Coronavirus cases and deaths spike across U.S.
President Trump appeared to undermine federal efforts to contain the new coronavirus this week, insisting that the pandemic will “go away” even as cases of the respiratory illness skyrocketed across the U.S., spooking markets and sparking fears of a recession. By the middle of the week, health officials had reported more than 1,000 cases of the coronavirus in 38 states and the District of Columbia, and at least 30 deaths. To stem the spread of the virus, known as Covid-19, universities across the country scrapped in-person classes; major events such as the South by Southwest festival were canceled; and companies began mandating that employees work from home. (See Making Money.) New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the closure of schools and gathering places in New Rochelle—a New York City suburb that has seen dozens of cases—and sent in the National Guard to sanitize a 1-mile-wide “containment zone.” The Dow Jones industrial average plunged 2,000-plus points in one day, the worst daily showing since the 2008 financial crisis. Globally, officials reported more than 125,000 cases and at least 4,600 deaths.
With multiple states declaring emergencies, Trump tweeted that 37,000 Americans die from the flu each year and “nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on.” Influenza typically kills 0.1 percent of the people it infects every year; the World Health Organization estimates that Covid-19 has a mortality rate of up to 3.4 percent. Trump dismissed WHO’s fatality figure as “a false number” and during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention boasted about his “natural” scientific ability. He attributed this to his “super-genius uncle,” who had once worked at MIT.
The Trump administration’s top public health officials were grilled in Congress over the sluggish rollout of Covid-19 testing kits. By the beginning of the week, about 4,300 people had been tested since the start of the outbreak; South Korea has been conducting up to 10,000 tests a day. “There’s not enough equipment,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said of public labs’ capabilities. “There’s not enough people.” Brian Monahan, Congress’ in-house doctor, told Capitol Hill staffers in a closed-door meeting that 70 million to 150 million Americans will likely contract the virus.
What the editorials said
Trump’s Pollyannaish predictions and outright falsehoods “will cost lives,” said The Washington Post. To boost the stock market and his re-election chances, the president is contradicting the advice offered by his own health-care experts. They have urged people to practice social distancing; he has told them to live life as usual. In China, a viral catastrophe ensued when the authoritarian Communist Party emphasized its image at the expense of the nation’s health. Now we’re seeing the same here.
“So far in this crisis, Trump himself has obviously failed to rise to the challenge of leadership,” said the National Review. He delayed making the virus a priority for as long as possible— “refusing briefings, downplaying the problem, and wasting precious time.” He failed to empower subordinates, and rather than trust the information they handed him, recycled favorable figures he heard on cable TV. This behavior is familiar; it’s how Trump has handled scandals and fiascos for three years. But those were largely self-created crises. The coronavirus “demands a new level of seriousness from the president.”
What the columnists said
Trump views the coronavirus case total as if it were an approval poll, said Dan Diamond in Politico.com. He left some 2,500 passengers aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship “marooned off the coast of California” for days, even as “coronavirus infections rapidly multiplied.” Why not evacuate and isolate the cruisegoers? “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault,” the president explained. This disaster is fast turning into “Trump’s Chernobyl,” said Brian Klaas in The Washington Post. Just like Soviet authorities in the wake of the 1986 nuclear plant explosion, our president is trying “to construct a reality that simply does not exist. Those lies will kill.”
America has succumbed to “pure hysteria,” said Michael Fumento in the New York Post. It’s probable that the disease will soon peak and start to die down, just as it has in China, where new cases have dropped from 4,000 a day to 200. And the reported mortality rate of 3.4 percent is highly misleading, given that most infected people “have symptoms so mild—if any—that they don’t seek medical attention and don’t get counted in the caseload.”
This kind of uninformed opining is “wantonly irresponsible,” said Yascha Mounk in TheAtlantic.com. We know this disease spreads like lightning: Italy had 62 identified cases on Feb. 22, 888 cases by Feb. 29, and 4,636 by March 6. The case rate here will soar in coming days and if even the mortality rate is only 1 percent, that will mean “the coronavirus is 10 times as deadly as the flu.” China finally arrested the virus’ exponential spread by canceling all public gatherings, asking most citizens to self-quarantine, and sealing off the epicenter in Wuhan province. We should follow that example and “cancel everything.” It’s the only way to stop this killer.
America’s health-care system could be in for “a reckoning,” said Dan Goldberg and Rachel Roubein in Politico.com. So far, there’s no sign of hospitals “cracking under pressure.” But the industry has undergone “long-term consolidation” and “years of cutbacks” as it emphasized short-patient stays in an effort to arrest runaway health-care spending. That’s left the system vulnerable and means that administrators might have to ration equipment, beds, protective gear, and even oxygen as patients flood ERs. “There is still a chance that state and local efforts to contain the virus can succeed,” said Ross Douthat in The New York Times. But if the current trajectory of infection rates holds, we will see “rising death rates and overwhelmed hospitals, shuttered schools, and empty stadiums.” Combine the economic consequences of such a scenario “with the optics of the president’s blundering and solipsistic response, and the coronavirus seems very likely to doom Trump’s re-election effort, no matter where he casts the blame.”
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from AP, Shutterstock (2) ■