We all should be grateful that Trump is finally realizing that the coronavirus crisis is serious, agreeing to extend his physical-distancing recommendation through April. Welcome to the real world!
Unfortunately, it took a full-court press by the task force’s two top docs, Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, wheedling and cajoling, showing Trump charts and graphs (since he doesn’t read and likes to look at pictures instead), and convincing him that if he went through with his plan to pull back on physical distancing measures, encourage businesses to reopen, and tell workers to go back to work, then upwards of 2.2 million people could die, according to a study by the Imperial College in London.
That’s actually highly unlikely; most governors would have just ignored Trump and kept businesses closed and residents at home in their own states.
In fact, at least 30 states and the District of Columbia already have put mandatory stay-home orders in place, with more moving in that direction, which kind of makes whatever Trump says irrelevant.
But the risk was that some Republican governors who have been following Trump’s lead and downplaying the virus would actually comply if Trump had gone through with his go-back-to-work advice.
Explain how people like this keep getting elected?
Look at Alabama, where just five days ago, Governor Kay Ivey said she would not issue a stay-at-home order because “Y’all, we are not Louisiana, we are not New York State, we are not California.” Just wait, Scarlett. As the number of cases and deaths in her state began to rise rapidly, and scientists and doctors (and her own lieutenant governor) clamored for action, she finally ordered nonessential businesses to close down and asked — but did not require — residents to stay home.
Or Florida, where GOP Governor Ron DeSantis still refuses to issue a stay-at-home statewide order, despite the images of college students packed together partying on beaches and in bars in mid-March. He eventually closed restaurants and bars, and yesterday finally issued a stay-at-home order for south Florida until April 15. Meanwhile, Miami is becoming one of the nation’s hotspots, and Florida has gone from 4,000 cases to 5,000 cases to 6,000 cases in just a couple of days. Oh, and he’s blaming New Yorkers for the increase.
They ought to follow the example of their fellow Republican, Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio. His fast, aggressive, and decisive actions have been a model for other governors.
But there was another big factor in Trump’s capitulation, something that matters to him more than anything: Polls. Political surveys by his former campaign pollsters show that most Americans want the country to close down and power through this crisis.
It was pretty jaw-dropping when Trump bragged about the high TV ratings for his coronavirus media briefings. Remember, they essentially are news conferences about devastating job losses, illness, and death, and he’s giddy because the ratings are good.
But then came this: His implication that New York hospitals were doing something nefarious with specialty masks for their staff:
How do you go from 10 to 20, to 300,000? Ten to 20,000 masks to 300,000? Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door? How do you go from 10,000 to 300,000? And we have that in a lot of different places. So, somebody should probably look into that, because I just don’t see, from a practical standpoint, how that’s possible to go from that to that.
Here’s how: Previously, only hospital personnel involved with surgery or treating a handful of highly contagious diseases were required to wear the protective masks. Now, every single employee of the hospital is required to wear one, including the cleaning crews.
In addition, every time a doctor or nurse or physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner or health aide or anyone deals with a patient, whether they have a COVID-19 diagnosis or not — in other words, every single patient — they must assume that the patient is infected, throw away that mask, and put on a new one before moving to the next patient.
As one surgeon said, “I don’t understand why this is so difficult for him to grasp.” Sure you do. We all do. Somebody, quick — draw him some pictures.
One infuriating aspect of this crisis is the yawning chasm between the Trump administration’s insistence that millions and millions of pieces of equipment — testing kits, masks, ventilators — have been shipped to states, and the daily pleas from many governors and hospitals facing shortfalls and rationing, endangering health workers and patients alike.
But when Montana Governor Steve Bullock pleaded for more test kits in a conference call, telling Trump that his state was one day away from being unable to do any more testing, Trump played dumb. (Okay, maybe he wasn’t playing.) “I haven’t heard about testing in weeks,” he said. “I haven’t heard about testing being a problem.”
Those quick-result tests approved by the FDA can’t arrive soon enough.
The other confounding aspect of this is the bidding war states are forced to engage in because there is no coordination from the feds. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said it’s like auctions on eBay, with states trying to outbid each other for critical items, and even FEMA swooping in to join the bidding, all of which is driving prices through the roof. Why FEMA didn’t assume the role of national purchasing agent and distribute items according to need is baffling, and critics say it’s such a failure of logic, organization, and leadership.
Dr. Larry Brilliant, the epidemiologist who helped wipe smallpox off the face of the earth when he was at the World Health Organization, has been sharply critical of Trump’s early downplaying of the virus as a hoax and insistence that the US wasn’t being affected for weeks: “Speaking as a public health person, this is the most irresponsible act of an elected official that I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime.”
He’s still angry about the administration’s tepid response. “We should be flooding the zone” with testing and equipment, he said. “This should be a moonshot, a Manhattan Project.” The problem is that Trump thinks the Manhattan Project was when he built Trump Tower.
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