This is posted in the Politics category rather than under Health because it’s the perversion of an apolitical global health emergency by small-minded political demagogues that’s about to become the #1 threat to public health, not the virus.
The Coronavirus social-distancing pushback is something uniquely right wing. It’s enabled by a weak, sociopathic and profoundly stupid president and a political party that ran out of productive ideas, even bad ones, 40 years ago. The GOP maintains its hold on power by manufacturing political controversies out of anything it can, from stained blue dresses to death panels to opposing the universally-accepted science of global warming to nonexistent immigrant invasions to out of control budgets and deficits (for which they are mostly responsible) to even non-incandescent light bulbs and “windmill cancer”. Coronavirus is just the latest in a long string of Republican red herrings intended to inflame and coalesce its Ignorati base without having to do anything more than deliver tax cuts to its wealthiest patrons every few years.
Back in February as I read about the quarantining steps being taken in northern Italy to isolate the Coronavirus outbreak I remarked to an American expat living outside Firenze, “Good luck getting something like this through the red states here.” I knew that quarantines and lockdowns would motivate the rednecks and anti-gubmint crazies to protest, that Trump lacked the courage to take them on and that the GOP and the wingnut media would give Trump cover by leveraging these misanthropes and politicizing a public health issue. It gives me no pleasure to see that I was right. It was about as prophetic as predicting that the sun will rise in the east.
Let’s look at the facts.
A Tale of Two Countries
Both of these countries are modern and industrialized and both are English-speaking democracies:
New Zealand: when evidence revealed that COVID-19 had escaped China, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern immediately went on the offensive. The country went on lockdown, schools were closed, social distancing and PPE were mandated, the border was closed and testing materials were acquired and stockpiled. New Zealanders didn’t complain, they didn’t protest, they simply followed the rules.
As a result, New Zealand suffered only 1500 cases of Coronavirus and just 21 deaths out of a population of 5 million. More to the point, there hasn’t been a single new case of Coronavirus in New Zealand in a week. So New Zealand is opening back up, with strong border oversight of course. New Zealand proved that you can beat the pandemic and get back to business. Australia is following closely behind with only 98 deaths and just nine new cases in the past 24 hours.
USA: Four months into this pandemic and there has yet to be a national strategy to address this deadly virus. Trump issued a “travel ban” which really wasn’t one because there are still US airports with flights to and from China. All it did was quarantine Chinese nationals which — c’mon, think about it — everyone on that plane was exposed to them for twelve freakin’ hours. Shouldn’t they all be quarantined?? That’s the shallow thinking in Trump World.
But that “travel ban” was it. That’s all that Trump brought to the table. The rest has been up to state governors, none of whom are equipped to deal with epidemics or pandemics, when what was needed was an omnibus national plan. Trump has been far less than ineffective, especially with his dog whistles to the “Open Now!” suicide cult. He’s been a coward, afraid to alienate his base. He’s been the kind of president that the virus would vote for if it could.
Here are the COVID-19 numbers for the US today:
Cases: 1,515,311 (#1 in the world and 6x that of second place, Spain)
Deaths: 90,332 (#1 in the world and almost 3x that of second place, the UK)
One can fairly argue that the US has a much greater population than either of those countries so of course our numbers will be higher. That’s true but India has a population of 1.3 billion — five times that of the US — and is #11 in total cases and #16 in deaths in the global numbers. China, where this disease originated, has a population of 1.4 billion but is #13 and #13, respectively.
One might also argue the same about New Zealand’s tiny population of 5 million. So let’s compare it to Los Angeles which has roughly one million fewer people and yet has 75,000 confirmed cases and 3,100 deaths.
To anyone with a molecule of common sense, the evidence is overwhelming that the federal government, which is to say the Trump administration, completely bungled this epidemic and thousands of people have died due to Trump’s incompetence. Coronavirus infected every country the same way. It was imported from a foreign traveler. If all things were equal, so would be the relative percentages of those infected and killed. But not only is the US in the Top Ten Mortality in nations with populations greater than one million, we’ve tested just 2.7% of our population versus a country like Iceland which has tested 15%. We don’t yet have a sample large enough to even estimate our total infections but we’re probably higher in that Top Ten.
Last week Trump bragged that the US is doing more tests than South Korea while simultaneously arguing that the tests are flawed (but he nevertheless gets tested every day). However South Korea began its massive testing program in February when it really counted while Trump was still bragging about his beautiful TV ratings and treating Coronavirus like a Democratic hoax that would magically disappear soon. As a result, South Korea suffered only 262 deaths out of a population of 51 million while the disease took off unimpeded in the US. Those weeks of inaction were the difference. It should also be noted that South Korea and the US diagnosed their first Coronavirus cases on the same day.
The current situation in the US was completely preventable.
Barack Obama and Joe Biden compiled a 69 page pandemic playbook with the NSC on how the US should handle the next epidemic. Last week Mitch McConnell lied about there being such a book before he was forced to eat his words, apologize, then launch into another classless, outrageously hypocritical attack on Obama for daring to criticize Trump, something that Trump relentlessly did for all eight years of the Obama administration and for the three years since.
What made Obama and Biden such experts? When early signs of a growing Ebola epidemic in Africa were discovered in 2013, Obama created a task force of the best viral disease experts and epidemiologists in the country, including Anthony Fauci, and they developed a strategy to keep the disease out of the US.
They were successful. Their actions stopped a potential Ebola disaster in the US at just eleven domestic cases and three (3) deaths to Americans. Obama ordered the CDC and NIH to take charge, they moved quickly, isolated the outbreak and extinguished it before it had the chance to spread. Biden was in charge of that task force. Both he and Obama had the authority and experience to produce that playbook.
Trump ignored every word it. Worse, he defunded the NSA and CDC teams that Obama built to give us early warning about such an epidemic in the future and how to keep the disease out. And here we are.
Obama proved that dangerous epidemics can be stopped with quick, decisive action at the national level, just as many of our allies have done with Coronavirus. We didn’t do that.
What should we have done? What the playbook said and what every other country that’s beating this did: a national lockdown. Trump should have had a conference call with the governors of all fifty states no later than the end of February and pressed them all to sign on to it, with more vulnerable states agreeing to more severe measures. Then he should have signed the Defense Production Act authorization directing US manufacturers to start producing the medical supplies we would need.
Unfortunately, that presupposes talents that Trump lacks: leadership and courage… also that Trump would bother to read that 69-page pandemic playbook which told him exactly what he should have done.
So having missed that boat, when’s the next one?
The historical record also shows what happens when national leadership is lacking: the 1918 H1N1 “Spanish Flu” which killed 675,000 Americans.
October 1918: 195,000 died from Spanish Flu in one month. It was the deadly Second Wave that did them in. We are on the cusp of that same point in time now. Let’s not kid ourselves: today’s medicine is no better armed to defeat SarsCoV-19 than it was H1N1 a hundred years ago. There is no cure. There is no treatment. There is only avoidance, self-healing or death. The Heavens Gate morons protesting for early opening because they miss their bar stools, beaches and beauty salons have ditched the first option. And that ignorance threatens all of us.
Note the sharp, almost vertical trajectory of the 1918 Second Wave. What caused that? Why was it so much worse than the first one? Easy answer: first waves usually occur with a singular Patient 0. In our case, we had three Patient 0s, all of whom drop-shipped the disease from Wuhan, Iran and Italy respectively. Contagion vectors are exponential, like a breeding pair of rabbits. It takes time for the disease to replicate and for medical authorities to identify a disease cluster. Our doctors and the CDC did it fairly quickly in a matter of a couple of weeks. That’s not only due to their skill but also the very high contagion factor of Coronavirus. Science expresses that factor as an R0, or “R-nought”. Originally this disease was believed to have an R0 of +-3, which means that a single infected person would on average infect three others. It was later revised upward to 5.6. It’s not a number one can extract as an absolute from the disease but from observations of how it infects a community. NYC’s cheek-to-jowl social distancing almost doubled its R0.
It’s important to remember that every one of the current 1.5 million COVID-19 cases in the US began with just three infected people a little over four months ago.
Trump: COVID-19 infections are “going down almost everywhere”
As the numbers show, infections are still rising in the US despite the lies that Trump is telling. A leaked copy of his own administration’s estimates shows that things are about to get a lot worse, belying his bullshit. There were 21,331 new infections in the last 24 hours, a rise of 1.5%. That’s the second highest on the planet today. Only Russia, another Coronavirus-denial country, beats us. Several states have reopened and more are demanding to do so over the next two weeks. Those newly re-opened states are the reason for most of the increase.
Texas, which has been on Lockdown Lite and plans to reopen on Monday, reported its highest single-day increase in Coronavirus cases on Saturday. What kind of mental disconnect does it take not to know what a horrible idea that is?
What happens when you have a rising infection rate and potentially a million still-infected, still-contagious “Active Cases” going to bars and restaurants with healthy people? What does common sense tell you will happen when you have not one, two or three Patient 0s but a million of them?! You get a trajectory like that in the Second Wave graph above. In August 1918 everyone thought Spanish Flu had been defeated so they went back to business as usual. Two months later was the deadliest month ever for Americans: nearly 200,000 died in 31 days. That record stands even today. But for how much longer? Trump seems determined to “win” that historical record too.
Trump fucked this up big time. That’s just a fact but it’s not all on him. The public, many of whom are selfishly ignoring and even flouting the well-understood science of how this or any virus works, bears the ultimate blame. Those idiots who made a bee line for Wisconsin’s bars when the state’s right wing court vacated the state’s emergency order will be the ones to blame when infections once again spike in Wisconsin.They’re the ones who will infect their spouses and kill their parents.This isn’t prediction.This is simple science, simple math and established history.
Literally everywhere in the world that’s attempted to open before the local R0 dropped considerably below 0.6 has seen infections spike upward. It happened in Germany last week but Merkel stepped in at the last minute to reimpose lockdown in the provinces where they occurred. Since Germany has engaged in prolific testing she has some ability to react quickly. We don’t.
When that Second Wave hits, medicine won’t help you, Trump won’t help you and neither will the Blood of Jesus. We will inevitably settle down to an even longer lockdown. The information provided by so many responsible scientists like Fauci, politicians like Cuomo and countries which are beating this pandemic are the truck, boat and helicopter in this parable. It’s up to you whether or not to pay attention to them. Jesus and your AK47 don’t work against viruses, boneheads.
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