WH coronavirus task force: 70 testing sites have been destroyed by the unrest over George Floyd's death

The only entity more enthusiastic about riots than woke media is SARS-CoV-2.

Speaking via conference call, a recording of which The Daily Beast obtained, Deborah Birx, Trump’s coronavirus response coordinator, relayed fears that the yelling by protesters could potentially negate the health benefits of wearing a mask, and that the destruction of testing sites at those protests would set back efforts to contain the virus’ spread. Birx said 70 such sites had been destroyed, which had already resulted in an appreciable drop in testing rates there. She advised governors to “scramble now to make sure there is testing available in urban areas.”

So the demonstrations are a double whammy. Not only are the mass gatherings fostering transmission, the damage done to testing facilities is limiting local authorities’ ability to spot the new outbreaks as they pop up. Meanwhile, on a separate call with governors a week earlier, Birx told them that although they hadn’t detected a spike from Memorial Day excursions yet the task force had seen signs of renewed community spread in some states:

Birx noted that while all states had dramatically increased testing, three states—California, Arizona, and North Carolina—had seen positive test results rise at the same time; an ominous sign about the virus’ trajectory. “That makes us quite concerned,” Birx said. Pointing specifically to increased cases in Phoenix, Charlotte, and in Salt Lake City, she said it was her belief that “there is active community spread in California, North Carolina, Utah, and Arizona.”

Birx noted, in particular, that her team had seen data that showed community spread in “metro Hispanic neighborhoods,” and she urged governors to ensure that the communities there knew that “there are tests, and tests are free.”

If this model is accurate, there are 12 states right now where the transmission rate exceeds 1.0, which means infections are increasing. The good news is that in every case it’s only the tiniest bit above 1.0. As Nate Silver noted earlier today, although the trends in some states are worrisome, the scale of the new outbreaks is a fraction of what it was during the first wave of the disease in March and April.

It’s not a moment to panic. But it is a moment for concern — especially in red states. Of the 12 where the transmission rate exceeds 1.0, fully 10 of them are red, which of course were more likely to reopen early than blue states were. It seems like more than a coincidence that the upward trends we’re now seeing in places like Texas and Arizona are occurring two weeks after Memorial Day, when Americans were more likely to let down their hair and socialize if their state’s rules permitted it. The timeline is exactly what we’d expect given the standard incubation course of COVID-19.

WaPo’s following the uptick in hospitalizations in some states since Memorial Day too: “In Texas, North and South Carolina, California, Oregon, Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah and Arizona, there are an increasing number of patients under supervised care since the holiday weekend because of coronavirus infections. The spikes generally began in the past couple weeks and in most states are trending higher.” In Arkansas, hospitalizations are up 88 percent in the past two weeks, although the raw numbers remain low (from 92 people to 173). In California, nearly half of the state’s 39 million residents live in counties where infections are trending high enough to land them on a “watch list” for potential new lockdown orders(!) down the line.

Arizona’s the most troubling trouble spot, though. Some of their hospitals are already filling up and the trend in overall cases is … not great.

I assume that at the moment practically none of the uptick anywhere is owing to the protests. It’s just too soon since they started happening on a mass scale for people to have incubated the virus, then progressed to mild symptoms, then deteriorated to the point of needing to go to the ER. But next week could be bad. We’ve had a little national attention-span vacation from COVID since mid-May. That’s probably about to end.

As for Birx’s claim about an “appreciable drop” in testing rates in states where facilities were destroyed, it’s not showing up clearly in the data. It *is* true that the total number of tests nationally on Monday and Tuesday of this week were lower than they were on the Monday and Tuesday of the preceding week — but only slightly lower. Meanwhile, the U.S. notched its two biggest testing days ever on Friday and Saturday, recording more than half a million tests on each day. Presumably most or all of the destroyed facilities were ravaged before then, since the more violent protests happened shortly after George Floyd’s death. Looking at the data for Minnesota specifically (on the assumption that the protests there were more likely to turn violent), you can see a dip in testing from May 31 to June 2 — but then they’re back with a vengeance over the past week, testing at some of their highest levels to date. Megan McArdle asks a good question: How many facilities were truly “destroyed” and rendered inoperative long-term and how many merely had to shut down for a day to, say, repair broken windows?

Either way, the political wing of the White House seems to be largely done with the epidemic. The task force is reportedly meeting only twice a week now and the president is hellbent on restarting his rallies even though, unlike the protests, presumably most or all of them will be held indoors with attendees stationary and breathing the same recycled air. We’ll see what Birx has to say about that when she’s asked, which she will be.

Here’s a parting thought from Benjy Sarlin on our current reality involving a “manageable” epidemic. We’re settled into a comfort zone with around 6,000 deaths per week. There are 30 weeks left in 2020. Do the math.