The corona virus has an advantage evident in the Thursday evening Corona Virus Task Force briefing and during the day in several statehouses: It can spread faster than its reputation for being a sneaky killer of the unaware.
President Trump tried to correct Task Force expert Dr Deborah Birx, placing him on the side of those governors who can’t yet bring themselves to issue stay-at-home orders. The episode explained why he has as yet refused to declare one nationally and why those governors who are on his wavelength are not getting a vital signal that could save a lot of lives in the weeks ahead.
On the White House dias the same battle for and against good advice was underway that seemed to pervade all the cable TV channels and so many social media platforms. The good advice so obvious to so many is to keep your distance from other people, period. The bad advice is, if your area still has a low virus intensity you’re doing great and we’ll assume you’ll keep doing great.
Trump, to his credit medical experts say, has renewed the Task Force guidelines to stay at home, wash your hands and stay away from groups of people for a month, but pandemic expert Birx said a lot of people aren’t following those guidelines. Those who don’t take them seriously are all over the place, and easy to see in the big cities.
In the nation’s capital, people had to gather at the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms. A D.C. policewoman told Mace News Thursday afternoon, “It felt so strange,” chasing people away from the beautiful trees. In New York City police are trying to keep pick-up basketball games to a minimum with the parks closed. It’s not easy.
Trump said Birx was being too pessimistic. “We’ve done, I think on average, really phenomenally as a country.”
Said Birx, “It’s every American that has to make these changes and I know they’re really hard and I know it’s hard to remember.”
Said a reporter, the virus is present in all 50 states and once it shows up containment efforts are too late, “So how do you then square that with this notion that some states are doing well?”
Said Trump, “When I looked at some of them, I looked at some states that I would have thought maybe wouldn’t have done as well and they’re really flatlined (and I) hope they stay that way.”
He kept talking, and the question that hung in the air eventually evaporated. States have “done well” but what does that have to do with their future? Shouldn’t they be hunkering down, preventing silent spread instead of going about business as usual? Said Birx, “I’m just asking them to try really, really hard for these next 28 days because they will make a tremendous difference.”
No one in government is likely to directly challenge President Trump in public, before a room full of reporters, although Birx and the NIH’s Tony Fauci – absent at the latest briefing – have come close.
With Trump saying he didn’t want reporters to have “misunderstood” her implication that the adherence to the guidelines is disappointingly low in a lot of regions of the country, she kept saying things that the reporters seemed to understand very well. “I mean,” she said, “we have a whole group of states who are testing and their positivity rate is under five percent. We know what it looks like on the logarithmic curve. You’re in the thirteen percent, then fifteen percent then twenty six percent. And then a third.”
That logarithmic curve, she said, is “what we’re trying to prevent.”
Said Trump, “I think most people have actually followed the presidential…” he never got to the word “guidelines” and soon was off on another tangent, criticising governors who were “so nice” to him on the telephone then turn around to criticise him on TV, “just like a different person.”
How many times has New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said “it’s coming for you.” What’s happened in New York “will happen to you.”
Monitoring CNN, MSNBC, Bloomberg TV and at one point even Fox during the day and the log would show no less than five voices of warnings in a few hours, doctors and governors, saying physical distancing can turn the tide. If you don’t really believe there is a tide, though, the advice doesn’t sink in.
So in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, noting what he said was a changed presidential “demeanour,” Thursday finally imposed a state-wide “personal isolation” order that some Florida counties had already put in place. Yet he exempted church services. So have Michigan, New Mexico, Delaware, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia, The Hill newspaper counted.
Nearly a dozen other states have not yet done the first step and so are not yet formally telling their citizens to stay home although in some cases the governor concedes that might be a good idea. In some states information is hard to come by. Jackson, Mississippi’s Clarion-Ledger is still trying to find how many ventilators the state has available.
At some level Trump seems to know that states that look good one day can be badly afflicted a couple of days later. He even said at one point Thursday, “Louisiana is an example, it was low and slow and they were looking great.” Now New Orleans is an epicentre.
So why not declare that every single person in the country is better off not going to church, not attending a community bonfire, not going to the beach? That’s the question. The answer is still pending.
Birx feeds all her data into a Web site updated daily, illustrating with charts how soon the pandemic is estimated to peak if all Americans do follow the guidelines. It’s: http://www.healthdata.org/covid/updates.
For every state that holds off on mitigation, the number of deaths will be higher for every day lost. Assuming perfect – repeat – perfect guideline adherence the projected deaths as of April 2 is 93,541. “Perfect” is still way out of reach. Of the more than a million confirmed cases of the virus in more than 150 countries, the US can claim 23.6% of the total.
As was driven home in Tuesday’s Task Force briefing, “imperfect” can send the death toll so very much higher, like to one million, maybe two million.
How about all the other virus-related news on Wednesday? Well, the commander of the USS Roosevelt, who pleaded for help in evacuating infected sailors, was pulled, for instance. The Democratic National Convention was moved to August and there was a huge spike in oil prices after President Trump at first implied he had engineered some kind of peace pact between Saudi Arabia and Russia, only to back off that claim a little later. There was also the beginning of the government loans programme for workers, the unemployed, independent contractors and big business, and, of course, that huge increase in layoffs. Wish there was room for all that in this report.