President Trump and his experts Saturday warned the nation that next week and the week after are going to see virus death tolls that will far eclipse anything seen so far, as the increasing number of hotspots climb the steepening curve toward their peaks.
Three weeks ago the warnings delivered Saturday would have been remarkable and terrifying. Now they no longer surprise. The skeptics have dwindled to near nonexistence.
All that remains to be said, the Corona Virus Task Force members emphasised, is only unbroken physical separation can prevent greater cataclysmic carnage. “This will be, probably, the toughest week – between this week and next week – and there’ll be a lot of death, unfortunately,” President Trump said. “But a lot less death than if this wasn’t done…But a lot of death.”
He also said, “We will move heaven and earth to safeguard our great American citizens.”
The president’s words were as severe as any he has spoken so far in a week that has seen projections of worst-case scenarios of a million US deaths to more than double that and a best-case scenario still nearly 100,000.
The warning of how bad it’s going to get overwhelmed the dozens of rhetorical cul-de-sacs that Trump swerved in and out of during the briefing. He is no doubt well aware that he could face a critical test of his own in the days and weeks ahead.
The first virus death that can be blamed on a shortage of ventilators could galvanise many critical voices into a focused firestorm.
Hoping for the best he returned to an emphasis that has been subdued for a week, on trying to return the country to recovery mode. He suggested he is considering forming another task force that concentrates on restarting the economy and even refilling arenas with sports fans. That raised the spectre of widespread confusion if a second task force was ever at odds with the original Corona Virus Task Force.
“We’re going to have to get back. We want to get back soon, very soon,” Trump said. He spoke to every person who runs any kind of sports league in the afternoon and he said they agree. “This country wasn’t meant for this.”
He returned to that theme several times. “This country was not designed to be closed,” he said. “The cure cannot be worse than the problem.”
However most governors might not go along with any call to reopen businesses sooner than medical experts think advisable after being well educated in the hazards of premature relaxation of stay-at-home guidelines.
The NIH’s Tony Fauci, the preeminent Task Force expert, had his own warning, about the necessity of preventing cycles of virus resurgence. They could be triggered if physical separation were to become less prevalent too soon for any reason. “Mitigation works,” Fauci said. Every point in the guidelines has “something to do with physical separation.”
Asked again why he doesn’t pressure the eight governors, all Republicans, who have not yet formally imposed stay-at-home orders, the president said, “We have a thing called the Constitution, which I cherish,” leaving unexplained why that would prevent him from urging universal precautions.
Besides, he said, the governors are “doing a great job…are being very successful in what they’ve done”. If he sees some virus “breakout” in a state, then he might still “supersede”, he said.
Some governors, while not issuing formal executive orders, are still urging physical separation. Wyoming’s governor Mark Gordon Friday advised his state, as the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported, “If you’re waiting for me to issue a shelter-in-place order…when you have Dr [Keith] Wheeler, Dr [Mark] Dowell telling you that you should stay home, and I’m telling you to stay home, what are you waiting for?”
He added, “Are you waiting for, ‘Mother may I?’ or are you taking care of yourself and practicing the common sense that we expect?”
At the other end of the alert spectrum, Georgia governor Brian Kemp has reopened the state’s beaches after finally closing the state’s businesses. He said he just learned that the virus is being spread by carriers who show no symptoms.
In South Carolina, the attorney general issued an opinion that the state’s cities, which have imposed orders to stay at home, should not challenge the state’s prerogative not to, which it hasn’t.
Meanwhile, New York’s intense virus spread continued to extend through Long Island, and the New Jersey/Connecticut metro area is seeing someone die from the virus every two to three minutes. New York state had 630 more deaths in 24 hours, New Jersey 846. “Nobody can tell you the number at the top of the mountain,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “It’s like a fire spreading.”
The Task Force’s Deborah Birx said, “You see that it’s in Long Island, out in Suffolk County and in Austin’s Nassau County.”
Most difficult, “the Detroit area, the New York area, the Louisiana area,” she said. New Orleans, for some reason, has the highest mortality rate per capita.
She and Fauci praised Washington State for keeping the virus spread there at a low rate, having seen the first virus death there weeks ahead of New York.
Oregon’s governor drew praise for, unsolicited, sending 140 ventilators to New York.
The New England Patriots sent an 18-wheeler full of masks to New York City’s Javits Center field hospital, now staffed with military medical staff, having flown in more than a million from China.
Yet the overall medical supply situation and the degree of coordination between states and the federal government remained as muddied as ever, with some governors including New York’s complaining of chronic shortages.
Governor Cuomo indicated he’s given up getting as many ventilators as he needs from the federal stockpile, since at best it holds only a small fraction of what he needs. What he does have will run out in six days and he says there are no more to be purchased.
Trump returned the criticism saying it is Democratic governors who complain. “It’s politics,” he said. Of Cuomo in particular, he has not been “gracious”, Trump said.
By late Saturday night, Cuomo told an interviewer he is thankful the president was able to help the state earlier in the day, answering one request within hours.
Trump, in the briefing, took credit for getting China to supply 1,000 ventilators to New York, saying his “friend” Alibaba’s Jack Ma and another unnamed “friend” made it happen.
But with Trump’s new executive order for US-based companies not to export medical supplies, private experts worry that will invite retaliation from other countries when their supplies are badly needed.
Trump again threatened 3M after accusing the company of filling non-US orders and saying his people don’t like 3M’s people. “3M has not treated our country well and if they do, great – and if they don’t they’re going to have a hell of a price to pay.”
The company says the criticism is unwarranted and it’s doing all it can to supply the US. Germany has accused the US of “modern piracy” for diverting a shipment it was expecting. France echoed the charge.
Finally, it is notable to see the social fracture illustrated on “social” media – often better described as anti-social – after every Corona Virus Task Force briefing. Those who think Trump is a vile, despicable person and an incompetent leader erupt with biting observations while Trump’s fans also go on the attack, with both sides seemingly oblivious to the common enemy, the virus.
If there is some middle ground, among people who don’t expect too much from this president but also don’t want him to fail, it must express itself in some shadow world of social media that’s, for the most part, out of sight.