For nine months, Gordon Bonner has been in the “hinterlands of despair and desolation” after losing his wife of 63 years to the coronavirus pandemic that has now taken the lives of more than 100,000 people in the United Kingdom.
Only recently did Bonner think he might be able to move on — after sensing the spirit of his wife, Muriel, near him on what would have been her 84th birthday.
“I suddenly understood I had to change my attitude, that memories are not shackles, they are garlands and one should wear them like garlands around your shoulders and use them to communicate between the quick and the dead,” the retired Army major said in an interview from his home in the northern city of Leeds. “Grief is the price we pay for love.”
Bonner, 86, is just one of many hundreds of thousands of Britons toiling with grief because of the pandemic. With more than 2 million dead worldwide, people the world over are mourning loved ones, but the UK's toll weighs particularly heavily: It is the smallest nation to pass the 100,000 mark.
While Wuhan, Bergamo or New York City may be more associated with the pandemic, the UK has one of the the highest death tolls relative to its population. For comparison, the United States, with five times Britain's population, has four times the number of deaths. Experts say virus tallies, in general, are undercounts due to limited testing and missed cases, especially early in the pandemic.
Alongside excess deaths comes excess grief, made even more acute by the social distancing measures in place to slow the virus's spread.
“There’s going to be a tsunami of grief and mental health issues this year, next year, ongoing, due to the complications, because of course people haven’t been able to have the usual rituals,” said Linda Magistris, founder of the Good Grief Trust, which brings bereavement services in the UK together under one umbrella.
Bonner understands the need for restrictions but that hasn't made it any easier.
Six weeks after he was prevented from going to Muriel’s care home because of lockdown restrictions and 10 days after she was diagnosed with COVID-19, Bonner was summoned to the hospital and, “dressed like a spaceman,” he bore witness to his wife’s final agonizing moments.
“She was working so hard to draw breath, her lips were pursed as if she was sucking on a straw," he said. "I can see her face now with her lips in that position and it was devastating and it knocked me sideways.”
That was the last time he saw Muriel, and that image haunts him. And in what he termed a “wicked twist in the tale," Bonner was not offered the chance to replace that memory as his wife's body was deemed a “reservoir of active coronavirus.” He wasn’t even able to have her dressed the way he wanted for her cremation. Hugs with friends and family — well, they’re not advised.
Those rituals help people cope, a task made harder now because there's no escape from the scale of death in the UK — beyond the annual average of around 600,000 — from the regular sound of ambulance sirens to the alarming headlines on news bulletins.
“The backdrop of death, of grief, around creates quite a caustic context,” said Andy Langford, clinical director at Cruse, a leading charity for bereaved people.
Many left behind are unsure where to seek help, partly because they are navigating the grieving process at a time when local health services are not operating as normal.
Bereavement charities have stepped in, tailoring support groups online, that may appeal to those who may otherwise have been reluctant to search out help in the pre-COVID-19 world.
But resources are stretched, especially when the country is regularly recording over 1,000 deaths a day. The government is being urged to provide extra funding to bolster helplines, counseling services and other community support programs.
“It’s really important we don’t pathologize grief as indicative of mental health difficulties, but equally a huge proportion of people will need support,” said Dr. Charley Baker, associate professor of mental health at the University of Nottingham.
Many won't need any or only minimal outside support. But there is a concern that some of the grief is pent up: that people may be be subconsciously shielding themselves from its full impact, and they may end up being hit hard as the pandemic comes under control.
“I think it will be strange because it will be a really positive thing when things can hopefully get back to some degree of normality, but I think that would also be a very difficult moment because we’ve all been a bit frozen in time,” said Jo Goodman, who lost her 72-year-old father Stuart last April, just days after he tested positive for the virus.
A couple of months after her father died, Goodman, 32, co-founded the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group to pressure the government to back a public inquiry into how the pandemic was handled last spring.
“We can’t normalize the fact that hundreds upon hundreds of people are dying everyday and knowing what their families are going through,” Goodman said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said an inquiry will take place — but only after the crisis is over. But already critics are arguing that the government has repeated the mistakes it made in the spring in the current resurgence, such as locking down the country too late. The UK is also contending with a new, more contagious variant that may carry a higher risk of death than the original strain.
Bonner, meanwhile, is hoping that the country will take the time to properly mourn and is considering sending a letter to Johnson, who has yet to back a national commemoration for virus victims, to suggest a "a simultaneous remembrance service so those of us who have lost people to COVID can go somewhere to seek some solace.”
House Democrats delivered the impeachment case against Donald Trump to the Senate late Monday for the start of his historic trial, but Republican senators were easing off their criticism of the former president and shunning calls to convict him over the deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol.
It’s an early sign of Trump’s enduring sway over the party.
The nine House prosecutors carried the sole impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection” across the Capitol, making a solemn and ceremonial march to the Senate along the same halls the rioters ransacked just weeks ago. But Republican denunciations of Trump have cooled since the Jan. 6 riot. Instead Republicans are presenting a tangle of legal arguments against the legitimacy of the trial and questioning whether Trump’s repeated demands to overturn Joe Biden’s election really amounted to incitement.
What seemed for some Democrats like an open-and-shut case that played out for the world on live television, as Trump encouraged a rally mob to “fight like hell” for his presidency, is running into a Republican Party that feels very differently. Not only are there legal concerns, but senators are wary of crossing the former president and his legions of followers — who are their voters. Security remains tight at the Capitol.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, asked if Congress starts holding impeachment trials of former officials, what’s next: “Could we go back and try President Obama?”
Besides, he suggested, Trump has already been held to account. “One way in our system you get punished is losing an election.”
Arguments in the Senate trial will begin the week of Feb. 8, and the case against Trump, the first former president to face impeachment trial, will test a political party still sorting itself out for the post-Trump era. Republican senators are balancing the demands of deep-pocketed donors who are distancing themselves from Trump and voters who demand loyalty to him. One Republican, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, announced Monday he would not seek reelection in 2022, citing the polarized political atmosphere.
For Democrats the tone, tenor and length of the upcoming trial, so early in Biden’s presidency, poses its own challenge, forcing them to strike a balance between their vow to hold Trump accountable and their eagerness to deliver on the new administration’s priorities following their sweep of control of the House, Senate and White House.
Biden himself told CNN late Monday that the impeachment trial “has to happen.” While acknowledging the effect it could have on his agenda, he said there would be “a worse effect if it didn’t happen.”
Biden said he didn’t think enough Republican senators would vote for impeachment to convict, though he also said the outcome might well have been different if Trump had six months left in his term.
Also Read- Pro-Trump mob storms US Capitol; 4 killed
In a Monday evening scene reminiscent of just a year ago — Trump is now the first president twice impeached — the lead prosecutor from the House, this time Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, stood before the Senate to read the House resolution charging “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said failing to conduct the trial would amount to a “get-out-jail-free card” for others accused of wrongdoing on their way out the door.
Republicans appear more eager to argue over trial process than the substance of the case, he said, perhaps to avoid casting judgment on Trump’s “role in fomenting the despicable attack” on the Capitol.
Schumer said there’s only one question “senators of both parties will have to answer before God and their own conscience: Is former President Trump guilty of inciting an insurrection against the United States?”
On Monday, it was learned that Chief Justice John Roberts is not expected to preside at the trial, as he did during Trump’s first impeachment, potentially affecting the gravitas of the proceedings. The shift is said to be in keeping with protocol because Trump is no longer in office.
Instead, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D- Vt., who serves in the largely ceremonial role of Senate president pro tempore, is set to preside.
Leaders in both parties agreed to a short delay in the proceedings that serves their political and practical interests, even as National Guard troops remain at the Capitol amid security threats on lawmakers ahead of the trial.
The start date gives Trump’s new legal team time to prepare its case, while also providing more than a month’s distance from the passions of the bloody riot. For the Democratic-led Senate, the intervening weeks provide prime time to confirm some of Biden’s key Cabinet nominees.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., questioned how his colleagues who were in the Capitol that day could see the insurrection as anything other than a “stunning violation” of the nation’s history of peaceful transfers of power.
“It is a critical moment in American history,” Coons said Sunday in an interview.
An early vote to dismiss the trial probably would not succeed, given that Democrats now control the Senate. The House approved the charge against Trump on Jan. 13, with 10 Republicans joining the Democrats.
Still, the mounting Republican opposition to the proceedings indicates that many GOP senators will eventually vote to acquit Trump. Democrats would need the support of 17 Republicans — a high bar — to convict him.
One by one, Republican senators are explaining their objections to the unprecedented trial and scoffing at the idea of trying to convict Trump now that he’s no longer in office.
Rand Paul of Kentucky said that without the chief justice presiding the proceedings are a “sham.” Joni Ernst of Iowa said that while Trump “exhibited poor leadership,” it’s those who assaulted the Capitol who “bear the responsibility.” New Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama said Trump is one of the reasons he is in the Senate, so “I’m proud to do everything I can for him.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is among those who say the Senate does not have the constitutional authority to convict a former president.
Democrats reject that argument, pointing to an 1876 impeachment of a secretary of war who had already resigned and to opinions by many legal scholars. Democrats also say that a reckoning of the first invasion of the Capitol since the War of 1812, perpetrated by rioters egged on by a president as Electoral College votes were being tallied, is necessary.
A few GOP senators have agreed with Democrats, though not close to the number that will be needed to convict Trump.
Mitt Romney of Utah said he believes “what is being alleged and what we saw, which is incitement to insurrection, is an impeachable offense. ... If not, what is?” Romney was the only Republican senator to vote for conviction when the Senate acquitted Trump in his first impeachment trial.
Coronavirus deaths and cases per day in the U.S. dropped markedly over the past couple of weeks but are still running at alarmingly high levels, and the effort to snuff out COVID-19 is becoming an ever more urgent race between the vaccine and the mutating virus.
The government’s top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the improvement in numbers around the country appears to reflect a “natural peaking and then plateauing” after a holiday surge, rather than the arrival of the vaccine in mid-December.
The U.S. is recording just under 3,100 deaths a day on average, down from more than 3,350 less than two weeks ago. New cases are averaging about 170,000 a day after peaking at almost 250,000 on Jan. 11. The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has fallen to about 110,000 from a high of 132,000 on Jan. 7.
States that have been hot spots in recent weeks such as California and Arizona have shown similar improvements during the same period.
On Monday, California lifted regional stay-at-home orders in favor of county-by-county restrictions and ended a 10 p.m. curfew. The shift will allow restaurants and churches to resume outdoor operations and hair and nail salons to reopen in many places, though local officials could maintain stricter rules.
Elsewhere, Minnesota school districts have begun bringing elementary students back for in-person learning. Chicago’s school system, the nation’s third-largest district, had hoped to bring teachers back Monday to prepare for students to return next month, but the teachers union has refused. Illinois announced that more counties will be able to offer limited indoor dining.
“I don’t think the dynamics of what we’re seeing now with the plateauing is significantly influenced yet — it will be soon — but yet by the vaccine. I just think it’s the natural course of plateauing,” Fauci told NBC’s “Today.”
Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington, said that a predicted holiday surge was reduced by people traveling less than expected, and an increase in mask-wearing in response to spikes in infections has since helped bring the numbers down.
Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said too few people have been vaccinated so far for that to have had a significant impact on virus trends. She said she can’t predict how long it will take for the vaccines’ effects to be reflected in the numbers.
Also read:US COVID-19 cases hit over 14.5 mln
Rivers said she is concerned that the more contagious variants of the virus could lead to a deadly resurgence later this year.
“I think we were on track to have a good — or a better, at least — spring and summer, and I’m worried that the variants might be throwing us a curveball,” she said.
Nationwide, about 19.3 million people, or less than 6% of the U.S. population, have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including about 3 million who have gotten the second shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 55% of the 41 million doses distributed to the states by the federal government have been injected into arms, by the CDC’s count.
The virus has killed over 419,000 Americans and infected more than 25 million, with a widely cited University of Washington model projecting the death toll will reach about 569,000 by May 1.
And health experts have warned that the more contagious and possibly more deadly variant sweeping through Britain will probably become the dominant source of infection in the U.S. by March. It has been reported in over 20 states so far. Other mutant versions are circulating in South Africa and Brazil. The variant from Brazil was detected for the first time in the U.S. in a Minnesota resident who recently traveled to the South American country, state health officials said Monday.
The more the virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to mutate. The fear is that it will ultimately render the vaccines ineffective.
To guard against the new variants, President Joe Biden on Monday added South Africa to the list of more than two dozen countries whose residents are subject to coronavirus-related limits on entering the U.S.
Most non-U.S. citizens who have been to Brazil, Ireland, Britain and other European nations will be barred from entering the U.S. under the rules re-imposed by Biden after President Donald Trump had moved to relax them.
Fauci said scientists are already preparing to adjust COVID-19 vaccines to fight the mutated versions.
He said there is “a very slight, modest diminution” of the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against those variants, but “there’s enough cushion with the vaccines that we have that we still consider them to be effective” against both.
Moderna, the maker of one of the two vaccines being used in the U.S., announced on Monday that it is beginning to test a possible booster dose against the South African variant. Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said the move was out of “an abundance of caution” after preliminary lab tests suggested its shot produced a weaker immune response to that variant.
The vaccine rollout in the U.S. has been marked by disarray and confusion, with states complaining in recent days about shortages and inadequate deliveries that have forced them to cancel mass vaccination events and tens of thousands of appointments.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said shortages are preventing the city from opening more large-scale vaccination sites.
“Here you have New York City ready to vaccinate at the rate of a half-million New Yorkers a week, but we don’t have the vaccine to go with it,” de Blasio said. “A lot of other places in the country are ready to do so much more.”
A major winter storm threatened to blanket parts of the middle of the country with more than a foot of snow Monday, promising to disrupt travel and forcing the closure of some coronavirus testing sites.
The National Weather Service said at least 4 inches (10 centimeters) of snow is expected across most of an area stretching from central Kansas northeast to Chicago and southern Michigan. Parts of southeast Nebraska and western Iowa could get more than three times that much by Tuesday morning.
Several coronavirus testing sites in Nebraska and Iowa were closing early Monday because of the snow. More than 10 inches (25 centimeters) of snow had already fallen in parts of eastern Nebraska by Monday evening.
National Weather Service meteorologist Taylor Nicolaisen said 10 to 15 inches (25 to 38 centimeters) of snow was likely between York, Nebraska, and Des Moines, Iowa, and that it has been at least 15 years since that area received more than a foot of snow in a single storm.
“This is historic snow,” said Nicolaisen, who is based near Omaha, Nebraska.
Many schools and businesses closed Monday as the storm moved across the region. In western Iowa, Missouri Valley Superintendent Brent Hoesing reworked the lyrics of the 1970s hit “I Will Survive” to tell students in his district to “So Stay Inside.”
Also read: Snow storm forecast for Great Toronto Area
Officials urged drivers to stay off the roads during the storm, especially during the heaviest snowfall in the afternoon and evening. Nebraska State Patrol troopers responded to more than 200 weather-related incidents Monday.
“Do not travel unless it’s absolutely necessary,” said Nebraska State Patrol Col. John Bolduc.
Roughly 250 semi trucks pulled off the road to wait out the storm at the Petro truck stop alongside Interstate 80 in York, Nebraska. Manager Rachael Adamson said she could see knee-high drifts and that the maintenance man had to go out every 30 minutes to shovel the sidewalks to keep up with the snow.
“We haven’t had this much snow in quite a few years,” Adamson said.
Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Alex Dinkla said road conditions deteriorated quickly and numerous vehicles slid off roads in central Iowa.
“The big thing that people are seeing is that this snow system is packing a big punch,” Dinkla said to the Des Moines Register. “As we have seen this system move into Iowa, the road conditions go from zero snow on the road to an immediate totally covered roadway in just a matter of minutes.”
A section of eastbound Interstate 80 was closed in central Nebraska Monday afternoon following a crash. And Missouri officials urged drivers not to travel on Interstates 29 and 35 in northwest Missouri into Iowa. The agency said most roads in the area were covered with snow and heavy snow continued falling Monday afternoon.
”If northern Missouri or Iowa are part of your travel plan, please re-route or find a warm, safe place to wait out the storm,” the Missouri Transportation Department said.
Elsewhere in the U.S., a storm moving across the Southwest on Monday and Tuesday was forecast to bring gusty winds and snowfall, the weather service said. Over the weekend, more than a foot of snow fell in Southern California’s mountains, making driving conditions hazardous. Interstate 5 was shut down Monday in the Tejon Pass between Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley. Wind, snow and ice also forced the closure of State Route 58 through the Tehachapi Pass.
Until recently, California had been experiencing significantly dry weather accompanied by relentless wildfires. A band of clouds suggested more rain could fall Tuesday in areas north and south of San Francisco Bay, bringing the threat of possible flash floods and landslides in areas scarred by the fires.
Forecasters at the Sacramento-area National Weather Service office predict an abundance of snow in the Sierra Nevada between late Tuesday and Friday that will make travel through the mountains difficult.
A major winter storm buried northern Arizona in snow on Monday while sending flurries to the outskirts of Las Vegas and Phoenix.
And most of Nevada was bracing for another series of powerful winter storms that could bring rare snowfall to the Las Vegas Strip late Monday or early Tuesday and several feet to the mountains above Lake Tahoe with winds up to 60 mph (96 kph) by Thursday.
Up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) of snow fell Monday in the Reno-Sparks area, where up to 10 inches (25 cm) is possible and up to 20 inches (50 cm) in the Sierra foothills above elevations of 5,000 feet (1,828 meters) on the edge of town by Thursday.
Three to 6 feet (91 cm to 1.8 meters) of snow is forecast in the Sierra above elevations of 7,000 feet.
Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted stay-at-home orders across the state Monday in response to improving coronavirus conditions, a surprising move hailed by beleaguered businesses but that prompted caution from local health officials concerned the public may let down its guard.
“We’re seeing a flattening of the curve — everything that should be up is up, everything that should be down is down — case rates, positivity rates, hospitalizations, ICUs,” Newsom said at a virtual news conference.
The turnaround puts California in a starkly different place than it was last month, when some Southern California hospitals overwhelmed by virus patients were crafting emergency plans for rationing care.
Newsom crafted the stay-at-home order in December as coronavirus cases worsened and in anticipation of surges from holiday gatherings. He divided the state into five regions and ultimately four of them had the order imposed because their ICU capacity fellow the stat mandated 15%. Only rural far Northern California stayed above the threshold.
Southern California, which accounts for more than half the state population of nearly 40 million, still has an ICU capacity of 0%, according to state data. But Newsom said based on state modeling for the next four weeks, as cases fall ICU capacity is projected to rise to 33%, the highest of any of the state’s regions.
The lifting of the stay-at-home order allows restaurants to serve diners outdoors and places of worship to offer services outside. Hair and nail salons and other businesses may reopen and retailers can have more shoppers in their stores.
The state also is lifting a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, but San Francisco is keeping it in place.
California’s latest and worst surge of the pandemic started in mid-October. In a little more than two months the state recorded more than 2 million cases and hospitalizations grew nearly 10 fold to almost 22,000.
As the sickest patients die, the death toll has exploded. The state is averaging 504 deaths a day and its total now tops 37,000 second only to New York.
About 23,000 people are now testing positive for the virus per day, down more than 7,000 from a week ago, with a test positivity rate that has fallen steadily to 8% from a high of nearly 20% at the height of the surge.
In Los Angeles County, home to 10 million people, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer stressed the need for residents to continue to abide by social distancing and mask recommendations otherwise “we’ll be in the horrible position of needing to once again backtrack.”
In the San Francisco Bay Area, Sonoma County’s Health Officer Sundari Mase noted that case rates and positivity rates remain high.
“We must remain vigilant and take all necessary mitigation measures until the vaccine is distributed widely,” Mase said.
Most California counties are now returning to the most restrictive tier of a four-level, color-coded system for determining what businesses can open. It allows up to three households to gather outside, the resumption of low-contact recreation sports like golf and skiing, and the reopening of outdoor gyms. Bars and wineries that don’t serve food can’t open.
The state had refused to make public the data used to project ICU rates but late Monday released a table showing the regional per capita cases and transmission rates that were used.
The state predicted the following regional ICU capacity in four weeks: 25% for the San Francisco Bay Area; 27.3% in Greater Sacramento and 22.3% in the San Joaquin Valley. The 18.9% in Northern California. is a significant dip in capacity, which now sits above 40%. State officials didn’t explain the drop.
Public health experts had mixed views on the state’s decision to lift the order.
Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of California, Los Angeles, said little evidence exists to show that outdoor dining or personal care services are major sources of coronavirus spread and that the state’s overall metrics are improving.
He said lifting the orders based on ICU capacity is consistent with the state’s goal of imposing stay-at-home orders to decompress the health system.
“I think it does make sense to allow people to get back to work and get back to their lives somewhat, and to also continue to emphasize the issue of masking and physical distancing indoors” and vaccinations, he said.
But, he said, the state should be providing the public with more data on what’s causing coronavirus transmission and how they are modeling hospital capacity.
Joshua Salomon, a professor of medicine with the Center for Health Policy and the Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research at Stanford University, said it is a concern that the state is lifting its stay-home order despite the continued coronavirus spread.
“At this point we really are still in a very dangerous situation and we need to be quite careful not to reopen too broadly and too quickly,” he said.
Meanwhile, Newsom’s political opponents and even members of his own party criticized the decision. Republicans said Newsom was relaxing the rules in response to political pressure and the threat of a recall election. Republican organizers have until mid-March to gather 1.5 million signatures to force a recall vote against Newsom, who is halfway through his first term.
“The most valuable resource in a crisis is trust, but that’s in even shorter supply than vaccines under Gavin Newsom. How many lives have been ruined, jobs lost, students disenfranchised and businesses shuttered by his random and confusing decrees? This is absurd, and we deserve better,” said Kevin Faulconer, the former Republican mayor of San Diego who is exploring challenging Newsom in the next governor’s race.
Several Democratic legislators, meanwhile, said they’d been kept out of the loop on the state’s changing rules.
“If you think state legislators were blindsided by, and confused about, the shifting & confusing public health directives, you’d be correct,” Democratic Assemblywoman Laura Friedman of Glendale tweeted. “If you think we have been quiet about it in Sacramento, you’d be wrong.”
Newsom said the appropriate people had been notified in advance and said the state’s goal was to not delay an announcement that could give a sense of optimism to businesses and families.
“Do we delay that for a long protracted comprehensive outreach? Or do we just move forward, based upon the criteria that has been well established?” he said.
He called suggestions he was lifting the order due to political pressure “nonsense.”