Fauci’s point is clear enough, though. It’s not that the declining death toll isn’t real and encouraging, it’s that focusing people’s attention on it will lead them to take fewer precautions in the belief that the disease is no longer as much of a mortal threat. Even if that’s true (and whether it’s true is the big mystery in America’s epidemic at the moment), it’s debilitating short-term for some, debilitating long-term for others, and fatal in several hundred cases every day. “Don’t worry, you won’t die” isn’t the message to be pitching at a moment when Texas, Arizona, and Florida are struggling to come up with ways to get people to reduce their exposure.
“It’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death,” Fauci said Tuesday during a livestreamed press conference hosted by Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.)
“There’s so many other things that are very dangerous and bad about this virus, don’t get yourself into a false complacency,” he added…
“The death rate is lower, I admit that. Because people in general, who are young or healthier. But that doesn’t mean that you could not get seriously ill,” he said.
“False complacency.” I wonder who he has in mind:
We’re only a week or two away from solving our national mystery about whether an uptick in deaths is merely “lagging” the rise in cases nationally or if something fundamental has changed about the epidemic to make COVID-19 durably less deadly. According to Worldometer, cases in the U.S. began climbing steadily around June 17. That’s three weeks ago. Three weeks is around the time you’d expect for an infection to turn symptomatic, then serious, then serious enough to require intensive care. If deaths are going to follow the pattern we saw in New York, we should see movement over the next week. And maybe we will: The trend in deaths may be down down but the trend in hospitalizations…
If we don’t see the death toll rise, we’re going to spend the second half of this month watching a fascinating debate play out among doctors and scientists about why COVID has suddenly become less lethal. Did the virus mutate? Have hospitals simply cracked the code on how to keep people alive? Are remdesivir and dexamethasone really game-changers to the point of reducing daily deaths in the U.S. by 90 percent from their peak in the span of a few months?
Here’s an interesting set of results from a survey of Texans about COVID-19 which may capture Fauci’s point about the death toll. Texas saw a sudden leap in cases in mid-June and hasn’t looked back, with the latest daily count now more than four times higher than it was on June 15. Are Texans aware that things are going badly? Oh yes. Are they “concerned” about it, though? Not as much as they used to be, interestingly.
The share of Texans who say that efforts to deal with the pandemic in Texas are going badly increased sharply between April and June, from 29% to 51%, while those who said it was going well fell from 66% to 29%.
Fewer Texans were concerned about both the spread of the Coronavirus in their communities, and about contracting (or a family member contracting) the virus in the latest poll than they were in April. The share of Texans who reported being “extremely” or “very” concerned about the spread of the coronavirus in their community decreased from 54% in April to 47% in June.
You’re much more likely to get the virus in Texas now than you were in April but not much more likely to die from it. Yesterday the state registered 63 deaths, the same number that it did on May 21. But don’t overlook the fine print: At 43, the seven-day average of deaths in Texas is now the highest it’s been since the start of the epidemic there. Deaths are trending upwards. Just not at anything like the terrifying pace we saw in NYC in April.
We’ll check back next week. In the meantime, here’s Fauci today touching on some common ground that he and Trump have. The president wants schools open in the fall. Me too, says, Fauci, emphasizing the unintended consequences and “ripple effects” on families if parents are stuck having to provide daily child care for many months longer. He’s sticking with Trump’s federal guidelines as a yardstick, though. Clearly, in communities where the spread of the virus is low, he wants them to move forward on schools. In communities where the spread is more aggressive — well, those communities are moving forward too whether he likes it or not.