What’s all this talk about a “second wave” of U.S. coronavirus cases?
In The Wall Street Journal last week, Vice President Mike Pence wrote in a piece headlined “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’ ” that the nation is winning the fight against the virus.
Many public health experts, however, suggest it’s no time to celebrate. About 120,000 Americans have died from the new virus, and daily counts of new cases in the U.S. are the highest they’ve been in more than a month, driven by alarming recent increases in the South and West.
But there is at least one point of agreement: “Second wave” is probably the wrong term to describe what’s happening.
“When you have 20,000-plus infections per day, how can you talk about a second wave?” said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health. “We’re in the first wave. Let’s get out of the first wave before you have a second wave.”
Clearly, there was an initial infection peak in April as cases exploded in New York City. After schools and businesses were closed across the country, the rate of new cases dropped somewhat.
But “it’s more of a plateau, or a mesa,” not the trough after a wave, said Caitlin Rivers, a disease researcher at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security.
Scientists generally agree the nation is still in its first wave of coronavirus infections, albeit one that’s dipping in some parts of the country while rising in others.
Richmond and its surrounding counties — Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico — had seen a combined total of 7,358 confirmed cases and 238 deaths from the virus as of Sunday, according to state data, with a cumulative total of 57,994 cases and 1,611 deaths statewide.
“This virus is spreading around the United States and hitting different places with different intensity at different times,” said Dr. Richard Besser, chief executive of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who was acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when a pandemic flu hit the U.S. in 2009.
Dr. Arnold Monto, a University of Michigan flu expert, echoed that sentiment.
“What I would call this is continued transmission with flare-ups,” he said.
Flu seasons sometimes feature a second wave of infections. But in those cases, the second wave is a distinct new surge in cases from a strain of flu that is different than the strain that caused earlier illnesses.
That’s not the case in the coronavirus pandemic.
Monto doesn’t think “second wave” really describes what’s happening now, calling it “totally semantics.”
“Second waves are basically in the eye of the beholder,” he said.
But Besser said semantics matter, because saying a first wave has passed may give people a false sense that the worst is over.
Some worry a large wave of coronavirus might occur this fall or winter — after schools reopen, the weather turns colder and less humid, and people huddle inside more. That would follow seasonal patterns seen with flu and other respiratory viruses.
And such a fall wave could be very bad, given that there’s no vaccine and experts think most Americans haven’t had the virus.
But the new coronavirus so far has been spreading more episodically and sporadically than flu, and it may not follow the same playbook.
“It’s very difficult to make a prediction,” Rivers said. “We don’t know the degree to which this virus is seasonal, if at all.”
A .45-caliber handgun was tucked in the waistband of Jasmine Kelley’s shorts Sunday night as she stood outside the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue. She purchased it for about $475 last week, and it hasn’t been fired yet.
As the protests against racial prejudice began three weeks ago, Kelley, 29, quickly decided her role would be to protect others. She started by calling other protesters to check on their safety. Then, they were given walkie-talkies so they could communicate faster. Then, other protesters started showing up with guns in an effort to protect others.
Now, as groups assemble around the Lee statue every day in what has become a campground-like environment, a loosely organized group of men and women with handguns and rifles patrol the area, intent on keeping visitors safe. They chose not to divulge how many armed participants they have, except to say there are “plenty.”
Asked why she felt she needed to carry a gun and participate in a volunteer security force, Kelley’s answer was simple:
“I don’t want to die,” she said.
On Saturday, police arrested Riley O’Shaughnessey, who was carrying a handgun in an abandoned building that overlooks Lee circle. Weeks earlier, a man claiming to be a leader of the Ku Klux Klan drove his car through a group of protesters.
Another man, who declined to give his name but said he was a veteran of the Air Force, stood heavily armed near the Lee circle. An AR-15 semiautomatic rifle was strapped to the right side of his chest, and a Taurus G2C handgun strapped to his left. On his right calf was another Taurus. On the left, a Smith & Wesson.
Every person interviewed for this story said the purpose of his or her weapon was protection.
Such extensive weaponry, he said, is partly for show. He wants people to know that he and the other protesters aren’t afraid.
“We’ve turned our last cheek,” he said.
The Air Force veteran said he first experienced racial prejudice when he was 17. He was pulled over by a police officer and detained, the officer told him, because he resembled a wanted criminal. But the wanted criminal was taller, darker and had longer hair.
When he participated in a protest May 31, he said a man holding a rifle confronted his daughter, who was holding a Black Lives Matter sign. That’s when he decided he needed more protection at protests. In recent weeks, he said he’s gone from owning one firearm to 14.
He wants protesters to leave “uninjured, unharmed and enlightened,” he said.
As he stood people asked if they could take pictures of him. Other Black people aren’t used to seeing a Black man carrying large firearms, he said.
On Saturday, Harry Lee Hancock III arrived at the Lee statue in the faded black 1995 Ford Bronco he named Betty. Pulled behind it was a small silver camping trailer that serves as the security’s operations center. Hancock purchased the trailer on Facebook for hunting and camping, but it now holds their supplies and keeps their drinks cold.
The group communicates on walkie-talkies, telling one another what they’re seeing, sometimes identifying themselves with code names like Black Widow. Police officers don’t appreciate them being there, Hancock said, though one thanked Kelley the other day. They told protesters to move their cars out of the street before they were towed. This brought an angry response, but Kelley calmed the group and asked them to move their cars.
Before the protests began, Kelley worked as a massage therapist for Hand and Stone Massage and Facial Spa. In recent weeks, she’s temporarily left her job and assumed a new role in a volunteer makeshift security force. Life has changed dramatically.
“What are you turning me into? I’ve got a gun on my hip,” she said.
A federal appeals court judge in Richmond has taken public aim at a legal doctrine the U.S. Supreme Court created to provide “qualified immunity” to police officers who violate people’s civil rights.
Judge James A. Wynn Jr., of the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals from North Carolina, chided the Supreme Court in a recent newspaper column for undermining a law Congress passed during Reconstruction intended initially to protect people’s civil rights from the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War and emancipation of Blacks from slavery.
In a piece published by The Washington Post days before the Supreme Court declined to reconsider the qualified immunity doctrine, Wynn said the court’s current interpretation of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 has “undermined Congress’s intent to provide remedies to those whose rights have been violated.”
As a result, he said, public unrest is more likely in response to law enforcement abuses, such as what he called the “unconscionable killing” of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
“When the judiciary effectively nullifies congressional legislation specifically designed to provide a remedy to those who have been subjected to constitutional violations, it necessarily moves our society closer to a Hobbesian state ungoverned by predictable rules,” Wynn wrote.
The qualified immunity doctrine has come under fire from political liberals and conservatives because it was not part of a statute Congress approved, but has been used as a shield against civil lawsuits against police and other officers of the state for violations of people’s rights under the U.S. Constitution.
Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the most conservative members of the Supreme Court, dissented in the decision to not review eight cases related to qualified immunity.
The doctrine also prompted concerns by Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the court’s liberal wing.
“I think this is important, and I don’t think it’s necessarily over in the court,” said Scott Michelman, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in the District of Columbia, in response to Wynn’s public commentary.
Legislation has been introduced in both chambers of Congress to repeal or revise the doctrine, but it faces potential opposition by the Republican-controlled Senate and President Donald Trump. In Virginia, lawmakers are preparing legislation to limit the use of sovereign immunity, a part of state law, to shield individual police officers and their governing bodies from civil liability for violations of constitutional rights.
“A change there is highly unlikely,” said Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, who is working on legislation with Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, to address the scope of sovereign immunity in Virginia. “We have an opportunity at the state level to pursue that.”
The qualified immunity doctrine requires people alleging violation of their civil rights to show that those violations were “clearly established” in nearly identical cases decided by the Supreme Court or appellate courts, Wynn wrote.
He said the court also had encouraged the lower courts to dismiss civil suits if they fail to show violation of a “clearly established” right, without first deciding whether a constitutional violation had occurred.
“In effect, those who allege that police officers have used excessive force are trapped in a never-ending self-fulfilling prophecy: They cannot sue officers who harm them because the harmful conduct has never been ‘clearly established’ as a constitutional violation in a factually similar case,” he wrote.
“But because so many cases are dismissed without addressing whether the challenged conduct was in fact a constitutional violation, it is rarely ‘clearly established’ that there was a violation.”
Michelman, at the ACLU, said qualified immunity is “the kind of doctrine that really frustrates judges a lot. ... It frustrates them from doing justice.”
A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit this month overturned a lower court ruling that gave qualified immunity to five West Virginia police officers in the fatal shooting of a homeless Black man after they stopped him for failing to walk on the sidewalk. Wynn was not a member of the panel, but Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory of Richmond joined the opinion written by Judge Henry F. Floyd.
“This has to stop,” Judge Floyd wrote after citing the opening of an investigation into George Floyd’s death “before the ink dried on this opinion.”
Changing the doctrine would require an act of Congress or new interpretation of the law by the Supreme Court.
“When they had the opportunity this week, they passed it by,” said Carl Tobias, a constitutional law professor at the University of Richmond. “It’s certainly timely.”
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When I got Donna Brumfield on the phone, I asked if it was a good time for her to talk.
“I was sewing, but that’s OK,” she said. “I can rest.”
A rest seems like a good idea, considering that since she started in April, Brumfield has sewn more than 600 face masks and given them away to family and friends (and lots of strangers, too), some of whom work in health care.
Not bad for someone who turns 97 in July.
“My granddaughter called me and asked if I would like to make masks,” Brumfield recalled. “I said, ‘Oh, I don’t think so.’ Then I got to thinking about it and thought, ‘Why not?’
“There’s a demand for them. I just wanted to help.”
All of that, she said, and “It’s kind of fun.”
Brumfield is a mother of two, grandmother to four, great-grandmother of nine and great-great-grandmother to six. Her daughter, Vicki Babinat, describes her mother as “the most loving little lady you ever saw.
“She’s about 4-foot-11, has blue, twinkly eyes and the whitest hair you ever saw,” she said.
And a smile, Babinat says, that’s like a magnet for people.
Brumfield has her own place at the home of her daughter and son-in-law, Greg, in North Chesterfield, having moved here in 2002 from Iowa, where she grew up and spent most of her life. She occupies a basement apartment, which includes what she calls “my favorite room,” the workspace where she stores her craft supplies.
“It’s kind of a mess,” Brumfield said with a laugh, “but you’ve got to have a mess to sew.”
Brumfield has been sewing, knitting and crocheting for a while, making afghans for grandchildren (and anyone else who comes to mind), lap robes for wounded veterans and stocking caps for cancer patients.
“I enjoy being busy,” she said, expressing gratitude that her eyesight remains strong and her hands and fingers nimble. “When you get to be my age, you kind of ignore some pains because it just comes with the years. Sometimes I get hand cramps or get a catch in one of my fingers. I just massage it a little bit and go on.
“I think you if you keep using it, you won’t lose it.”
Finding ways to stay busy or do for others has never seemed to be an issue for Brumfield.
She grew up on a farm in Iowa, where her father raised “everything” — or as much “as one man could,” she said: livestock, hogs, corn, wheat and oats.
“I really enjoyed it,” she said of farm life. “In fact, I said I was going to marry a farmer. My sister said, ‘I’m not.’ She did, and I didn’t. I married a carpenter.”
Brumfield and her carpenter, who went off to Europe in World War II, then settled in Iowa, lived for a time in Washington state where her parents had moved before returning to the Des Moines area, where they stayed for more than 40 years.
“She’s always been a giving person her whole life,” Vicki said. “A tremendous mom.”
When Babinat’s brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, her parents helped care for him until his death in 1993. Brumfield then took care of her husband, who had lung cancer, until his death. Then Brumfield’s father, living in Washington state, needed help.
“He lived alone and didn’t want to go to a home,” said Brumfield, whose mother had died in the 1970s. “I had no obligation anywhere else, so I just went out there to stay with him as long as he needed me.”
Her father died at age 101, and she moved back to Iowa before deciding to come to Richmond when Vicki and Greg moved here in 2002.
“I really enjoy it here,” she said. “I’ve got my own little nest.”
Whenever she needs supplies, her daughter takes care of getting them. Brumfield does the washing of the material, and the Babinats help with the ironing and cutting.
“This has been such a good, uplifting thing for her,” Vicki said. “Having not been anywhere for so long, it was getting her down a little bit. Making masks to help others just makes her so happy.”
Her only away-from-home outing since March came the other week when she visited the eye doctor. She distributed a few masks while she was there.
Now, she’s working on smaller masks for pediatric patients at the hospital where her great-granddaughter is a respiratory therapist.
“I have to hurry and do this because, you know, time is flying,” she said.
I asked what she made of this pandemic, and, at 96, she offered perspective, as you might expect from someone whose father spanned three centuries: born at the end of the 19th century, saw the entire 20th century and died early in the 21st. She told me her husband had a brother who died in the 1917 pandemic.
“I don’t worry about those things,” she said. “I try to do what you’re supposed to do, and it’ll take care of itself.”
Kevin McCoy and his 14-year-old son, Kevin Jr., leaned on their bikes in the John Marshall High School parking lot as they waited for the Black Lives Matter Father’s Day bike ride to begin.
McCoy — who also has a daughter who recently graduated from the University of Maryland — said he hasn’t come out to any protests yet.
But on Sunday, he and his son hopped on their bicycles to support the cause.
“We’re all standing for the same thing,” McCoy said. “I feel a lot of love here.”
Amid a nationwide reckoning with racial injustice, McCoy said he’s focused on being a mentor to Kevin Jr., who will start high school this fall.
McCoy and his son were among hundreds of others who woke up early on Father’s Day morning to embark on a 10-mile bike ride through Richmond.
The ride, organized in partnership with the Urban Cycling Group, was the third and final event in a string of celebrations for Petersburg native and recording artist Trey Songz’s Black Lives Matter weekend.
Halfway through the route, the cyclists stopped on Monument Avenue to gather at the paint-saturated pedestal of the Robert E. Lee statue, which towered 60 feet above the thoroughfare largely undisturbed for 130 years until demonstrators protesting police brutality made it their canvas.
Hoisting their bikes and fists into the air, the group chanted “Black lives matter” while onlookers and participants snapped photos.
Gov. Ralph Northam has said the state intends to remove the statue; an injunction currently blocks the move.
Tyrell Robertson and his 7-year-old daughter climbed onto the monument for a picture, too, on Sunday. They shared a tandem bicycle for the ride, which Robertson said “takes a little getting used to.”
Robertson is no stranger to social movements — but now, as the father of two children, the Black Lives Matter cause has taken on a particular importance.
And it’s critical to get young people involved.
“I’ve been a victim of colonialism and racial oppression my entire life, so were my parents,” he said. “Now, it’s another generation. The earlier we get them involved in it, the sooner that we can provide them with the tools necessary to change the state of affairs.”
Like McCoy, Trevor, who preferred not to share his last name, hadn’t yet attended a protest, but said he came out to the bike ride because it felt more family-oriented. He and his family try to stay active, he said — they like to bike, canoe and play basketball.
Trevor’s wife and daughter stayed home for some extra sleep Sunday morning, but his 10-year-old son came along.
“You have to be so socially conscious as a Black man — you don’t have a choice,” Trevor said. “This gives me an opportunity to give my son a healthy outlet to express some of his feelings on some of the things that we’re gonna go through.”
Trevor said he doesn’t have any other major plans for the day — just to spend time with his wife, daughter and son.