The Virus is winning! Unfortunately, it’s going to be up to each of us to stop it.
The United States has suffered more than 90,000 deaths (predicted to reach 147,000 by August) as of this writing. Nevertheless, all 50 states — and Santa Barbara County, too — are undergoing various degrees of re-opening, without having reached the White House guideline of 14 days of decreased infections.
From the perspectives of containing the virus the reopenings make no sense at all. Public health officials across the country are issuing warnings ranging from “we are sure to see more death and disease,” to the fact that without adequate testing, going back to any kind of increased mobility will simply allow the virus to move more freely among us.
What we are doing by these reopenings is to de facto embrace herd immunity, or when a large portion of the population survives the infection and becomes immune, as our solution to COVID-19, pending a vaccine and effective medical treatments. There is no scientific data that even suggests this is a viable response to such a highly infectious and deadly virus.
COVID-19 has two exceptionally powerful allies in its fight to infect humanity: the economy and partisan politics.
While it is obvious that all of the states that are reopening are feeling pressure from their citizens to get back to “normal” (a longing based in nostalgia as it no longer exists), the prime mover in this phenomenon is what the virus has done to the economy. The U.S. has lost more than 20 million jobs since mid-March, resulting in an unemployment rate of 14.7 percent, and rising to perhaps 30 percent. We are fast moving toward a depression to rival the Great Depression of the 1930s. This, of course, is not sustainable. However, we know how to deal with depressed economies, measures the U.S. has taken to some degree: bailout measures including cash payments to citizens, workers, small and midsized business, interest free loans, and delayed tax payments. Simply put, we need more of this.
What we don’t know how to do is convince a significant portion of our population that this is a deadly new virus, carried by people who show no symptoms, and can spread simply by talking loudly near other people. Indeed, research has shown that anyone infected with COVID infects at a minimum two or three other people.
In this election year, amid our tribalized political culture, we now have Red versus Blue versions of how to respond to the virus. Donald Trump, focused on his reelection, has clearly prioritized trying to rebound the economy over preserving life and health, despite public warnings from his own experts.
All medical researchers and health-care professionals agree that opening society without adequate testing and contact-tracing measures in place will result in an increase in coronavirus cases and deaths. Donald Trump questioned the “whole concept of tests” in his push to reopen society while standing before a banner declaring that “America Leads the World in Testing.” America does not. Per capita, our testing lags behind Italy, Canada, and the U.K. Moreover, the 9.6 million tests the U.S. has completed in the past two months is not enough to safely re-open the country. Research shows that to safely reopen we should be doing 5 million tests a day. That needs to increase to 20 million by midsummer to end the shutdown safely.
This kind of infrastructure ought to be in place by now. Instead, Trump spent January and February denying the threat: “We have it totally under control … It’s like around 12 [people]. Many of them are getting better.” What is more disturbing is that this altered view of reality is still today being pushed by Trump’s echo chamber.
Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham recently questioned if Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, was right about the science after he cautioned against reopening business and schools too quickly during the pandemic. President Trump, echoing the echo chamber, then said he too disagreed with Dr Fauci’s assessment that we should be cautious about sending children back to school during the pandemic.
Dr. Fauci has served six presidents. Rather than making him into a political football, we should be embracing his scientific knowledge, especially since it reflects the consensus of virtually all other infectious disease experts worldwide.
We are not going to get the kind of leadership and mobilization we need from this federal government. Setting up a solution from 50 separate states was destined to fail from the outset. As good a job as some of our governors are doing, they cannot mobilize the kind of national response necessary to contain the coronavirus.
What we can do, regardless of what our leaders do, is take it upon ourselves to shelter, social distance, and wear masks when we go out. We can push our leaders for more economic stimulus to get us through this. And, we can realize that there is an election in November. As long as Donald Trump is president, we will never have the kind of leadership necessary to defeat COVID-19.