Tucker Carlson subtweets Trump: Coronavirus is much more serious than the flu

I’m fascinated to know how this segment came about, especially since the coronavirus message coming from other Fox hosts like Hannity and Trish Regan ranges from “I’m worried that we’re overreacting” to full-on rants about how the media is trying to impeach Trump again or something. Carlson never utters the word “Trump” here but it’s clear as day who he means when he says that some on the left — and right — are focused on the wrong things, even nudging viewers by noting that he’s referring to people whom they voted for. It may be that partisan bubbles are now so tightly sealed that nothing short of a Fox primetime host declaring that yes, coronavirus is a crisis, stands a chance of convincing some Trump-loving righties that yes, coronavirus is a crisis.

Tucker had three possible motives and they’re not mutually exclusive.

1. Basic civic duty. He reads the papers. He knows what the testing numbers look like. He’s genuinely worried, as he should be, and trying to convince Fox fans to protect themselves before it’s too late.

2. Nationalist agenda. It’s a testament to how intense modern hyperpartisanship is, said Ross Douthat last week, that Republicans have been handed a golden political opportunity to promote lesser economic dependence on China and instead many instinctively spend their time covering for Trump by insisting that the virus is no big deal. If given a choice between promoting nationalism and reassuring the president that his farts smell terrific, some will take the latter every time. Not Carlson. He’s serious about his nationalism. Watch to the end of the clip below and you’ll find him making the case for severing America’s medical supply chain from China. The more serious Republicans take coronavirus, the stronger his argument becomes.

3. Someone asked him to do it in order to get through to Trump. We may have arrived at a state of such dysfunction in terms of how the president processes information that having people like Anthony Fauci and the head of the CDC assure him daily that this is much more threatening than the flu simply can’t get through to him. To really penetrate his consciousness, they need to appeal to a higher authority: Fox News primetime hosts. Maybe someone from the White House dialed up Tucker and told him that, in our modern game-show dystopia, only he (or Hannity) has the power to convince Trump that coronavirus isn’t just going to burn itself out. According to WaPo, people in the building are worried.

Trump’s overall handling of the converging crises — while spreading misinformation and blaming others — has unsettled many of his Republican allies on Capitol Hill and even inside the White House, where some aides acknowledged that the president is compounding problems with his grievances and conspiratorial mind-set…

Inside the White House, some officials privately acknowledged Monday that Trump has exacerbated the problem with his misleading and false statements, as well as his callous comments — such as saying last Friday that he hoped infected cruise passengers would stay aboard the Grand Princess at sea because he didn’t want domestic coronavirus case numbers to rise.

Coincidentally, or maybe not coincidentally, former Trump advisor Tom Bossert is out with an op-ed today stressing that it’s now or never to stop an Italy-style catastrophe in the U.S. before it gets rolling:

Community-based interventions are needed to delay the outbreak peak. On this, the 1918 flu taught us a lot. The difference between the steps taken in Philadelphia, which waited too long back then, and St. Louis, which acted quickly, is staggering. Aggressive interventions put off and ease the peak burden on hospitals and other health-care infrastructure. Ultimately, these measures can also diminish the overall number of cases and health impacts.

Consider the actions taken in Italy. On Feb. 20, Italy reported three instances of infection and no known deaths. On Feb. 21, Italy had 20 cases and its first attributed death. Officials implemented interventions, including school closures, the following day and instituted a cordon sanitaire affecting 50,000 people. That’s aggressive, but it was too late. On Feb. 22, Italy reported 63 cases and a second death. A little more than a week later, there were 2,036 cases, with 140 patients in serious condition and 52 deaths. Today, the numbers continue to climb, with more than 9,100 cases and 460 dead, and on Monday the government expanded travel restrictions to the entire country.

Here’s a visualization of the Philadelphia/St. Louis 1918 comparison he cites. One line shows what happens when large events are allowed to proceed as scheduled, leading to rapid exponential contagion. The other shows what happens when local officials don’t have their heads up their asses.

Some, including Hannity last night, reassure themselves with the thought that the disease is chiefly dangerous to old and infirm people. Laying aside the fact that there are fully 23 million people in the U.S. who are 80+ or immunocompromised, the “it’s only old people” argument continues to ignore the core threat here. If infection spreads exponentially and hospitals can’t handle the glut, people who are ill with something other than coronavirus will also struggle to get treatment. The rate of death from things like heart disease and cancer won’t hold steady if doctors are preoccupied with fighting COVID-19 — or are too sick themselves to even tend to the ill.

And as Carlson rightly says, the worst-case scenarios can no longer be dismissed as something likely to happen in a less developed country like Iran. The reports from northern Italy on social media and elsewhere about desperately ill people being left untreated because the hospitals just can’t handle any more patients are horrifying:

[I]n the rest of hard-hit northern Italy, the virus’ spread was growing so exponentially that doctors were making comparisons to war-time triage medics deciding who lives, who dies and who gets access to the limited number of ICU beds.

“It’s a reasoning that our colleagues make,” Dr. Guido Giustetto, head of the association of doctors in northern Piedmont, said Monday. “It becomes dramatic if, rather than doing it under normal situations, they do it because the beds are so scarce that someone might not have access to medical care.”

The Italian society of anesthesiology and intensive care published 15 ethical recommendations to consider when deciding on ICU admissions during the virus crisis and the ICU shortage. The criteria include the age of the patient and the probability of survival, and not just “first come first served.”

They’re already rationing treatment. We have no defense against this happening right here, within a few weeks, except to start shutting down all large gatherings of people immediately. Slow the spread and everyone who needs emergency treatment can get it. Don’t slow the spread and old people are going to die on gurneys in hospital corridors waiting for a ventilator that just isn’t available in time. And then other, younger people with unrelated conditions who can’t get to see a doctor anymore will start dying of their own maladies.

If the gut reaction to all of that is to say, “Well, fine, but it’s too early to start shutting things down,” it isn’t. That’s Bossert’s point. It’s late. Because the CDC screwed up the testing, and because American labs still aren’t anywhere near testing capacity, we have no realistic idea just how far coronavirus has spread here. Clearly it’s spreading, and clearly it hasn’t reached the stage yet where any hospitals are overwhelmed. We’re somewhere between “basically fine” and “Italy” at the moment, but with no clue as to which of those two poles we’re closer to.

The only prudent move is to assume we’re closer to “Italy” than we think and start banning large gatherings (as some districts are now doing), including parades and crowds at sporting events. You would think the NBA might take a hint from their Chinese masters and start treating coronavirus as a grave threat by closing its doors to fans for awhile, but nope, not yet. Big crowds at game after game, just passin’ that virus around.

And even if, with the benefit of hindsight, it appears that now was too early for draconian “social distancing” measures, better safe than sorry. “Too early is, by definition, ‘not too late,” wrote Michael Brendan Dougherty today in a piece confessing his anxiety about coronavirus. If we had an effective federal government that was on the ball in identifying cases and isolating patients, the story on crowd control would be different. But we don’t, so it isn’t. We’re forced to fend for ourselves for the time being, which means avoiding others to minimize the disease’s spread.

Update: “We are 10 days from our hospitals getting creamed,” says Bossert to NBC.