Birx: We should have locked down like Italy did, when people weren't allowed out of their homes

Birx: We should have locked down like Italy did, when people weren't allowed out of their homes

“Americans don’t react well to that kind of prohibition,” she says, correctly.

It’s true, we’re more resistant than other countries to infringements on liberty. Sometimes that’s understandable, as in the case of centralized quarantine, and sometimes it isn’t, as in the case of mask mandates. We’re paying the price.

But you know what? It would have been nice if, in March and April, our public-health experts had recognized the fundamental difference between how Italians behave and how Americans might behave and adjusted their strategies accordingly. If you believe the Times’s reporting, Deborah Birx was slow to recognize it when it might have mattered. We’re paying the price.

For Dr. Birx, Italy’s experience was a particularly telling — and positive — comparison. She routinely told colleagues [in April] that the United States was on the same trajectory as Italy, which had huge spikes before infections and deaths flattened to close to zero.

“She said we were basically going to track Italy,” one senior adviser later recalled…

Dr. Birx’s belief that the United States would mirror Italy turned out to be disastrously wrong. The Italians had been almost entirely compliant with stay-at-home orders and social distancing, squelching new infections to negligible levels before the country slowly reopened. Americans, by contrast, began backing away by late April from what social distancing efforts they had been making, egged on by Mr. Trump.

The difference was critical. As communities across the United States raced to reopen, the daily number of new cases barely dropped below 20,000 in early May. The virus was still circulating across the country.

New York City’s experience did closely track Italy’s but it’s the only place in the U.S. that did. For Birx to grumble about America’s lackadaisical lockdown now thus feels like buck-passing. If she had been less sanguine this past spring about the “Italy trajectory” we were all allegedly on, maybe Trump would have been more cautious about pushing reopening and unwittingly seeding the “summer wave” of outbreaks in Texas, Arizona, and Florida.

But then again, maybe not. This is Trump we’re talking about. Case in point:

President Donald Trump has found a new doctor for his coronavirus task force — and this time there’s no daylight between them.

Trump last week announced that Dr. Scott Atlas, a frequent guest on Fox News Channel, has joined the White House as a pandemic adviser. Atlas, the former chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center and a fellow at Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution, has no expertise in public health or infectious diseases

“I think he’s utterly unqualified to help lead a COVID response,” said Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University law professor who specializes in public health. “His medical degree isn’t even close to infectious diseases and public health and he has no experience in dealing with public health outbreaks.”

Atlas is a respected doctor in his field of expertise, but if you’re going to bring him in on COVID you might as well bring in the world’s most respected podiatrist too. Trump doesn’t want him because he’s interested in Atlas’s advice. He wants him because Atlas is telling him stuff he already believes, like that schools should reopen and that lockdowns are bad. Atlas isn’t an “advisor” so much as a mouthpiece whose medical degree and Stanford pedigree are supposed to convince the public that Trump’s preferred policies have the blessings of Science.

Speaking of schools reopening, this morning UNC abandoned its plans for in-person instruction this semester one week after classes began because 177 students have already tested positive. Another 350 are in quarantine due to possible exposure. A little further south in Georgia, three high schools in Cherokee County have given up on in-person learning; the third shut down after 25 students tested positive and 500 landed in quarantine. Every state with a meaningful COVID outbreak is likely looking at a sh*tshow this fall with schools, especially as the weather turns colder. A few days ago the Times reported that Trump himself had inadvertently helped turn fencesitters against the idea of reopening schools with his “aggressive, often bellicose demands” in favor, as should have been expected when a uniquely polarizing figure who’s not trusted on the pandemic decides to take the lead on his own messaging effort. “If you had told me that Trump was doing this as a favor to the schools-must-not-open crowd, I’d believe you,” said an official at AEI about it. Look at it this way, I guess: Even if Trump’s endorsement hadn’t turned people against the idea of classroom instruction, the inevitable outbreaks would have.

Maybe Atlas can help change hearts and minds about schools. That’s what he’s been brought in to do, after all. Exit question: Is Atlas also going to start cheerleading for “oleandrin,” the latest miracle drug/supplement to catch Trump’s fancy? Apparently it was recommended to the president by MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, “who recently took a financial stake in the company that develops the product,” so it must be good.

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