Lefties keep accusing him and his “reopen at all costs” supporters of pursuing a de facto herd immunity strategy.
Are they right? I don’t think they’re right. The White House is working on a vaccine “Manhattan Project,” remember.
But then he says something like this and I don’t know.
President Trump: "This is going to go away without a vaccine." pic.twitter.com/EKcZENl4rS
— CSPAN (@cspan) May 8, 2020
He sounds here like he did at the start of the epidemic, and not for the first time recently. A few days ago he complained to reporters that doing more testing is a bad look insofar as it means detecting more infections. Detecting infections is good news to sane people who want to control the spread but not so good to people who worry first and foremost about the electoral ramifications of bad “numbers.” This new soundbite about the disease mysteriously going away without a vaccine also has some old-school resonance. In late February, not long before the epidemic exploded in the U.S., Trump said this:
If we were doing a bad job, we should also be criticized. But we have done an incredible job. We’re going to continue. It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.
Now here he is today musing again about the virus vanishing eventually. As his desire for the country to reopen for business grows more urgent, he seems to revert more to the sort of magical thinking he displayed in the early days of the pandemic. I think he believes he can talk Americans, or at least Republicans, into going shopping by reassuring them that a lot of things egghead doctors think are necessary, like tests and vaccines, really aren’t. Just go shop. It’ll be all good.
Either that or he’s just chattering idly in the clip, as he’s wont to do. He’ll contradict himself tomorrow, or maybe even later today.
Third possibility: He really is thinking of encouraging herd immunity. That would be the worst of our three options, for obvious reasons. Two epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins published this piece recently encouraging anyone who’s “herd immunity curious,” shall we say, to reconsider.
We have listened with concern to voices erroneously suggesting that herd immunity may “soon slow the spread”1 of COVID-19. For example, Rush Limbaugh recently claimed that “herd immunity has occurred in California.” As infectious disease epidemiologists, we wish to state clearly that herd immunity against COVID-19 will not be achieved at a population level in 2020, barring a public health catastrophe.
Although more than 2.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide, studies suggest that (as of early April 2020) no more than 2-4% of any country’s population has been infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus that causes COVID-19)…
To reach herd immunity for COVID-19, likely 70% or more of the population would need to be immune. Without a vaccine, over 200 million Americans would have to get infected before we reach this threshold. Put another way, even if the current pace of the COVID-19 pandemic continues in the United States – with over 25,000 confirmed cases a day – it will be well into 2021 before we reach herd immunity. If current daily death rates continue, over half a million Americans would be dead from COVID-19 by that time.
Half a million dead “if current daily death rates continue.” The current daily death rates are based on an economy-destroying degree of social distancing. The whole point of the “reopen now” push is to reduce that degree of social distancing, realizing that that’s going to mean a higher transmission rate.
We wouldn’t expect the current daily death rate to continue, then. We’d expect it to rise.
Jim Geraghty looked at the case of Sweden, which has been cited by “reopen now” fans as a model for the U.S. because of its experimentation with a herd immunity strategy. That’s not really what Sweden’s doing; they’re practicing social distancing, just without the same degree of formal lockdown orders that we’ve had. In any case, says Geraghty, Sweden’s a bad example for the U.S.:
When you compare populations, other key differences become clearer. Sweden has about 4 million citizens over the age of 60; the United States has about 150 million. With 7.6 million people living in urban areas, Sweden ranks 57th in the world in that metric. We rank third with almost 240 million. Neither of our population densities is particularly high by world standards, but ours is a little higher.
A Goldman Sachs assessment noted that the Swedish approach wouldn’t work for many other European countries: “Its population density is about half that of Italy, and Sweden has a high proportion of single-occupancy households, and a relatively low proportion of multi-generational households.”
Perhaps most importantly, Sweden is literally the least-obese country in the world, just 12 percent. We rank 16th, with 33 percent of our population being obese. (Some put the percentage of obese Americans closer to 40 percent.)
I don’t think Trump’s seriously suggesting herd immunity as a strategy, just more of an “if it happens, it happens” byproduct of his get-back-to-work push. But that’s not going to play well with senior citizens, the demographic group that has the most to fear from COVID-19 and the least to fear from a weak economy. And this isn’t going to play well with a lot — a lot — of voters and business owners:
If I am a Trump supporter i am apoplectic that Kudlow and Hassett are doing this. This is political suicide.
Trump should fire anyone who is advising him to do this and replace them with some fake populist like Hawley who doesn't have a death wish https://t.co/vJaVC8TBuS
— Tim Miller (@Timodc) May 8, 2020
That’s as bad an idea politically as the idea of disbanding the coronavirus task force was. Trump backed off that one quickly after there was an uproar and he’ll back off this one too. The worst thing Republicans could do for themselves electorally right now is cut off the federal financial lifeline for Americans who are listening to doctor after doctor say that it’s too soon to reopen and staying home as a result. It’s one thing to push someone back into the labor force when conditions look good; we can’t give everyone a free lunch forever. Force people to decide between infection and starvation, though, and see what happens at the polls.
Here’s another clip from today’s presser, in which Trump notes that one of Mike Pence’s aides has been infected and cites it as evidence of a problem with testing because one day you test negative and the next day you test positive, and therefore…?
Trump: Katie, she tested very good for a long period of time and then all of the sudden today she tested positive… This is why the whole concept of tests aren’t necessarily great pic.twitter.com/iM9Xo3jddU
— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) May 8, 2020