May 1, 2020

The United States is in the midst of a pandemic that has, so far, claimed more than 65,000 lives and infected more than 1 million people.

We have officially lost more people in four months than we did in the entire eight years of the Vietnam War, and there is good reason to believe the official counts are low. This is a disaster of unimaginable proportions.

More. Than. 65,000. Americans. Have. Died. In. An. Epidemic. That. Was. Largely. Preventable.

And yet, news media is beginning to turn to other topics. After suffering ridicule last week for suggesting that doctors should investigate whether injecting disinfectants into patients could kill coronavirus, the president decided this week to drive the news cycle away from the pandemic. It is working beautifully.

Although officially the White House has released guidelines for reopening states that suggest none is yet ready, Trump has encouraged states to go ahead and end their stay-at-home orders. Some have already begun, and more than 30 states will begin to ease social distancing restrictions this weekend, although by large majorities, Americans want restrictions to stay in place until the spread of the virus has slowed.

Right-wing political groups have organized protests of governors who are not opening the states fast enough for their liking. It is, of course, possible to save both lives and the economy with social welfare legislation, as other developed nations have done, but that strikes to the heart of their ideology.

Yesterday, armed men stormed the Michigan statehouse to protest restrictions imposed by Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. They shouted “Lock her up!” while the Republican legislature offered by email to cut her a deal. “The following is what we propose:,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey’s chief of staff wrote, “two one-week extensions in exchange for a public agreement that all future stay-at-home-type orders (and only those) be enacted through bipartisan legislation and the democratic process rather than executive order.”

Whitmer replied: “While I welcome partnership, information sharing and robust discussion with the legislature, I cannot abrogate my duty to act in an emergency to protect the lives of Michiganders…. We are in the midst of a global pandemic that has already killed 3,670 people and COVID 19 numbers continue to climb in parts of our state. Michigan remains in a state of emergency regardless of the actions you decide to take or not take.” With 40,399 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Michigan and at least 3,670 dead, Whitmer said, “This is not a political problem, it’s a public health crisis…. We’ve already lost over 3,700 Michiganders — that’s more than we lost in Vietnam.”

Whitmer extended the state’s state of emergency orders. Today, Trump tweeted: “The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.” In Orange County, California, where local health officials announced a new spike in cases, thousands gathered in Huntington Beach to flout Governor Gavin Newsom’s closure of all beaches and parks in the county.

Infectious disease specialists warn that reopening the country is a “big mistake” that will “cost lives.” Juliette Kayyem, CNN’s national security analyst, said today: “There will be more dead people. Just say it. It’s an experiment we’re living in real time.” Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the administration’s leading infectious disease specialists, warned that reopening was “a really significant risk.” Trump today revised estimates of dead upward, saying “hopefully” we will lose fewer than 100,000 people.

Indeed, infections are increasing in the reopening states. Today, Iowa reopened 77 counties on the same day the governor reported 740 new infections, a one-day high, and warned that a backlog on test data would likely mean higher numbers over the weekend. She then began to talk of reopening of churches. In Georgia, where Governor Brian Kemp was among the first to reopen his state, there were 618 new cases Thursday, and 1,228 new cases Friday.

The Governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham, has locked down the city of Gallup at the request of its mayor, restricting business hours and ordering residents to shelter in place except for health, safety, or medical emergency. “The spread of [Covid-19] in McKinley County is frightful,” she tweeted. “Physical distancing has not occurred & is not occurring. Stricter measures are necessary to stop the virus. A problem in one part of our state, with a virus this dangerous & contagious, is a problem for our entire state.” A twitter user responded: “Good luck, fascist.”

News photos from the White House indicate a nation gone back to normal. This week Vice President Mike Pence refused to don a mask when he visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, despite being alerted to the hospital’s policy that all visitors must wear masks, sending a clear signal that coronavirus safety rules are optional. In explanation, he said: “As vice president of the United States, I'm tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus." Indeed, Pence, Trump, and their aides all get tested regularly, and anyone coming to meet them has to have an on-site rapid test that yields results in 15 minutes.

We all need such widespread testing to reach the sort of confidence in returning to our normal lives administration officials enjoy. But tests remain out of reach. The White House promised 27 million test kits by the end of March; by that point we had a million. As of today, the US has completed about 6.5 million tests. There are not even enough tests for the country’s 100 Senators when they go back to work on Monday approving Trump’s judges. (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt: “Of course we will go back to judges…. My motto for the rest of the years is to leave no vacancy behind.”)

On April 19, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, told CNN’s Jake Tapper “Every governor in America has been pushing and fighting and clawing to get more tests.” And yet, when he secured tests for Maryland himself, through the help of his Korean-born wife Yumi Hogan, Trump was furious. Remembering Trump’s initial refusal to let passengers from a cruise ship land in America because “I like the numbers being where they are,” reporter for Politico Dan Diamond told NPR’s Terry Gross that Trump doesn’t want aggressive testing because he’s “made clear the lower the numbers on coronavirus… the better for his potential reelection this fall.” Similar political concerns were likely at work in Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis’s administration today finally released information about deaths at long-term care facilities only to have observers quickly note the numbers were lower than previous numbers already public. “Questions received,” a spokesperson told a reporter. “We are looking into this.”

In the White House, anyway, it appears all eyes are on reelection. The president yesterday claimed “a high degree of confidence” that a Chinese lab created the coronavirus—an accusation that the chair of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff (D-CA) quickly contradicted. Today the White House has blocked Dr. Fauci, who has been critical of reopenings, from testifying before the House. White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said: "While the Trump Administration continues its whole-of-government response to COVID-19, including safely opening up America again and expediting vaccine development, it is counter-productive to have the very individuals involved in those efforts appearing at Congressional hearings…. We are committed to working with Congress to offer testimony at the appropriate time.”

Tonight, in a spectacular Friday night news dump, Trump moved to get rid of Christi A. Grimm, the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services who had documented the lack of supplies and testing delays during the coronavirus pandemic. Trump intends to replace her with a loyalist.

Antietam, bloodiest day of Civil War: 2100 Americans dead. Battle of the Bulge, the bloodiest single battle the US fought in WWII: 19,000 Americans dead. Vietnam War: 58,000 Americans dead. September 11: 2,977 Americans dead.

Coronavirus 2020: 65,000 Americans dead… so far.


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