn’t want to sanction China for their crackdown on the Muslim minority because of ongoing trade negotiations. “Religious repression in China was also not on Trump’s agenda; whether it was the Catholic Church or Falun Gong, it didn’t register,” Bolton writes.
Pompeo, famously loyal to the President, may have trash-talked him
Bolton describes a meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un in which the North Korean despot blamed troubled relations between his country and the US on the actions of prior administrations. Emphasizing the meetings he and Trump had held, Kim told the President that they could dispel mistrust and work quickly toward a nuclear agreement. After Trump told Kim that he would seek Senate ratification of any agreement with North Korea, Bolton writes that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo passed him a notepad. On it was scribbled the message, “he is so full of shit.”
“I agreed,” Bolton writes, going on to note that Kim promised no further nuclear tests. The State Department has not responded to CNN’s request for comment about Pompeo’s alleged note.
Trump offered to help Turkey’s leader avoid a Justice Department probe
Bolton writes that in December 2018, Trump offered to help Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a Justice Department investigation into a Turkish bank with ties to Erdogan that was suspected of violating US Iran sanctions. When the Turkish leader presented Trump with a memo from the law firm representing Halkbank, Trump flipped through it and then declared he believed the bank was totally innocent of violating US sanctions related to Iran.
Trump told Erdogan he would “take care of things,” and explained that the Southern District prosecutors “were not his people, but were Obama people,” and the problem would be fixed when they were replaced by his people.
Bolton notes that “this was all nonsense” because the Justice Department prosecutors were career employees who would have taken the same path with the Halkbank probe regardless of who was president.
The Israeli prime minister didn’t understand why Kushner led on Middle East peace
Before joining Trump’s White House, Bolton says he had a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who questioned Jared Kushner’s role in developing a Middle East peace plan.
Netanyahu “was dubious about assigning the task of bringing an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict to Kushner, whose family Netanyahu had known for many years. He was enough of a politician not to oppose the idea publicly, but like much of the world, he wondered why Kushner thought he would succeed where the likes of Kissinger had failed.”
The White House decision-making process was like a ‘food fight’
Bolton says the weekly meetings to discuss issues, chaired by Trump in the Roosevelt Room or the Oval Office, more closely resembled college food fights than careful decision-making, with no lower-level effort or involvement by the relevant agencies to sort out the issues and the options. “After these sessions, had I believed in yoga, I probably could have used some,” Bolton wrote.
It’s a theme Bolton returns to more than once, describing a mercurial President who has little interest in learning how the federal government worked. Instead, he describes Trump as very focused on how decisions will play in the media.
Trump didn’t like sanctions on Russia
Bolton claims that Trump privately complained about sanctions and other punitive measures imposed on Russia with “extended grumbling and complaining,” even as he touted them in public.
After the US announced a first round of sanctions on Russia for poisoning former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK, Bolton said Trump wanted to rescind the penalties and thought they were being too tough on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Trump told Pompeo to call Lavrov and say ‘some bureaucrat’ had published the sanctions — a call that may or may not have ever taken place,” Bolton wrote.
Bolton also claimed Trump stopped the issue of a statement criticizing Russia on the tenth anniversary of its invasion of Georgia. The former national security adviser writes that these actions were a reflection of Trump’s “difficulty in separating personal from official relations.”
Trump’s revealing questions: Is Finland a part of Russia?
Before the summit with Putin in Helsinki, Trump asked his advisers if Finland was a part of Russia, or whether it was a “kind of satellite of Russia.”
On his way to the Helsinki meeting, Trump stopped to see then-British Prime Minister Theresa May in the UK. During that meeting, May’s national security adviser, speaking about the Skripal poisoning, referred to the attack as one on a nuclear power. “Trump asked, ‘oh, are you a nuclear power?,’ which I knew was not intended as a joke,” Bolton wrote.
And on multiple occasions, Bolton said Trump repeatedly mixed up Afghan President Ashraf Ghani with former President Hamid Karzai.
Trump told people that Venezuela is ‘really part of the US’ and wanted to invade
Bolton writes that in discussions about toppling the regime of Nicolas Maduro, Trump “insisted on military options for Venezuela,” telling advisers that the country “is really part of the United States.” During a March 2019 meeting at the Pentagon, Trump grilled military leaders about why the US was in Afghanistan and Iraq, but not in Venezuela.
Trump’s repeated insistence that military options be considered to oust Maduro often shocked aides, lawmakers and advisers, Bolton writes. In a meeting with Florida Republicans, “Trump still wanted a military option,” leaving Sen. Rick Scott and Gov. Ron Desantis “plainly stunned,” while Sen. Marco Rubio, who had heard Trump on the subject before “knew how to deflect it politely.”
Trump wanted Attorney General Bill Barr to make CNN reporters ‘serve time in jail’
When news leaked about a hush-hush meeting on Afghanistan at Trump’s Bedminster resort, Trump complained that CNN had reported the summit was taking place, Bolton writes. The President told White House counsel Pat Cipollone to call Attorney General Bill Barr about his desire to “arrest the reporters, force them to serve time in jail, and then demand they disclose their sources.”
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler, Jeremy Herb, Nikki Carvajal, Kevin Liptak, Holmes Lybrand, Zachary Cohen, Sarah Westwood, Maegan Vazquez, Jamie Crawford, Michael Conte and Marshall Cohen contributed to this report
They say more research is needed to show whether the change has altered the course of the pandemic, but at least one researcher not involved in the study says it likely has, and the changes may explain why the virus has caused so many infections in the United States and Latin America.
It’s a mutation that scientists have been worried about for weeks.
The researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida said the mutation affects the spike protein — a structure on the outside of the virus that it uses to get into cells. If the findings are confirmed, it would be the first time someone has demonstrated that changes seen in the virus have significance for the pandemic.
“Viruses with this mutation were much more infectious than those without the mutation in the cell culture system we used,” Scripps Research virologist Hyeryun Choe, who helped lead the study, said in a statement.
A more stable spike protein
But Choe and colleagues did send their paper to William Haseltine, a virologist, biotechnology entrepreneur and chairman of Access Health International. Haseltine believes the findings explain the easy spread of the coronavirus across the Americas.
“It is significant because it shows the virus can change, does change to its advantage and possibly to our disadvantage,” Haseltine told CNN. “It has done a good job so far of adapting to human culture,” he added.
“You can see in some places it doesn’t get very far and in other places it has a field day.”
“It began spreading in Europe in early February, and when introduced to new regions it rapidly becomes the dominant form,” they wrote.
But more work was needed to show that it just wasn’t an accident that caused viruses with the D614G mutation to become the most common forms.
Haseltine said the Scripps team showed this in three separate experiments.
“They measured this in three very elegant ways, not just one,” he said.
The mutation allows the virus not only to attach to cells more easily, but to enter them more easily.
When viruses infect, they hijack their victim’s cells and turn them into viral factories, pumping out copy after copy of viruses. They first must find a way into cells to do this.
Korber, who has a different analysis under consideration for publication, said “it was nice to see the result,” but did not comment further to CNN.
Haseltine said the implications are important. Other researchers had hoped that the coronavirus would not prove to be as prone to mutation as other viruses that use RNA instead of DNA as their genetic material. Influenza, notorious for its mutations, is an RNA virus.
“It means that we have to be on the alert for constant change,” Haseltine said.
“This virus is going to respond to whatever we do to control it. We make a drug, it is going to resist it. We make a vaccine, it is going to try to get around it. We stay at home, it is going to figure out how to hang around longer,” he said.
In reality, increasingly violence-free nationwide protests with peaceful crowds braving the implications of a pandemic are providing exactly the opposite impression Trump is trying to portray with his dystopian rhetoric.
But Trump’s team is beginning to signal a shift that might see the President tone down the rhetoric in a bid to win back independents and moderate suburban Republicans that he needs to win in November.
But any effort by Trump to address racial issues and police brutality in the wake of the death of Floyd with a police officer’s knee on his neck is likely to face a huge credibility test given his own recent conduct, a long history of using racial rhetoric to advance his political career — and his habit of undermining scripted speeches with his own inflammatory asides and tweets.
Over the weekend, the President retweeted a post critical of Floyd’s character. And Trump’s campaign team sent out a text reading: “Liberal THUGS are destroying our streets.”
“We have a Constitution. And we have to follow that Constitution. And the President has drifted away from it,” Powell said.
Protests, despite Trump’s rhetoric, are mostly peaceful
Days of protests appear to have evolved into peaceful affairs that seem little influenced by Trump’s demands for states to deploy active duty troops. Instead, the protests have taken on the trappings of a mass and diverse political movement that is now sweeping the globe.
“I want LAW & ORDER!” Trump wrote on Sunday in a tweet that was characteristic of his attempts to construct an alternative reality to boost his political goals.
Most protests, apart from some in New York City, have been peaceful for days. Curfews in cities including New York, Buffalo and Philadelphia are being lifted. DC hasn’t had a curfew since Wednesday.
Trump’s apparent bid for a reset comes as Biden seeks to project the empathy and leadership that the President has failed to summon in the last few weeks in a way that could shape their suddenly transformed duel in November.
The former vice president will make his most expansive move yet out of lockdown when he travels to Houston Monday. Biden will offer solace and likely share the lessons of his own life rocked by personal tragedy. But he will also be making an unmistakable political stand as he seeks to harness the power of protest to energize his campaign and to showcase the moral, calming leadership Trump has failed to offer.
Barr misleads on Washington protests
As Trump considers a rhetorical shift, his closest aides are trying to rewrite the history of the most jarring events of last week.
“They were not peaceful protesters. And that’s one of the big lies that the media is — seems to be perpetuating at this point,” Barr claimed Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“The Park Police was facing what they considered to be a very rowdy and non-compliant crowd. And there were projectiles being hurled at the police.” CNN reporters in the area at the time saw no evidence to support such accusations.
The building showdown over race and policing between Biden and Trump comes at a signature moment in 21st century history in America. Large, diverse crowds chanting “Black Lives Matter” have given some veterans of long civil rights struggles optimism that the country may be reaching a tipping point.
“This moment is incredibly inspiring to see people all across the country saying enough is enough,” Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“In many cities, you look at the protesters and there are very few African Americans, so the solidarity with what is happening in our community … is very inspiring.”
Democrats in Congress are meanwhile gathering behind a policing reform bill that they will lay out on Monday. The measure includes improved police training, greater accountability for police in the courts, bans on choke holds and carotid holds, and limits on the the use of military-grade equipment by state and local governments.
Republicans haven’t signaled any support for the legislation and may be reluctant to support any national effort to set local policing policy.
But in not heeding the protesters’ cries for change, the President — and some of his ever-loyal Republicans in Congress — may be missing a chance to catch the national mood.
George Floyd: Demonstrators defied curfews but there were fewer clashes and less chaos on a night of mostly peaceful protests
The eighth night of protests saw less violence, fewer police clashes and more acts of civil disobedience.
But that didn’t stop thousands of people from showing up to call for justice following the death of George Floyd, who died last week after he was pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds.
In Philadelphia on Tuesday, protests culminated in a nine-minute “moment” of silence.
In Los Angeles, a group of protesters knelt with their hands up in peace signs outside the home of Mayor Eric Garcetti as they waited to be arrested.
In Atlanta, where days ago a police car was lit on fire, a large crowd marched peacefully through the same streets.
And after what New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called “coordinated criminal activity” and looting in parts of the city just the night before, protests over Tuesday night looked completely different, de Blasio said.
People marched through Manhattan, with some store owners, residents and supporters lining the sides of the streets and cheering on demonstrators.
Though there were some instances of looting, it was nowhere as widespread or chaotic on Monday night.
At one point, protesters trying to cross the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan were blocked off by police, who closed the Manhattan side of the bridge. There were fears of a confrontation, but police allowed the protesters to turn around and walk off the bridge back into Brooklyn without arrests.
“We want peace,” Joseph Haynes, a demonstrator in Los Angeles, told CNN’s Kyung Lah. “Look at all these wonderful people out here. Look at us. And this is not just black people.”
“He will never see her grow up, graduate. He will never walk her down the aisle. If there is a problem she’s having and she needs her daddy, she does not have that anymore,” Washington said of Floyd’s daughter, Gianna. “I am here for my baby and I’m here for George because I want justice for him.”
Where Floyd’s case stands
Floyd’s death sparked what has been more than a week of protests, calling for justice in his case and an end to police brutality.
Chauvin has been arrested in his death and Floyd’s family attorney Ben Crump said he expects the other three officers at the scene will be charged before Floyd’s funeral next week.
“We think all of them should be charged with some type of felony murder for participating in the horrific killing of George Floyd,” Crump said.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced Tuesday that the Minnesota Department of Human Rights is launching a civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department, which will look into practices from the last 10 years.
A news release says the inquiry will try to determine whether police engaged in “systemic discriminatory practices towards people of color and ensure any such practices are stopped.”
Chauvin is expected to make his first appearance in court on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on June 8. Floyd’s funeral is planned for June 9 in Houston.
Conflict and confrontations
A night marked by more peaceful displays of civil disobedience was not without confrontation between law enforcement and protestors.
As Atlanta reached its 9 p.m. curfew, law enforcement deployed tear gas at protesters gathered near the CNN Center who through the day had been marching peacefully.
Hundreds of protestors were arrested in Los Angeles, LAPD spokesman Tony Im told CNN. By 10 p.m. Tuesday the NYPD had arrested 40 protestors and expected that number to grow.
After rocks and glass were thrown at officers Tuesday, according to the Milwaukee Police Department, officers used tear gas on the crowds.
And after President Donald Trump called for tougher efforts against protests earlier this week, 1,600 active duty troops moved to the Washington, DC area to assist civil authorities if needed, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday.
Spokesperson Anne Bettesworth said Tuesday that the Seattle Office of Police Accountability received about 14,000 complaints concerning the conduct of Seattle police officers during demonstrations over the weekend.
Maintaining the peace and making change
Measures are starting to be enacted to ensure the safety of the demonstrations as well as to address the concerns at the heart of the protests.
The activity was tied to a group called American Guard, according to Facebook. The Anti-Defamation League says American Guard “has a background with connections to anti-immigrant extremism, hatred, and violence.”
To provide relief for businesses that have been harmed during protests, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a $10 million fund on Tuesday.
Measures “critical to resolving our crisis” will be implemented within the next 90 days, Lightfoot said.
“I stand with those who are sick and tired of the lack of fundamental change,” Lightfoot said. “Change that results in the respect, dignity, and freedom that Black people deserve in this country.”
CNN’s Eric Levenson, Steve Almasy, Laura Ly, Dave Alsup, Raja Razek, Jamiel Lynch and Adrienne Winston.