In most parts of the country, eight percent of COVID-19 tests come back positive. In New York it’s … 28 percent. I don’t know how to process that.
Dr. Birx on the NYC area: “Clearly the virus had been circulating there for a numbers of weeks to have this level of [penetration] into the local community.” (So the coronavirus was spreading in NYC as Trump suggested it would go away on its own.) pic.twitter.com/fDBddpr5fp
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 23, 2020
I wish I could tell you that New York has done far fewer tests than most states, saving the few it has for the sickest patients, which would drive up the share of positives. But New York has done the most tests of any state, three times as many as California as of today. There’s a gigantic population of people sick with coronavirus there — six percent of the entire known global population of coronavirus patients, in fact.
If in fact Italy has finally begun to turn the corner, New York City could be the biggest coronavirus hot spot on Earth within a few weeks.
But it may not hold that distinction for long:
With 20,875 confirmed cases; New York about to overtake Iran (23,049 cases) in terms of reported #COVID19 burden. NY is likely few weeks ahead of some other U.S. cities. Most troubling: Cities with sizable spread that aren't yet taking good mitigation steps (New Orleans, Florida) pic.twitter.com/6ECXhdH44t
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) March 23, 2020
No worries. Ron DeSantis isn’t ordering Floridians to shelter in place yet because “This is not a virus that’s impacting every corner of the state.” We’ll check back with him in a few weeks, see how it’s going in those unimpacted corners.
Trump was asked at this same press conference whether he’s serious about easing lockdown restrictions as soon as a week from now. He didn’t commit to it, as you’ll see below, but he also made a point of contrasting his view with the supposed view of doctors that the entire world should be shut down “for a couple of years,” which no actual doctor is recommending.
In response to a question about whether a single public health expert said it’s okay to reopen the economy, Trump says, “the doctors, if it was up to the doctors, they’d say ‘let’s shut down the entire world'”
(In other words, not one did) pic.twitter.com/ERFhIe7Kgu
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 23, 2020
Doctors like Anthony Fauci and Scott Gottlieb have talked about widespread social distancing for a few months, possibly into May. Trump’s grossly overstating their position to make them seem unreasonable. He also compared coronavirus deaths to deaths from car accidents, pointing out that we don’t stop people from driving just because tens of thousands die on the road. Right, but we would drastically change highway policy if the number of people who died in accidents began rising exponentially. We can guesstimate how many Americans will die each year on highways. There’s no realistic guesstimate of what the worst-case scenario from coronavirus is but it’s many, many times the number of road deaths.
This entire debate today about reopening for business sooner than expected is fantasy, a sign of just how disconnected the White House is from the reality of what’s happening. The idea that the economy would more or less soldier on amid a minimally controlled national COVID-19 outbreak is a fantasy. The idea that Americans would approve of Trump’s decision to try to take us down that path once they saw firsthand the kind of death and ruin the epidemic would cause is a fantasy. The idea that U.S. governors and mayors will heed his appeal to go back to work right away at the very moment their own country is becoming the global center of coronavirus is a fantasy.
10,000 people tested positive today. Try and convince a restaurant owner to open next week. https://t.co/UoewsHIgG9
— Lois Romano (@loisromano) March 23, 2020
It’s ironic that Trump is shifting to a “back to business” approach at the precise moment Boris Johnson is switching to “shut it all down.” A week ago they were in the opposite positions. Then it was Trump who was encouraging aggressive social distancing while Johnson and his team had concluded that isolating the vulnerable and letting everyone else go about their business would be the most effective containment strategy. But Johnson sobered up when he saw the data projecting how many deaths that strategy would cause. He understood that deaths on that scale would exact not just a terrible human toll but would inflict grievous economic consequences. At a moment like this, leaders need patience, wisdom, and resolve. That’s what Johnson’s giving the Brits today. We’re going in the opposite direction.
By the way, I think this is exactly right. And why Trump may end up heavily diluting any attempt to get people to go back to work:
Prediction: if Trump does in fact try to pull back hard on social distancing next week, Fauci will resign and go public with his concerns. Clearly he is staying on right now in order to do his best from the inside, but if Trump won’t listen I can’t see him staying on.
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) March 23, 2020
If Trump tries to recklessly undo lockdowns at a moment when it’ll cause the disease to spread out of control, I think Fauci will recalculate that he can do more good on the outside leveraging his credibility with the public by urging them to ignore Trump and stay home than he can do by remaining on the task force and trying to influence the president. That’ll also have an effect on how Americans heed the “back to work” advice.
In the end, Trump may back off and save face by simply saying something like, “I encourage governors to remove restrictions as expeditiously as possible in accordance with the advice of local health officials,” which is what governors are going to do anyway. But in the meantime we’re going to have a nasty national argument in which epidemiologists are accused of “sabotaging” Trump or whatever by trying to keep people alive by telling them to stay home while governors are pressured for dopey partisan reasons to lift or maintain their lockdowns as needed in light of Trump’s position. By the time it’s over, there might be internal travel bans between “go back to work” states and “stay home” states. There’s no problem so terrible that it can’t needlessly be made worse.