In October, Johns Hopkins University rated the United States the country best prepared for an epidemic, as President Trump boasted in February. But this week, a Hopkins scientist told Congress we are “the worst affected country in the world.” How did the best become the worst?
Trump has abandoned attempts to control the pandemic, though there is no downturn in cases. His administration ignores its own reopening requirements and shelves guidelines written by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead Trump applauds reckless reopening in a way that, as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, admitted, “will lead to an increase and spread. It’s almost ipso facto.”
This is state-sanctioned killing. It is a conscious decision to accept 2,000 preventable deaths every day, because our leaders believe the victims are the poor schlubs who work in meat-processing plants, not “regular folks,” as Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack memorably put it this week.
It is deliberately sacrificing the old, factory workers, and black and Hispanic Americans, who are dying at higher rates. This comes after “stimulus” programs passed by Congress proved a bonanza to big business and billionaires but offered little to the nearly one-fifth of American children who are not getting enough to eat — a rate three times as high as during the Great Recession, a Brookings Institution study found.
The mindless reopening is as stupid as it is immoral. Does anybody truly believe Americans will return to work while the virus rages? Send our kids to schools without tools in place to stop outbreaks? Put our parents in retirement homes that, without adequate testing, are often death traps? Enjoy a restaurant, theater, flight to Disney World or trip to the mall, knowing it could kill us? Reopening masquerades as a political cause — LIBERATE! — but it is really a lazy unwillingness to do the hard work to defeat the virus, and to restore our economy.
It didn’t have to be this way.
New Zealand just announced that it has eliminated the virus. Australia is close behind. They did this with all the things we didn’t do: aggressive lockdowns, huge investments in testing and contact tracing and reliable, apolitical communication by government. New Zealand says 75 percent of its economy is reopening.
Germany, Greece, the Czech Republic, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan and Hong Kong are among those defeating the virus, too.
Yet, encouraged by Trump, mostly Republican-led states plunge ahead with reopening without the necessary tests, tracing, masks or isolation facilities — pretending the virus will disappear if we look the other way. Arizona typifies the new head-in-sand approach, trying to get scientists at state universities to “pause” modeling of the virus’s progression as the state reopens.
Disaster awaits. Andy Slavitt, a senior health official during the Obama administration, notes that outside of New York, cases are actually increasing, at a rate that would present 50,000 new cases a day by month’s end.
“It’s a huge gamble,” Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski told Christian broadcaster David Brody this week. If “we see an uptick again in the covid-19 pandemic coming back because we didn’t handle it right the first time — we still don’t have testing and we don’t have a solution — that is devastating as an incumbent president.”
And rather more devastating for the people dying. But Trump seems unconcerned. Asked about unemployment, which just hit a highest-since-the-Depression 14.7 percent, Trump declared: “Nobody is blaming me.”
True, most Americans accept as necessary the economic pain of shutting down. And Trump’s supporters seem not to care that his early failures led directly to our highest-in-the-world death count of 76,000. Too many even seem unconcerned about the deaths, concentrated in minority communities.
But they will soon see other countries’ economies reopening safely because other governments got the virus under control. And they will see deaths accelerate here, making consumers and workers frightened to return. All we can do is pray for a vaccine breakthrough and hope summer weather helps. That’s because our president abandoned the fight.
Trump can lie all he likes about the adequacy of testing and supplies, and blame his predecessor, his opponents and the media for his incompetence. It doesn’t matter to the virus. As we progress toward what could be the autumn of our agony, he owns all of what comes next — politically and morally.