The testimonies of Dr Tony Fauci, Robert Redfield, Stephan Hahn and Brett Giroir Tuesday seemed to many, perhaps even a lot of investors and traders, like something new when in fact there was not only nothing new, but what was there was way too late.
The testimonies, if anything, just demonstrated again it’s not the facts, it’s the showcasing and timing of the facts that inflates them with enough importance that people pay attention. Except now, it hardly matters.
It’s easy to summon the day’s stock market returns as a background chorus to a self-flagellating fugue. Maybe the markets got the message, maybe the 475-point drop in the Dow, mostly toward the end of the session, was a sign that reality is setting in. Probably not.
“When you are in the process of opening up and pulling back on mitigation you really must have in place the capability of responding when you do have the inevitable upticks in cases that will absolutely occur.” There’s that word, “inevitable.” That, of course, was the NIH’s Tony Fauci. “Responding,” the behaviour in reaction to some other behaviour, the attempt to correct the mistake, will be necessary. Get ready.
What the hours of testimony of Fauci, the Public Health Service Admiral Giroir, FDA Commissioner Hahn and the Centers for Disease Control’s Redfield drove home is what many, maybe most, Americans already knew at some level – most states are being premature in their relaxation of mutual protection.
No doubt Fauci will say the same thing again and again. His interviewers will ask again and again because they can put two and two together. If your state is one in which new virus cases and deaths are still going up, or have just recently plateaued, then why turn up the pressure on your hospitals and ventilators? Another two weeks would have made a big difference.
Senator Mitt Romney talked about that time dimension. It’s the dimension missing when the experts and the president talk about having more tests completed than any other country, and a lot more testing capability to come.
“You celebrated that we had done more tests and more tests per capita even than South Korea,” the Utah Republican said. “But you ignored the fact that they accomplished theirs at the beginning of the outbreak while we treaded water during February and March. As a result by March 6th the US had completed just two thousand tests where South Korea had conducted more than a hundred and forty thousand tests.
“So partially as a result of that, they have 256 deaths and we have almost eighty thousand deaths,” Romney continued. “I find our testing record nothing to celebrate whatsoever.” Make that 81,507 by one count.
Other questions and answers established the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration were both wrong and slow in rejecting functional tests from South Korea, redesigning tests, deploying tests. Senator Kelley Loeffler pointed out, that wasn’t necessarily the fault of President Trump or his administration. And as another Republican, Senator Richard Burr, made clear in his questioning, it wasn’t necessarily the fault of Congress either. Sufficient money to prepare for a pandemic had been provided long ago.
At the White House, President Trump can keep blaming the Chinese…and Obama. In fact, Republicans, Democrats and even civil servants – a lot of official Washington – can share. Now most of the states are also wrong, triggering the “inevitable” increase in deaths, risking a big economic setback by blithely ignoring the White House’s Corona Virus Task Force unenforced guidelines. It’s malfeasance while we watch and many applaud.
Only 18 states could make the argument that they are in good enough shape to attempt to partially relax the rules, some of them only barely. Not 47 states.
There was another the message to be drawn from the questions and answers. That it all makes no difference now how many levels of government weren’t prepared unless it’s the future we can focus on. The president’s ill-advised “Liberate” tweets, now being answered on social media with “Liberate the White House” tweets as restrictions in the Executive Mansion spread, helped begin the push to re-open. They rendered the careful guidelines obsolete before they were given a chance.
A lot of other countries and their leaders have done worse, a very small comfort given what’s at stake. Lives, sure, but as Fauci pointed out, ultimately it’s the survivors’ economy that’s at stake. A rebound in deaths, or a long plateau of bad numbers will encourage people – customers – to stay home.
If in the medium-term the virus rebounds and even gentle second waves and a Fall confluence of influenza and chronically high corona virus death rates become the norm as the long wait for a vaccine extends to many months, then the economy will likely be stuck in a deep groove of fitful anaemic and ineffectual “recoveries.” Until containment. That’s the phase the US skipped over without knowing as the virus spread.
Can the containment phase be reclaimed? With millions of antigen tests a week, most of them dedicated to surveillance, followed up by tens of thousands of those contact tracers, then finally with the cooperation of those who are traced, to retreat to isolation even though they have no symptoms. With all of that, maybe, the experts say.
As examined in Monday’s White House Watch, the fast, cheap antigen tests, although approved, have yet to be produced in bulk. The rest of the testing apparatus is still a long, slow and overpromised work in progress. The momentum is now with re-opening.
Containment after a hundred thousand or more people are dead and the economy deeply wounded, maybe crippled, is a lot different than containment would have been in March, when South Korea and some other countries pulled it off.
“Our collective memory is short so while we’re all worried about this, we need to not only deal with this crisis, but get ready for the next,” said Chairman Lamar Alexander as the hearing came to an end.