In fact, it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that the president and his administration have all but given up fighting the pandemic.
The task force, led by Vice President Pence, to coordinate the government’s actions, has scaled back its work, only meeting occasionally. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reportedly “remains largely demoralized and often sidelined” in fighting the virus.
And dilettante of disaster Jared Kushner, who for a while had commandeered the administration’s pandemic response, seems to have moved on; he’s informally running Trump’s reelection campaign, now that he has achieved peace in the Middle East and fixed the country’s policing problem.
And while public health officials have said a thousand times that we need an aggressive testing and contact tracing program to fully contain the virus, at the national level, we have neither. In fact, while Trump may occasionally brag about the number of tests that have been done, the federal government has essentially told states that when it comes to testing they’re on their own.
The Post’s Rachel Weiner and Rosalind S. Helderman report that a patchwork of approaches to testing has developed in the states, with vast differences between them:
The wide range of approaches across the country comes as the federal government has offered little guidance on the best way to test a broad swath of the population, leaving state public health officials to wrestle on their own with difficult questions about how to measure the spread of the virus and make decisions about reopening their economies.
With everything else going on, including the collapse of the economy and the wave of protests over police brutality and racism, the covid-19 pandemic is getting less attention. So it’s worth stressing just how appalling this is: The United States has no national coronavirus testing strategy.
A month and a half ago, the White House issued a “guidance” to states that amounted to “you guys should maybe do some testing, but it’s not the federal government’s responsibility.” And that’s still where we are.
Meanwhile, nearly half the states are showing rising rates of infection and hospitalizations, with particularly sharp increases in Arizona, Texas and Florida. According to the latest projections, we could reach 170,000 to 200,000 deaths by the beginning of October.
And what is the president doing? Like a vampire deprived of blood, his hunger for the adulation of the crowd has become too overwhelming to resist, so next week he’ll be holding his first rally since the pandemic began. The assembled faithful will prove their devotion to the president by not wearing masks, just as they do at the White House and at his campaign headquarters.
But Trump isn’t stupid. He’s forcing everyone who comes to that rally to sign a release giving up their right to sue if they get infected while watching the president ramble through an hour-long stream-of-consciousness rant about the liberal media, immigrants, Hillary Clinton, toilets with insufficient flushing power, and whatever else is making him mad that day.
He’s also very concerned about his convention. Facing hesitation from North Carolina (Charlotte was the original site) over the idea of stuffing 20,000 people into an arena where they can breathe in each other’s droplets, Republicans found willing officials in Jacksonville, Fla., so Trump will go there to accept his nomination.
“We’re going to have a packed arena,” said Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel. It should be covid-tastic.
If there’s a strategy in all this, it may be to hope that the public comes to see a thousand or so people dying every day from covid-19 as just background noise, and certainly not something that should be blamed on the president.
“I spoke to our health experts at some length last evening,” said White House economic policy adviser Larry Kudlow on Friday. “They’re saying there is no second spike. Let me repeat that: There is no second spike.”
Recall that Kudlow famously said in late February: “We have contained this, I won’t say airtight but pretty close to airtight.” But he may be technically right about a “second spike,” at least nationally. What we’re seeing is less a spike than an unremittingly high level of new infections and deaths. While other countries managed to drive the pandemic further and further down, our rate is staying stubbornly high, fed by the eagerness of people to cast off masks and social distancing and “get back to normal.”
For the White House, “normal” means not having to worry about the pandemic anymore, so it can concentrate on praising Trump for his inspiring leadership and towering genius. If the administration wishes for it hard enough, maybe the virus will just disappear, like a miracle. It sure beats actually doing the long and hard work needed to get it under control.
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