In This Episode
- Today marks the official end of the nationwide COVID-19 public health emergency. It was declared in January 2020, when just six cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the U.S. Now, more than three years later, more than 1.1 million people in the United States in total have died from the virus. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, host of Crooked’s America Dissected, joins us to talk about what the end of the emergency will mean for many Americans.
- And in headlines: the Trump-era border policy Title 42 officially expires today, New York Representative George Santos pleaded not guilty to felony fraud charges, and MTV News has shut down after 36 years on the air.
- Kaiser Family Foundation: What Comes Next After the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Ends – https://tinyurl.com/ck7w8zp9
- LAist: As Pandemic Emergencies End, People Battling Long Covid Feel ‘Swept Under the Rug’ – https://tinyurl.com/bdzkp2h5
- What A Day – YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/@whatadaypodcast
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Erin Ryan: It’s Thursday, May 11th. I’m Erin Ryan.
Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver and this is What A Day where we are doing everything in our power to dodge every Beyoncé concert video on our timelines.
Erin Ryan: All you have to do is avoid the Internet for the next, what, three months or so, right?
Juanita Tolliver: Girl, she literally just posted spoilers on her own Instagram. I can’t mute her. She’s the queen.
Erin Ryan: She will find out. She will know.
Juanita Tolliver: Oh God.
Erin Ryan: She gets a push notification when people mute her.
Juanita Tolliver: [laughing] She’s going to hunt me down. [laughter] [music break]
Erin Ryan: On today’s show, New York Representative George Santos has pleaded not guilty to felony fraud charges. Plus, this year’s top dogs have been picked at the Westminster Dog Show.
Juanita Tolliver: But first, today marks the official end of the COVID 19 public health emergency. Even though there are still more than 1000 COVID related deaths each week in the United States, according to the World Health Organization. As well as regular reports of new variants and we still have no idea about the extent of harm that long COVID has had and will continue to have on us as a people. But according to the government, it’s over y’all. Knowing those stats and realities, though, it’s safe to say that we’ve got a lot of questions about exactly what changes today, which benefits go away and what comes next. But before we look ahead, let’s rewind for a second. Erin, do you remember where you were when COVID became a thing? I know I do.
Erin Ryan: Okay. So this is going to be the most L.A. story of all time. But I was in [laughter] I was in Palm Springs with my personal trainer. And that is not a joke.
Juanita Tolliver: Gag.
Erin Ryan: The reason I was there is because I had actually, my now husband and I were scheduled to get married on May 20th of 2020. We had a big–
Juanita Tolliver: Oh!
Erin Ryan: –wedding planned. We were like, right in the very end stages of planning for it.
Juanita Tolliver: Yeah.
Erin Ryan: And when they first closed everything down, we were like, oh, we’ll just delay it until the summer. No.
Juanita Tolliver: Little did–
Erin Ryan: No. We–
Juanita Tolliver: –we know.
Erin Ryan: We never got to have our big wedding. Never got to have it. How about you?
Juanita Tolliver: I was heading into work. I was working out of downtown D.C., and they were like, go home. I said, okay. Apparently, my building was also shared with The Washington Post, and so their reporters all got sick [gasp] at CPAC, of all places.
Erin Ryan: I mean–
Juanita Tolliver: And so they brought it into our building. And so that was the day I did not go back to work. So cue remote work. Cue home life. And here we are three years later.
Erin Ryan: I mean, I feel like getting the CPAC edition of COVID was like getting an [laughter] original version of like a Babe Ruth baseball card.
Juanita Tolliver: The original strain.
Erin Ryan: Right. Exactly. That’s a collectible.
Juanita Tolliver: All right. So now that we’re back in 2020, let’s remember that the COVID public health emergency began on February 2nd, that year, when then Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced that the U.S. would, quote, “implement temporary measures to increase our abilities to detect and contain the coronavirus.” What followed was a wild fact finding mission of how to protect ourselves, lockdowns, mask or no mask, remote work and remote learning, which led to historic learning loss, especially for families with lower incomes and limited access to the Internet. It also led to historic investments in health care and public health. A mass exodus of women leaving the workplace and the wonderful scientific advancements that led to life saving vaccines, which naturally ran parallel with disinformation coming from the highest levels of government and the former occupant of the White House. Sadly, in total, more than 1.1 million people lost their lives in the United States. And now, three years later, the emergency is officially over. Back in January, when the date was set to end the public health emergency, we called on our favorite in-house doctor, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, host of Crooked’s America Dissected to break down what this transition could look like and the very legitimate concerns we all have. And I started by asking Abdul for his reactions to the end of the public health emergency.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I want to give you a technical definition, and maybe you guys can think through it with me. A pandemic is when a disease is spreading more than you otherwise would expect. So when you think about it, the pandemic part of this is rather over, because if you look at cases, hospitalizations, deaths, there just aren’t as many as there have been in the pandemic. In fact, there are fewer of all three of those than there ever have been. And at the same time, I want people to hear me clear about this. That doesn’t mean COVID is over.
Juanita Tolliver: That part.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And so while the drawing down of the public health emergency over COVID seems to make sense, I have my worries because, well, just because it’s down now doesn’t mean that it’s going to be down forever. But then bigger picture, in this country, we have this incoherence about the way that we do health care. We had to mobilize the biggest single mobilization of public health and health care in our country’s history to meet this pandemic where it was, which forces us to ask why do we think it’s a good idea to take away people’s health care or to demobilize public health? So even though the pandemic may be over. Covid’s not over. And the public health emergency in this country that has been raging since well before COVID 19 was a thing is not over.
Juanita Tolliver: Right? And I feel like part of that demobilization means that Americans and individuals are going to lose a lot of the things they came to expect, like access to free testing and vaccination and Medicaid rollbacks. Walk us through some of the ways that individuals might be affected in this situation.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, there’s good news and bad news, at least for the next couple of years everyone will have access to uh free testing, free vaccines, and free treatment. They’re just going to get it differently. So if you’re, for example, insured, your insurance is likely going to get billed for those services. If you’re not insured uh then there is going to be ways through health departments like the one that I run day to day uh will have them for you for free. The thing I’m most worried about, I’ll be honest with you, is that during the pandemic, our country made a decision that Medicaid should be a little less bad then, unfortunately, conservatives tend to make it. And one of the ways that they make it bad is that they regularly just kick you off and you have to reapply to get back on. And so what they did was they instituted this thing called continuous enrollment, which if you’re privileged enough to have private insurance, you’re continuously enrolled. Now, that continuous enrollment was critical because people got used to being on Medicaid and upwards of five to fourteen million people are about to get booted off their Medicaid.
Juanita Tolliver: Hold on. Repeat that. Five to fourteen million people and we’re being casual.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yup. Five to fourteen million of your fellow Americans, your neighbors, the people who share a community with you are about to get booted off their Medicaid by your federal government to whom you pay taxes so that those folks can’t in part have health care. And this is the sad thing, is that think about who has Medicaid, right?
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Medicaid is not usually the insurance of choice. You’re talking about lower income people, oftentimes folks working two or three jobs and they don’t have time to do extra paperwork to make sure that they have insurance. And usually when they find out is when they go to the doctor and recognize they got denied their care. And so that’s the thing that I’m most worried about and I find most frustrating about this moment, because, frankly, if we really wanted to in this country, we have more than enough money to provide every single person who needs health care access to that thing. We’re just making a choice to make it hard again to have it. And that to me is really quite sad and dour given that for three years we showed that it was possible not to do it this way.
Juanita Tolliver: And so now, after talking to the catastrophe of five to fourteen million people losing their health care, there is a little bit of a bright side here when it relates to telehealth, something that isn’t going away, and especially when the DEA expanded rules that allow for prescriptions to be offered virtually. What was your reaction to that news?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, look, I’ll tell you this. My better half is a psychiatrist and uh through the course of the pandemic, she has been able to take care of her patients via telehealth. It’s great for patients because rather than having to figure out transportation to show up at an office, uh they’re able to just rock up on Zoom. It’s great for her because she’s able to see more patients in a given uh period of time. And now we have technology that allows us to do uh telehealth in a way that connects more people who need care to people who can provide it. And so I’m really glad that the DEA has thought twice about changing that.
Juanita Tolliver: So let’s also be real, though. Even though many COVID restrictions have been lifted by this point, not everybody can return back to normal, whatever that is. Talk to us about how the end of the emergency order impacts people who are immunocompromised and living and struggling with long COVID.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: If you’re somebody who stopped wearing your mask in public over the last year, I want you to remember that you did that as a function of the level of privilege that you had around having a functioning immune system. There are millions of Americans who cannot do that because the consequences of getting what for you or I might be a bad flu could be catastrophic for them. And for them whatever we say about a public health emergency or a pandemic. COVID is still a deadly disease, is still lurking for them, still killing 255 people a day over the past week. And we have to remember that we have a real responsibility to folks who are at higher risk. Uh. And then we have to balance right, the ending of this emergency with the needs of folks who are most vulnerable.
Juanita Tolliver: And looking back to the beginning, back to January 2020, when the public health emergency was first declared in the U.S.. To today, more than three years later, can you tell us what systemic issues and vulnerabilities were revealed in how we handle infectious diseases, especially for communities that have been historically neglected? And since we’re walking all of that back, what’s your prediction for those same communities when and if we face another crisis like this?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Americans were more than four times as likely to die of COVID 19 as the global average.
Juanita Tolliver: Wow.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: We are the richest, most powerful country in the world. And what this virus revealed to us is our central failure to invest our resources in the basic thing that all of us have, which is our lives. And that comes in the form of having systematically disinvested in our public health infrastructure. In the form of having ceded our health care system to a set of corporations that believe that the most important thing it can do is fill their pockets rather than save our lives. And it demonstrated just how much worse the consequences of those two things are for Black and Brown Americans, low income Americans, disabled Americans, and otherwise marginalized folks.
Juanita Tolliver: Rural communities, LGBTQ people, migrants. All of it.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: It showed us what so many of us who live on the wrong sides of those divides already knew. But it showed us in numbers that you couldn’t deny, which is 1.1 million lives gone. And at the same time, it showed us how hard people would try to deny that. So my hope is that coming out of this. When they tell us that we can’t afford health care for everyone, that investing in public health isn’t worth it. That the economy works for everybody. I hope that we are armed with the experience of the next three years to recognize what is actually possible, because for three years, right? We did a much better job. Not to say a good job, but a much better job than we had and now we’re decommissioning all of that infrastructure that so many folks fought so hard to build that the virus demonstrated that we could. So I just worry about whether or not we’re willing to remember what’s possible and willing to fight for what’s possible, even in times when we don’t have a extremely deadly, extremely transmissible virus bearing down on us.
Juanita Tolliver: That was my conversation with Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, host of Crooked’s America Dissected. And I’m always grateful that Abdul keeps it 100 with us about what exactly this all means, because we’re right to be concerned. Of course, we’ll keep tracking all the updates and future variants, but that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break].
Erin Ryan: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Erin Ryan: We just told you that the national COVID health emergency ends today, and with it, so does Title 42. As we’ve talked about on the show before, this is the Trump era policy that allowed U.S. border officials to turn away asylum seekers on public health grounds. And they did just that more than 2 million times since the policy was enacted back in March of 2020. To prepare for the end of Title 42 and an anticipated surge of migrants trying to enter the U.S.. The Biden administration has also announced new sweeping asylum restrictions, including a controversial rule that will deny asylum to migrants who arrive at the border if they haven’t applied for protections ahead of time. Critics say the new policy is eerily similar to the so-called transit ban that was taken up when Trump was president but was ultimately blocked by federal courts. The ACLU has already vowed to file a lawsuit, and in a statement, the organization’s director of Border Strategies said President Biden, quote, “is finishing Trump’s job rather than fulfilling his own campaign promises.” No lies detected.
Juanita Tolliver: Not a single one. I think the side eye is warranted. I also think that clearly everything happening at the border is extremely complicated by the fact that, one, this is a cyclical surge. Two, Congress has never taken action for decades and decades, but also Republicans never acted on the proposals that President Biden did release on his first day in office. So I want to emphasize that. But at the end of the day, please, please, please treat migrants as the human beings they are. Humanity should not be lost in this moment. It was only a matter of time. But first term Republican congressman, professional grifter and former drag queen Kitara Revache, a.k.a. George Santos, [laughter] pleaded not guilty to 13 federal charges. They include wire fraud, money laundering, stealing public funds and lying to the federal government. Prosecutors say he used funds from his 2022 campaign to pay for lavish personal expenses like designer clothes, and that he also applied for COVID unemployment benefits despite co-sponsoring a bill that would help states fight that kind of fraud. Like it reeks, it reeks of hypocrisy. He was released on a half a million dollar bond, and to make sure he doesn’t sashay away from the law, he was forced to surrender his passport and must get permission to travel anywhere beyond New York or D.C. Here’s what he said to reporters after entering his plea.
[clip of George Santos] The reality is, is–
[clip of unknown person] I’m sorry.
[clip of George Santos] It’s a witch hunt because it makes no sense that in four months, four months, five months, I’m indicted. You have Joe Biden’s entire family receiving deposits from nine [booing in background] nine family members receiving money from foreign from foreign destinations into their bank accounts. It’s been years of exposing–
Juanita Tolliver: Okay, we need to cut a check for whoever was in the background booing that fool. Because yes, that’s exactly the only response we all need to be giving this.
Erin Ryan: Mm hmm.
Juanita Tolliver: All right. Well, it’s safe to say that was an interesting response. But he also added that he does not plan to resign and is even planning on running for reelection. The gall of this man. If convicted, Santos could face up to 20 years in prison. This ain’t no joke.
Erin Ryan: Oh no wow, him and Dianne Feinstein should run for president on a split ticket in 2024. CNN hosted its highly anticipated Republican presidential town hall with Donald Trump last night. CNN this morning anchor and former Daily Caller, quote unquote, “correspondent” Kaitlan Collins moderated the event in New Hampshire. And within minutes of taking the stage, he once again tried to push the big lie, say the 2020 election was stolen, etc., etc.. Collins rightfully shut him down repeatedly while fielding questions for the former president from Republican and undeclared voters about what his 2024 term would look like. Collins also asked the former president about the verdict in the E. Jean Carroll case that found him liable for sexual abuse, to which Trump said he didn’t know who Carroll was. If you didn’t get a chance to tune in, you didn’t miss much. Just the same foolishness we all expect whenever Trump opens his mouth. A whole lot of lies. Also, I know you can’t say anything, Juanita, because you are a classy woman. I can say this in my capacity as a Crooked Media host. CNN sucks. This sucks. This sucks that this happened. I didn’t watch. Any attention he gets, as we saw in 2016, benefits him whether positive or negative. Instead of watching the CNN town hall. I just carried on with my life and it was great.
Juanita Tolliver: Imagine, imagine you saved yourself from the lies, [laughter] the lies, the lies. I also think that’s just going to be the tone of whatever he does in 2024. If he’s not arrested before then. But a girl can dream, you know?
Erin Ryan: Yeah.
Juanita Tolliver: A panel of FDA advisors unanimously voted to recommend the first over-the-counter sell of birth control pills in the U.S., saying the benefits of offering the contraceptive far outweigh the risks. The recommendation comes after a two day public meeting over the prescription free pill, which, if approved, would be sold under the brand name Opill.
Erin Ryan: Hmm. Innovative.
Juanita Tolliver: I know, right? Very creative. It contains a synthetic version of the hormone progesterone to stop pregnancy. The only questions the FDA scientists had about Opill was whether its manufacturer, Perrigo, showed enough evidence that people taking the pill could do so safely and effectively without medical supervision. But let’s be real. I think we can trust women to follow directions and take their meds on time. The FDA is expected to make a final decision on whether to approve Opill by this summer.
Erin Ryan: I’m just going to go ahead and say it’s a lot easier to follow directions and take your medicine time than it is to follow directions–
Juanita Tolliver: Imagine.
Erin Ryan: –and raise a child. Just going to go ahead–
Juanita Tolliver: Imagine.
Erin Ryan: Much easier, given the option, I would say choose to follow the directions and take your meds on time.
Juanita Tolliver: It’s giving public service announcement from Erin.
Erin Ryan: Indeed, indeed. [laughter] After 36 years on the air, MTV News is no more. It comes after its parent company, Paramount Global, laid off 25% of its workers yesterday. Paramount CEO Chris McCarthy notified staff of the job cuts in a memo citing concerns about the economy. But ultimately, MTV News fell victim to corporate consolidation. The iconic edgy news program was first launched in 1987, serving as an alternative to the up and coming cable news offerings at the time with a distinct focus on all things pop culture and politics. If you’re a person of a certain age, you may remember that the outlet was the first to report Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994. And later that year, then President Bill Clinton famously went on an MTV News town hall when an audience member asked him this.
[clip of unknown MTV news town hall audience member] Mr. President, the world is dying to know. Is it boxers or briefs? [laughter]
[clip of Bill Clinton] Usually briefs. [laughter]
[clip of unknown MTV news town hall audience member] Mr. Presid–
[clip of Bill Clinton] I can’t believe she did that.
Erin Ryan: Ugh, this–
Juanita Tolliver: I am gagged, especially knowing what followed in his presidency. [laughing] I’m gagged.
Erin Ryan: Do not want to know. Do not want, I can’t believe how horny people were for Bill Clinton. That is such a like, oh, my God, put that in a museum. [laughter] That is such a relic of the nineties. People were horny–
Juanita Tolliver: Unhinged.
Erin Ryan: –for Bill Clinton.
Juanita Tolliver: Unhinged.
Erin Ryan: That is absolutely unhinged. I thought people were wild for, like, lusting after Obama’s vacation pictures in Hawaii.
Juanita Tolliver: I mean, yeah.
Erin Ryan: When he just looked like an in-shape dad on a trip with his family. [laughter] And like, people were asking the, oh, my gosh, I need to whew take a minute. That’s ridiculous. The nineties were crazy. Okay, but from one cool news show to another. Rest in peace, MTV News.
Juanita Tolliver: And finally, they were all good dogs in the end. But the Westminster Dog Show awarded its coveted best in show title to Buddy Holly, a petite basset griffon Vendéen. God I’ll breathe now. [laughter] Or PBGV for short. [laughter].
Erin Ryan: What? That sounds like a condition. That sounds like a condition.
Juanita Tolliver: Chile.
Erin Ryan: A diagnosis.
Juanita Tolliver: When I tell you I have never heard of this breed before, but okay, go off Buddy Holly. Buddy made history Tuesday night by becoming the first of his breed to take the top honor, beating out stiff competition from Rumi, a very fluffy Pekinese. Not to be confused with George Santos’s wig. And last year’s runner up, Winston, a French bulldog. Winston happens to be co-owned by L.A. Chargers defensive end Morgan Fox. Better luck next year, Winston. And he wasn’t the only Nepo doggie at the show. Country music star Tim McGraw revealed that he’s the co-owner of Lepshi, the Bracco Italian who won in his breed’s debut. Let me just make it plain, y’all. These dogs are cute or whatever, but they have nothing on my girls, Ms. Josephine and Zozo. My doodles. Clearly. [laughing]
Erin Ryan: I have to say that there’s something really, really deeply funny about the L.A. Chargers defensive end owning [laughter] a French bulldog, which, if the dogs were put on to a football team, I would say the French bulldog would be among the least likely to play defensive end. The French bulldog would be reporting on the game. [laughter] The French bulldog wouldn’t–
Juanita Tolliver: You’re like–
Erin Ryan: –would not be playing.
Juanita Tolliver: –not even on the field.
Erin Ryan: Nope, not even on the field. I could see like a lab playing receiver, you know?
Juanita Tolliver: Okay.
Erin Ryan: Like–
Juanita Tolliver: They got good legs.
Erin Ryan: But you know, French–
Juanita Tolliver: Yeah. Yeah.
Erin Ryan: –Bulldog is is not on the team. And it’s kind of cool that Morgan Fox went so outside of type and sponsored a dog. So not like him.
Juanita Tolliver: Well, I’m just going to say, Winston, I’m sure I would love you, even though Erin doesn’t. Those are the headlines. [laughing] [music break]
Erin Ryan: That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review, pet all the dogs, and tell your friends to listen.
Juanita Tolliver: And if you’re into reading and not just reading George Santos for filth like me, [laughter] What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Juanita Tolliver.
Erin Ryan: I’m Erin Ryan.
[spoken together] And get a grip Kitara.
Juanita Tolliver: Like, come on. Like, where did that name come from? You know the reference right?
Erin Ryan: I know that reference.
Juanita Tolliver: Okay.
Erin Ryan: It’s a cool reference, it’s as cool as that video of him being asked who’s going to win Drag Race and turning around and you’re like, I know exactly who you are.
Juanita Tolliver: Yes.
Erin Ryan: You’re a sociopath. But we could watch Drag Race together and enjoy ourselves. [laughter] [music break] What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla, and Raven Yamamoto is our associate producer. Jocey Coffman is our head writer and our senior producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka. [music break]