The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion China is beating the coronavirus while Trump leads America to defeat

President Trump at a rally in Muskegon, Mich., on Saturday. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

President Trump claims: “This election is a simple choice: If Biden Wins, China Wins. When WE Win, YOU WIN.” But on the most important crisis facing the world right now — fighting the novel coronavirus — China is winning and America is losing. That’s because China is following the science and Trump is fighting it.

The United States (pop. 328 million) has more than 8.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 219,000 deaths — the most in the world. China (pop. 1.4 billion) has had fewer than 91,000 confirmed cases and 4,700 confirmed deaths. On Sunday, the United States had 47,637 new cases, compared with 13 in China. The U.S. death rate is about 670 per 1 million people. In China, it’s about three deaths per 1 million people. China’s numbers are probably not entirely accurate, but then, neither are ours — the number of American victims is likely much higher than the official figures indicate.

While the U.S. economy continues to stagger along, with unemployment claims increasing in early October, China’s economy surged by 4.9 percent in the third quarter compared with a year earlier. “The vigorous expansion of the Chinese economy,” the New York Times explains, “means that it is set to dominate global growth — accounting for at least 30 percent of the world’s economic growth this year and in the years to come.”

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

China deserves censure for not squelching the novel coronavirus when it started in Wuhan, but since then it has fought a successful battle using tools such as lockdowns, social distancing, contact tracing, mask-wearing and isolation of patients. Some of the things that China has done would be considered too heavy-handed for the United States. In China, even children who test positive are temporarily separated from their parents. (The Trump administration only separates children if they are undocumented immigrants.)

But China’s success is mainly due to the application of science in a country where people are taught to respect science. We live in a country, by contrast, where the president mocks his opponent by sneering: “He’ll listen to the scientists.” This is supposed to be a bad thing?

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Trump is certainly not listening to the scientists — at least not credible ones. The most important public health adviser in the White House is Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no background in infectious disease or epidemiology. He has endeared himself to Trump by opposing the recommendations of the medical community and issuing Pollyanna-ish claims that echo Trump’s insistence that we are “rounding the turn.” (Actually, covid-19 is raging out of control across most of the country.)

Atlas is an advocate of allowing the coronavirus to spread virtually unchecked in most of the population to produce “herd immunity.” Tom Frieden, former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warns that this strategy would kill at least 500,000 more Americans. Atlas also claims that masks don’t work even though the medical community has concluded that they are one of our best infection-fighting tools. Atlas’s crackpot claim about masks was taken down by Twitter on Sunday because it is so dangerous.

Atlas even opposes expanded testing, which is crucial for reopening the economy safely. This plays to the prejudices of a president who often claims that the more you test, the more cases you have. (By this logic, the most effective birth control would be to not get a pregnancy test.) The Post reports the administration refuses to spend $9 billion that Congress appropriated to ramp up testing.

In short, the chief public health adviser in the White House is a menace to public health. By contrast, Anthony S. Fauci, who was honored on Monday with a citation for “exemplary leadership” by the National Academy of Medicine, has been maligned by Trump as a “disaster.”

Trump’s contempt for science is, sadly, emulated by the mini-Trumps who govern red states — where the virus is now running rampant. Gov. Doug Burgum (R) of North Dakota declared that trying to curb reckless behavior that spreads covid-19 is “not a job for government.”

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Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R) of South Dakota apparently agrees. She allowed 500,000 people to come to Sturgis, S.D., in August for a motorcycle rally that The Post describes as “the largest gathering of people in the United States and perhaps anywhere in the world amid the pandemic.” The predictable result was a surge of covid-19 in the upper Midwest — and across the country.

Far from criticizing such irresponsible behavior, Trump is holding his own superspreader events — reelection rallies where few people wear masks or practice social distancing. The president is, researchers at Cornell University found, “the single largest driver of misinformation around Covid.”

Little wonder that a Pew Research Center survey showed that people in 13 countries give China higher marks than the United States on fighting the pandemic. Negative views of China are still high — and for good reason. Look at the terrible crimes against the Uighurs. But the covid-19 crisis reveals that China, for all its sins, has rational leaders, while America, for all its virtues, does not. If the virus were a human enemy, Trump would have long ago run up the white flag, while China would be accepting its unconditional surrender.

Read more:

Tom Frieden: A half-million more people could die if America pursues a ‘herd immunity’ plan

The Post’s View: An erratic Trump may have shaken loose stimulus talks. Now all parties must advance with urgency.

Editorial Board: The notion that we can ‘resume life as normal’ right now is misguided and dangerous

Leana Wen: I thought Trump couldn’t handle the virus any worse than he already had. I was wrong.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will likely knock out monoclonal antibodies, targeted drugs that can be used as a treatment or to protect immunocompromised people.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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