Trump says the virus is now reduced to just the “embers” and “ashes” of a spent pandemic as patience for nationwide lock downs fades and states aggressively open up.
“Americans are on the move and they can’t be tied down and they can’t be restrained,” Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said on Wednesday.
But such decisions are coming without the honest, unprejudiced advice of a President whose most fundamental duty is to keep Americans safe and who has suppressed the ability of public health officials to speak to the nation from an authoritative White House backdrop.
The default position of the President and many state governors is now implicitly that the country has stopped trying to halt the disease in its tracks — but will just have to live with it — though the apparent position has been reached without public discussion. There’s been no moment when the President has come clean about the costs of opening up with the nation he claims has already “prevailed” over the disease.
“We want the continued blanket lockdown to end for the states. We may have some embers or some ashes, or we may have some flames coming, but we’ll put them out. We’ll stomp them out,” Trump said Friday.
‘100,000 more deaths by September’
Given an apparently unstoppable opening trend, one prominent expert now expects a further 100,000 people to succumb to the virus by September, amid evidence of a spike in hospitalizations since Memorial Day broke the back of the resolve of many citizens to stick to social distancing.
Some states that embraced Trump’s vows to open up the economy have fast-rising infections. While nationally, new cases have plateaued or slightly dipped as worst-hit epicenters such as New York and New Jersey emerge from the storm, there are plenty of reasons to believe that the fight against Covid-19 is still far from its endgame.
“I think right now, most Americans are not ready to lock back down, and I completely understand that. Here’s the bottom line, though, which is that — I understand people are willing to live alongside this virus,” Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Wednesday.
“It means that between 800 and 1,000 Americans are going to die every single day. We’re going to get another 100,000 deaths by September. So, that’s a catastrophic cost,” Jha said, offering the kind of factual analysis that’s no longer dispensed from the White House.
Aggressive openers Texas and Florida have both seen recent increases in infections. Arizona just told its hospitals to activate emergency plans amid an increase of cases.
A reckoning over race sparked by the death of George Floyd in a new example of police brutality drove the worst pandemic in 100 years from the headlines for days. But the virus doesn’t respect an epochal moment in a nation’s story — health experts fear and expect that mass demonstrations only helped the virus spread — and will show up in hospitalizations and deaths in weeks to come. Already, some members of the Washington, DC, National Guard on duty during marches and protests have tested positive for Covid-19.
Andy Slavitt, a former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, pointed to studies showing that stay-at-home orders had likely saved hundreds of thousands of lives around the world.
“Once we come back out, if we come back to exactly our old habits, it’s going to spread just as fast,” Slavitt told CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday night.
“So we have to be out and take the kind of precautions that are safe precautions. We can get back to normal life. We can live with this virus. But if you’re in a place with these red areas like Arizona, North Carolina, Arkansas, you should be very, very careful.”
Trump plans to openly defy virus with resumption of campaign
The President is not alone in wanting life to get back to normal — even if his instincts are being mainly driven by the imperative to get the economy moving in time for the final straight of his reelection campaign. Americans of all ages and political stripes want their lives back.
The longer the virus stalks the country, the deeper are the economic costs of a shuttered economy and the mental and emotional scars of life truncated. Americans are voting with their feet — last weekend in Ocean City, Maryland, people flocked the boardwalk and many weren’t wearing masks. Elsewhere, crowded restaurant terraces didn’t exactly appear to represent a good example of social distancing. States are announcing all kinds of openings.
“The state is best served moving together even though we have various regions with a current spike in cases,” Arkansas’ Hutchinson said.
Such comments reflect the reality that there is no political incentive really for any politician to talk publicly about the possibility of a return to stay-at-home orders that public health experts may recommend in the best of all possible worlds.
But it’s still unclear how the political consequences of a resurgent pandemic clashing with aggressive openings may play out.