America locks down as coronavirus spreads
A surge of new coronavirus infections swept across the country this week, as a World Health Organization official warned that the U.S. could become the new global epicenter of the disease. Nearly 60,000 cases and over 800 deaths were reported nationwide by Wednesday, with New York City emerging as the chief hot spot, and clusters in the Pacific Northwest, Gulf Coast, and Upper Midwest. With hospitals in hard-hit cities already reporting overwhelmed staff and looming shortages of beds, ventilators, and protective gear, 17 states and many cities have instituted stay-home orders, covering 175 million Americans. But even as cases were doubling every few days, President Trump vowed to “have the country opened up and raring to go” by Easter, April 12, to revive the reeling economy. “The real people,” he tweeted, “want to get back to work ASAP.” The statement put the president—who has repeatedly downplayed the threat posed by the virus—starkly at odds with infectious-disease specialists, public health officials, and most other elected officials, who say months of restrictions may be needed to prevent wide devastation. “We save our economy by first saving lives,” said Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.
Tensions flared between the president and governors of hard-hit states, who are scrambling to find ventilators, masks, and other medical supplies. Governors pleaded with the federal government for help that has not materialized. Trump, who has declined to invoke the Defense Production Act to order private firms to manufacture needed items, has told the states it’s their job to find vital equipment, leading to competition and price spikes. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who’s facing a critical shortage of hospital beds and ventilators as the state’s case numbers balloon, issued a challenge: “You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators.”
The highly infectious coronavirus continued to spread worldwide, with over 400,000 confirmed cases and 18,000 dead. Cities across Europe are locked down, with bodies piling up in makeshift morgues in Italy, France, and Spain. Some 2.5 billion people, nearly a third of the world’s population, were under various forms of lockdown and social-distancing restrictions.
What the editorials said
It’s time for governors in every state to issue a mandatory “shelter in place” order, said The New York Times. With infections soaring amid spotty compliance with social-distancing recommendations, we need a “coherent national strategy” to protect Americans and buy time to develop treatments. After two months of “wasted time and opportunities,” a lockdown is the only way to avoid overwhelming hospitals and suffering scores of needless deaths. “Sorry, Mr. President,” said the New York Post. “Normalcy in three weeks is an impossible, false hope.” If officials tell Americans it’s safe to go back to work too early, the epidemic may flare again, with devastating effects on the economy and “the mental well-being of Americans.”
Where are the masks? asked The Boston Globe. As frontline medical workers cobble together inadequate protection, our “bizarrely cavalier” president is refusing to use his powers to address a problem he’s allowed to “fester for months.” He needs to direct companies to make desperately needed supplies and set up a “clear and centralized procurement process.” Instead, making a “ridiculous” argument against “nationalizing business,” he says he’s holding out for a “worst-case scenario.” How bad do things have to get?
What the columnists said
So much for the “party of life,” said Matt Lewis in TheDailyBeast.com. It’s now clear that Trump “is willing to sacrifice lives to save the economy and his chances for re-election,” and his Republican enablers are all too happy to “rationalize letting a million or so people die.” Take Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who said, “We don’t shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways.” This heartless logic is now spreading in the GOP and on Fox News. Who’s advocating “death panels” now?
Instead of leading a unified national response, said Jennifer Senior in The New York Times, Trump is treating the states like “contestants on The Apprentice,” making them compete for scarce resources. Meanwhile, he warned on Fox News that “it’s a two-way street,” and that governors desperate to keep their citizens alive “have to treat us well.” In other words, don’t dare criticize me. His message to New York City, “gasping for breath” and 30,000 ventilators short, is clear: “Drop dead.”
I’m a physician fighting Covid-19, and “my blood ran cold” at being told to conserve protective gear, said Dorothy Novick in The Washington Post. Measures like reusing masks and limiting their use increase the odds we’ll get the virus, pass it to others and our families, and become unavailable to help patients who desperately need us. There’s a wildfire sweeping across the country, “and we are the firefighters, running straight toward it in street clothes.”
After an initial response that’s been “rudderless, blindsided, lethargic, and uncoordinated,” it will be hard for the U.S. to slow the virus’ spread, said Ed Yong in TheAtlantic.com. “But not impossible.” To avoid a worst-case scenario, we need to mass-produce safety and medical equipment, vastly expand testing, and maintain widespread social distancing for up to three months. That could bring the epidemic here under temporary control. But Hong Kong, Singapore, and other Asian countries have found that the virus resurged after they relaxed restrictions. It’s likely that during the coming year, the world “plays a protracted game of whack-a-mole with the virus,” rallying to defeat stray outbreaks until we have a vaccine. That means the virus will likely “be a lingering part of American life for at least a year, if not much longer.” We might regain “a semblance of normalcy” during that time, nervously returning to work, to school, to bars. But there will be a price. “As the status quo returns, so too will the virus.”
Cover illustration by Howard McWilliam.
Cover photos from Reuters, Science Source, Getty ■