Either the White House has seen some solid data and developments that it hasn’t entirely shared with us, or it hasn’t learned any lessons about setting expectations. This comment from Vice President Mike Pence didn’t make many waves yesterday afternoon when he made it on Geraldo Rivera’s radio show, but Donald Trump made sure to retweet Rivera’s mention this morning:
If–as @VP tells me on our radio interview this morning–the worst is behind us & entire epidemic will be largely behind us by Memorial Day–less than a month away. It's @realDonaldTrump Administration's most optimistic projection. Mike Pence sticks his neck out-Hope he's right.
— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) April 24, 2020
No kidding. The messaging of late from the medical experts is that we may experience a lull over the summer, but it will almost certainly return this fall. The question will be whether we’re ready for it with the proper levels of protective gear, testing, and health-care capacity to keep hospitals from getting overwhelmed by it.
Pence, however, thinks that the impact of it will be “largely … behind us“:
Vice President Mike Pence is optimistic that the coronavirus pandemic will be over by Memorial Day Weekend.
In an interview with Geraldo Rivera’s news program Thursday, Pence, who also heads President Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, said that current U.S. trends indicate that the pandemic is largely past its peak.
“I think by Memorial Day Weekend we will largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us,” Pence said. “State and local officials will begin to reopen activities, you’re going to see states ahead here begin to do that.”
The International Business Times notes that Pence made a similar prediction in a Wall Street Journal podcast on Wednesday, too:
“We remain very hopeful that if the current trajectory of the coronavirus epidemic continues that we could be in a much different place in early June than we are today,” the vice president said. ” We believe that because of what the people have done, because of what the people of those communities have done, we’re past the peak.”
Past the peak everywhere in the US? That’s … a rather bold bet, especially in this unforgiving media environment. Half of the questions for Trump and others at the briefing seem to start with the phrase, “Back in February, you said …” Blowing projections of the disease in the first few weeks of its outbreak from China, which even the media managed to do, is understandable in retrospect, especially with the bad data from Beijing and WHO. Those questions now are not only unfair, they also miss the point. Most Americans want to know what’s happening now rather than watch media food-fights with Trump, and more importantly what will happen next.
This from Pence explicitly references what will happen next, and now we have lots of American data with which to understand the challenges. Predictions like this will be much tougher to wave away if they don’t come to pass, which is why it’s usually best to set expectations to a modest level (with more ambiguous optimism, of course) that can realistically be bested. No one wins points for falling short.
If we reopen and discover we’re not past the peak on Memorial Day, Pence and the Trump administration will pay a price for this. We can certainly hope for Memorial Day as a past-the-peak target, but perhaps we’d better be prepared to get back to as much normalcy as possible while dealing with peaks and valleys. That is the expectation that should be set, because it is the most likely of the scenarios at the moment — as Anthony Fauci, Robert Redfield, and Deborah Birx make clear.