Virus Tops Another Grim Record Amid Jagged Mosaic

In the US, the virus continued painting a clear picture Wednesday of death on the march, killing more in the latest day than ever before, while all the elements that could make up a different picture, of success against the disease, remains a muddled mess. A status report with two weeks to go before the date President Trump is determined to make the beginning of a new era of hope shows inconsistencies and confusion, words that don’t fit together, efforts that refuse to be organised into a winning pattern.

Item No. 1: By one count, US virus deaths in the latest 24 hours totalled 2,492, the worst day so far. About 70% of the new deaths are occurring outside New York as the spread widens. That’s part of the nearly 31,000 total deaths so far. If social distancing is maintained until August one of the most credible projections say the ultimate total of deaths will be around 60,000, so already the US is almost halfway there. Will social distancing be relaxed before August?

That’s the well-defined part of the current picture. If there is any fuzziness around the edges it is because hundreds of people have been dying at home, undiagnosed, many times more in the New York metro area than usual. Some of those are being added in and the more who get added, the higher it appears the death total was all along.

Item No. 2: On Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence said, the governors will be given guidelines on how to begin preparations for any reopenings beginning May 1. As President Trump repeated, at least 20 states and maybe as many as 29 can meet his criteria for reopening as half the states have 2,500 or fewer virus cases.

As virtually every medical expert, many of the governors and some of the business executives picked by the White House to be on reopening committees have said, the key to any reopening is diagnostic testing and then tracing those without symptoms spreading the virus.

Item No. 3: It’s still early in the US testing phase as people with symptoms come forward to be tested. To repeat, there are apparently a lot people who are infected who have no symptoms spreading the virus. For the most part they are still unknown to medical authorities. Relatively very little intense contact tracing is under way and only in a few scattered communities. The important factoid: testing has levelled off at around 140,000 to 150,000 a day. Some say the rate of testing had declined lately. Remember, those already tested negative weeks ago may have since become infected.

President Trump has said repeatedly the states and their governors are responsible for testing. So what does Governor Andrew Cuomo say Wednesday about testing? “Testing is a quagmire. Government doesn’t do it,” he told his brother Chris on what’s become a joint CNN programme every night. As the governor has said in his daily briefings, only a few private companies do testing and 50 states are bidding against each other for their services. “This is madness,” the governor said. Together those companies do not yet have the capacity to do millions of diagnostic tests.

Has any other country tested a bigger percentage of its population than the United States? South Korea, Germany, Canada, Italy, Iceland for starters.

Item No. 4: Is any part of the country ready to reopen? Who better to ask than the expert of experts, Tony Fauci, and every day now, in different ways, he’s saying, not yet. His latest appearance was on ABC Wednesday. The key to reopening is to be able to get “someone who is infected out of the circulation.” That takes diagnostic testing and immediate contact tracing. The YouTube video of his interview is here.

Item No. 5: There was a study published in the respected New England Journal of Medicine Wednesday that showed how tiny Iceland fought the virus perfectly, starting testing before the first case of the virus showed up, keeping the virus isolated with contact tracing after it did appear. The author’s quote that sticks with you is that the US “taught us how to do this but you haven’t been doing it yourselves, which is pretty sad.” That interview, on CNBC, is here.

Item No. 6: There was a demonstration by a couple of thousand people in Lansing, Michigan Wednesday you might have seen on TV, with people chanting “Lock her Up,” referring to the governor whose added restrictions on business closures and travel restrictions aren’t going over too well. Are people going to start losing patience with the “stay-at-home” orders? That video of NBC coverage is here.

Item No. 7: Didn’t get your application in for that Paycheck Protection Program? Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Wednesday night said that as soon as Congress gives the programme some more money, “We will once again be able to process loan applications.”

Item No. 8: How do you wring more money out of Congress? A new tactic unveiled by President Trump as the day’s featured controversy. You threaten to shut Congress down. As has been the case throughout, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants more money to hospitals, cities and states and the smallest businesses. President Trump says that’s a wish list he thinks should come later, if at all. The video of the president making his latest threat against Congress here.

Item No. 9: You’ve seen the video of farmers dumping millions of gallons of milk into the ground and grinding fresh vegetables into the earth, unable to ship it all with so many restaurant and institutional customers shut down, and you’ve seen video of miles-long caravans of cars as people wait hours for free food. Of course this makes no sense as many commentators playing Captain Obvious have told us again and again. The Agriculture Department announced Wednesday is going to spend some of the $15.5 billion Congress gave it to buy some of the food, before it’s wasted and distribute it to where it is needed. It will take a while to get the programme moving.

Item No. 10: Now take all the previous items and combine them, add some partisan sniping, a few measures of doctors and nurses complaining they are running out of swabs to do testing. For icing on this cake, spread some of those IRS checks that former Treasury Department officials say are being delayed so President Trump’s signature can be imprinted.

Whoa, President Trump’s fans can justifiably say, what a cheap shot. The president’s signature is perfectly appropriate given everything he has done to fight the virus, fight the Democrats, fight the “lamestream media” that never gives him a break.

Item No. 11: So, in the interest of equal time, we’ll end with some words of, if not exactly wisdom, of hard-bitten experience from who else, President Trump Wednesday night: “Look, it’s been a very partisan government for a long period of time, not just this administration. You can go back into the last two administrations; you’ve seen a lot of partisanship.”

Only the virus is non-partisan. Evidently it’s also cornered efficiency, single-mindedness and focus, and is never distracted. How much there is to learn from a single strand of ribonucleic acid.


Colin Lambert

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