Rockets red glare, virus bombs bursting in air …
July 4, 2020 | Ah, the 4th of July, the centerpiece of the summer. Time to fire up the grill and have friends over to enjoy idle talk, good food, and adult beverages. Then, when dark approaches, head for a red, white, and blue pyrotechnic extravaganza.
Not this year. Most communities have cancelled 4th of July celebrations inasmuch as most of the country is in the grip of a raging resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic, precipitated in large part by premature opening, encouraged by a president who doesn't much care about public health and looks through the rosiest of rose-colored glasses, hoping that the economy will come "roaring back" to improve his electoral chances in November. Well, it ain't a workin'.
The chart below shows the effect of two events: imposing a stay-at-home order and subsequent reopening. At the moment, Arizona has more new cases per 100,000 residents than any other state. They began reopening when cases were increasing, not falling as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. And many of the hardest hit states have Republican governors who were all too happy to follow the president's example to eschew wearing masks and social distancing. In some bizarre way, the wearing of a mask became politicized: Wearing a mask was seen by Republicans as unmanly, weak; Democrats accepted the premise that masks would help contain the spread. And we see the impact.
In fact, Trump and Pence have gone out of their way to hold superspreader events, packing people into enclosed spaces where the virus could easily be transmitted from person to person. Trump, indeed, is holding a fireworks display and rally at Mt Rushmore tonight, ignoring the possibility of fire in the very dry forests around the site, and where South Dakota's Republican governor has proudly announced that there will not be social distancing at the event!
Another fatal error in the reopenings was the failure to educate residents about the true situation. There was no effort to explain that reopening would only work if people continued to rigorously observe public health measures: wear a mask, wash your hands, keep your distance. In the absence of that message, too many people took "We're reopening" to mean "We're in the clear, back to normal. Party!" And that was clearly not the case.
In any kind of crisis, consistent messaging, constantly reinforced is essential to managing the crisis. But without national leadership, messaging about coronavirus has seemed to emanate from the Tower of Babel. People could be forgiven for not knowing who or what to believe. Trump's base, of course, knew exactly who to believe, and if Trump said it was a hoax and it will all go away, then that's what they believed.
The United States is alone among the world's countries (well, OK, alone with Brazil) at not learning to coexist with the coronavirus. Initially there was a lot of talk about "flattening the curve" and many states did that. But they did not bend the curve back down. The curve simply leveled off, a plateau. So reopening happened on top of an already high rate of infections. So here we are.
A number of states are trying to pull back on reopening, but the toothpaste is already out of the tube. Half measures are simply not going to work. But there is no political will to take measures that would work. (The absence of political will is asymmetrical: Democrats have plenty of will, but little power; Republicans have plenty of power, but very little will.)
Like Memorial Day, this holiday has the potential to make a very bad situation almost unimaginably worse. As of July 3, 2020, the US is reporting almost 2.8 million cases of Covid and 129,190 deaths. If you're not scared spitless, you should be.
Last updated on Jul 4, 2020