What would happen if governors, mayors and business people listened to Trump and reopened schools, businesses, entertainment venues and restaurants? News reports such as this one from CNBC made clear that the results could be disastrous:
Medical experts had recoiled at Trump’s suggestion that Americans could gather en masse amid the coronavirus outbreak.“Obviously Trump is not rooted in reality,” said Dr. Tina Tan, a board member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and a staff member at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.“This is the making of a major public health disaster. I am not sure where he is getting his information from, but it is extremely flawed,” Tan said.
To put that into perspective, by one calculation the difference between social distancing for two weeks or for two months might be the difference between 128 million infected Americans and 1.4 million infected Americans. With a death rate of even 1 percent, that works out to either 1.28 million deaths or 14,000 deaths.
In case you thought there is no harm in Trump spouting unrealistic, potentially deadly proposals, consider what is happening in Mississippi. Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who announced “Mississippi’s never going to be China,” issued an executive order on Tuesday that “considers most businesses in the state as ‘essential’ and are therefore exempt” from orders to shut down. This presumably will override the directives of “cities and counties [that] had previously defined ‘essential businesses’ more narrowly.”
Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis (R) refused to close the beaches during spring break, allowing crowds to congregate. He continues to drag his feet on statewide shutdown measures even as he is facing an ominous spike in covid-19 cases (“Numbers from the state saw a jump between Wednesday morning to evening by 295, bringing Florida’s new total by 6 p.m. to 1,977. ... Overnight into Wednesday, two more people died and by the evening another person had died, bringing the state total to 23”). Nevertheless, “DeSantis still doesn’t think that a broad shutdown like other states have implemented to control the spread of the coronavirus is appropriate for Florida because there are pockets in the state into Florida that have no cases of COVID-19.”
In short, Trump has signaled that opening up for business should take priority over health experts’ recommendations. It is becoming gospel on the right that keeping the economy shut down for an extended time is “worse” than the alternative of prolonged social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Lifting those orders, of course, would increase the chances that large numbers of mostly elderly people will lose their lives. While Trump might not have the power to carry out his sentiments, Republican governors do. To the extent they resist stay-at-home orders, reverse more stringent orders or lift them prematurely, more people will likely become sick and some will die.
This might just be a preview of a more difficult situation, namely the expectation of a second wave that might require extension of social-distancing orders or re-imposition of those already lifted. Fauci is already warning about a second wave of the virus. At Wednesday’s White House briefing, he said: “Would this possibly become a seasonal cyclic thing? I’ve always indicated to you that I think it very well might.” He explained, “What we’re starting to see in the Southern Hemisphere of Southern Africa and the Southern Hemisphere countries, is that we’re having cases that are appearing as they go into their winter season.” He added, "If they have a substantial outbreak, it will be inevitable that we need to be prepared that we’ll get a cycle a second time.”
Trump needs to stop making quack treatment recommendations and stop encouraging individuals and political leaders to abandon prematurely the only strategy we presently have for slowing the spread of the virus and hence preventing the health-care system from buckling. Before they contribute to more deaths, Trump and his right-wing acolytes should pipe down and let Fauci do the talking.