Two thoughts come to mind as the Trump administration falsely claims it can’t control the pandemic that is once again sweeping the country:
• It’s wrong. As New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pointedly observed on Sunday, it can be controlled. New York has proved that. American lives can be preserved.
• The alternative is unthinkable. Consider:
Researchers at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine estimate that, under current strategies, more than 500,000 Americans will have died from Covid-19 by the end of February. That’s 25% more Americans than the 407,000 who were killed in the four years of World War II and an annual mortality rate nearly five times higher.
Yet the Trump administration has now given up on controlling the pandemic, as the president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, told CNN.
“We’re not going to control the pandemic,” he said Sunday. Instead, the administration will focus on “vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigations.”
By which time, if the forecasts bear out, half-a-million Americans will have died – far more than would have occurred if the president and several of the country’s recalcitrant states had provided real leadership.
Instead, they have been largely AWOL, following the lead of the president who, despite the number of deaths, claims his administration has done an “incredible job.” The only thing incredible about its performance is its wanton sacrifice of American lives to his wish for a strong election-year economy.
And he didn’t get it, anyway.
Of course, it is possible that fewer than a half-million Americans will have died from the novel coronavirus come Feb. 28. Maybe it will be only 400,000 – about the same as in World War II – or a mere 300,000, still three times that terrible war’s rate of casualties. But you get the point.
Coronavirus deaths were inevitable, as Trump, himself, acknowledged in conversations recorded by former Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. But it didn’t have to be this bad. Deaths per 100,000 residents in this country are among the world’s highest, according to Johns Hopkins University. Posting better records are nations including Italy, France, the United Kingdom and Canada. We are doing better today than many other countries in treating those who become sick, but more of us are being infected.
Why? First and foremost, we have a president who has denigrated masks and irresponsibly pushed to reopen economies and schools without regard to the risks and the strategies that could mitigate them. We have states whose leaders, so-called, have followed that corrupt example, including Texas, Florida, Georgia and both Dakotas. For that, they are paying a high price.
It is an unmitigated tragedy because all they had to do was learn from New York’s example – what it did wrong early in the pandemic and what it has done right since then. This state showed the way.
In March and April, New York suffered greatly, misunderstanding the nature of the pandemic and where it was coming from – not China or the West Coast, but Europe. Before it brought the virus under control, hospitals in parts of the state were inundated with Covid-19 patients. In Manhattan, temporary hospitals – that is, tents – were pitched in Central Park. Daily deaths were counted in the high hundreds and reached a high of 1,025.
It was painful, but the state gained the upper hand – and kept it – through closures, cautious reopening and a laser focus on the fundamentals of testing, mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing. (A recent report shows that areas mandating masks cut infection rates by half.) With those strategies, this state’s rate of infection has held below 2% since mid-June, down from a brutal high of 50.7% in April. On Saturday, it was 1.3%. It is clear evidence that Cuomo is right and Meadows is fatally wrong: The outbreak can be controlled. Lives can be saved.
By contrast, infection rates are soaring in South Dakota, which welcomed and encouraged the super-spreading Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August. Its rate last week reached a high of 39.9%. In April, when New York was offering hard lessons to the country, South Dakota’s rate was around 5.5%. That state followed Trump’s lead instead of Cuomo’s. Because of that, people died.
Now, cases are trending up, with the nation setting new daily records. El Paso, Texas, has imposed a curfew as cases of Covid-19 overwhelm its hospitals. New York is also seeing small increases in some areas, but so far, the pandemic remains under control.
Indeed, New York is performing better than almost every other state. It is a remarkable turnaround, but how long that will last is a troubling question. Can this state remain an island of relative safety as most of the rest of the country spikes? We’re going to find out.
It will help if New Yorkers continue to take the necessary steps and recognize the continuing threat of Covid-19 fatigue. It would help even more if the rest of the country would take note of New York’s success and start dealing with the pandemic as a medical and scientific matter, rather than one driven by political machinations.
Otherwise, we’ll soon be talking about the 750,000 Americans who died in the Civil War.
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