I don’t think he meant this the way it came out — I hope he didn’t — but Democrats noticed it and immediately began circulating the video. The clip below got five million views overnight; the DNC has since posted its own version. I’m guessing we’ll see it again in ads next month and maybe in a Joe Biden attack line at Tuesday’s debate.
Part of the reason for Biden’s surprisingly strong polling among seniors, I suspect, is the sense that Trump and his acolytes have behaved at times as if thousands of dead grandmas and grandpas is an unfortunate but acceptable risk to incur in reopening the country for business. (Sometimes it’s not even implied. Sometimes that point is made explicitly.) Which is weird, because one of the most powerful and durable criticisms of Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic in New York is that he didn’t take the risk of infection to seniors in nursing homes seriously enough. Any rhetoric that treats the virus as no big deal because “only” the tens of millions of Americans 65 or over face a meaningful risk of dying from it is rhetoric that’s begging to be showcased on Florida television.
It’s also deeply weird to be talking about how “virtually nobody” has been affected on a day when the country was recording its 200,000th dead from COVID. A Twitter pal observed this afternoon that that’s one of the few things the White House has been prescient about during the pandemic — back in June their model projected that the U.S. might see 200,000 fatalities from the disease before October. They were spot on. Yet here’s Trump still “downplaying” it, to borrow a term he used with Bob Woodward. Watch, then read on.
“It affects virtually nobody,” Trump says of the coronavirus, which has now killed 200,000 Americans and counting pic.twitter.com/qHrZvUWNhX
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 22, 2020
Note the bit at the end about reopening schools. Even now, he’s blowing off the risk to seniors from community spread in service to his cause of reopening more rapidly.
It’s true that your risk of dying from an infection is small unless you’re well into retirement age. Your risk of being affected by the disease is much higher. Craig Spencer is a doctor in New York who was infected with Ebola six years ago. His physical pain has long since healed, he wrote in an op-ed recently, but he still has trouble concentrating and his ability to form new memories has been “drastically reduced.” He hasn’t seen any improvement since 2014; the damage appears to be permanent. Serious illness can be debilitating long-term in unpredictable ways and it’s happening with COVID too, he wrote:
Their findings were further supported in July by a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that 35 percent of covid-19 patients had not returned to their usual state of health when interviewed two to three weeks after testing. Those with chronic conditions were affected the most. But even among young adults ages 18 to 34 with no chronic medical conditions, nearly 1 in 5 reported they had not returned to their usual state of health 14 to 21 days after testing. This is particularly concerning as outbreaks are now emerging at college campuses.
We don’t know for sure, but multiple studies have suggested approximately 10 percent of people experience prolonged illness after covid-19. At even a fraction of that, the toll is huge given that 6.7 million people in the United States so far have gotten the disease (and more than 30 million worldwide).
A study from Rome showed the overwhelming majority of hospitalized patients still struggled with symptoms 60 days out. Fatigue, difficulty breathing, joint pain and chest pain persisted in many. About 87 percent still had at least one symptom, and 55 percent had three or more.
It’s well-known by now that COVID can cause lasting lung damage but the return of college sports has brought new attention to the fact that even fit young adults can suffer heart complications from the disease. Neurological problems are showing up in some patients too. Julia Ioffe is a writer at The Atlantic who contracted the virus back in August. Six weeks later she’s still not well:
The bad news is that I have post-viral damage: partially collapsed lungs (bibasilar atelectasis) and reactive airway disease.
The good news is that both sound scarier than they are and are both reversible, hopefully without too much scarring.
— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) September 20, 2020
The bad news is I have Obamacare, which I love. It provides excellent coverage & allows me to have the freedom to take years off of being an employee to work on projects I'm passionate about, like my book. I'm worried I'll no longer be able to do that if the ACA is killed.
— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) September 20, 2020
She was forced to go to the ER as recently as eight days ago, many weeks after first being infected. Another writer, Maggie Astor of the Times, described this morning how she and her husband are still dealing with symptoms — six months later. Astor has inflammation around her heart, for which she’s taking medication, and both get winded very easily. Maybe they’ll improve. Maybe they won’t.
Not all COVID casualties end in death. Hundreds of thousands of people will still be “affected” long after the vaccine arrives.
But there are more deaths to come too. Here’s a noteworthy prediction from two weeks ago:
— Thomas P. Bossert (@TomBossert) September 12, 2020
Bossert used to work in the White House for Trump on pandemic planning before his office was closed down by John Bolton. If he’s right about the new projection, we’re not even halfway through this nightmare.
Trump should stop downplaying the virus, now fully six months after he admitted to Woodward that he was doing so, and start playing up what he’s done to fight it. Case in point: A few days ago, for the very first time, the U.S. notched more than one million coronavirus tests in a single day. That’s an awkward talking point for Trump on the merits given how he’s complained about higher testing driving up case counts, but rational people view an increase in tests as a good thing. It’s a real credential he can use to counter Biden’s attacks that he’s not taking the pandemic seriously enough. Every public appearance he makes, it should be one of the first things he mentions.
Via Vanity Fair, here’s Fauci last night sizing up the idea that “virtually nobody” is affected.
“It’s very disrespectful to me, because I'm in my 70s … It isn't just the elderly and those with underlying conditions. It can be serious in young people,” Dr. Fauci says. Yesterday, President Trump falsely claimed that coronavirus affects “nobody young.” https://t.co/Xe5VqjIyl1 pic.twitter.com/8IEURsxSoP
— CNN (@CNN) September 22, 2020