I’ll bet that President Trump is a lousy patient. We all know the type. The person who nods along with the doctor’s orders but then doesn’t change his habits or take his medicine. Right now, it seems that Donald Trump does not want America to take its medicine.
The prescription that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a frequent featured speaker at White House Coronavirus briefings, and other medical experts have given the country is to limit interaction to slow the spread of the pandemic.
Speaking on The Today Show last Friday, Fauci said that the isolations might have to last for several weeks.
“If you look at the trajectory of the curves of outbreaks in other areas, it’s at least going to be several weeks,” Fauci said. “I cannot see that all of a sudden next week or two weeks from now, it’s going to be over. I don’t think there’s a chance of that — I think it’s going to be several weeks.”
Today, both on Twitter and at his afternoon press briefing, the president raised the possibility that the “cure is worse than the disease” and hinted that he may recommend easing the national shutdown soon.
At today’s press briefing, Trump said, “You’ll see what happens. It’s not going to be three or four months. Parts of our country are very lightly affected.”
“At a certain point we have to get open,” Trump added. “We have to get moving. We don’t want to lose these companies…We’ll be doing something relatively quickly.”
At the same briefing, Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the Coronavirus task force, seemed to contradict the president saying that other countries saw an eight to 10-week cycle.
“The two areas that have moved through their curve is China and South Korea,” Birx said. “So, those are the two countries that we’re learning from. Those were 8-10 week curves. Each state and each hot spot in the United States is going to be its own curve because the seed came in at different times.”
The United States is about six days into its self-imposed isolation. President Trump only asked Americans to work from home and limit social interactions on March 17, just a week ago.
If the president wants to do something quickly, he should use his bully pulpit to help the two parties reach a compromise on the Coronavirus relief bill. The measure again failed to gain cloture today with Democrats attempting to insert a panoply of unrelated items and Republicans working to prevent congressional oversight of Treasury-directed bailout fund.
Thankfully, our decentralized system of government means that the president is not in control of who goes to work in the United States. It was state and local governments that stepped up to declare emergencies and lock down their jurisdictions in response to outbreaks long before President Trump declared a national emergency on March 13. Beginning on March 1, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Oregon, and Utah all took action before the national emergency and Trump’s stay-at-home direction.
In fact, President Trump has seemed to not take the Coronavirus seriously from the beginning. Despite intelligence briefings about the threat, the president spent much of January and February claiming that the virus was “very much under control” in this country and that the US was “really prepared” for the outbreak. As late as March 9, Trump tweeted that fears of the virus were “far beyond what the facts would warrant.”
The national emergency declaration on March 13 marked a shift in Trump’s pandemic policy. Now, after about a week of taking the virus seriously and watching the stock market drop, the president seems ready to pivot back to downplaying the gravity of the situation.
Yet as President Trump looks at a return to normalcy, COVID-19 is literally going viral. The number of new cases is increasing at an increasing rate. The latest statistics available show more than 8,000 new cases on March 22, up from just over 6,000 new cases on March 21 and 4,000 new cases two days before. The pandemic is exploding within US borders and the president is mulling reducing restrictions.
While the prospect of an economic collapse is a legitimate concern, the first priority must be to flatten the curve of the Coronavirus outbreak. It is naive to think that the US could avoid a deep economic downturn if hospitals are overwhelmed and Americans are watching thousands of their countrymen die daily. The best way to rescue the economy is to break the pandemic.
As in the beginning of the crisis, it may be up to governors to ensure that America follows the prescription of the infectious disease experts. Interestingly, two Republican governors took more restrictive action to slow the outbreak at the same time that the president was downplaying the possibility of a longer shutdown. Georgia’s Brian Kemp issued a shelter-in-place order for at-risk individuals, ordered the closure of bars and nightclubs, and banned public gatherings of more than 10 people. Florida’s Ron DeSantis issued an Executive Order quarantining visitors to the state who fly in from areas with “substantial community spread, to include the New York Tri-state area.”
Despite President Trump’s wishful thinking and assurances, the Coronavirus crisis will probably continue beyond the new few weeks. With a vaccine more than a year away, it is likely that the next few months will be marked by repeated local quarantines and stay-at-home orders as minor outbreaks flare up. The keys to containment will be rapid testing of suspected cases and a quick reaction to positives. The 14-day incubation period of the virus is inconvenient and costly, but long containment periods will be necessary to prevent another uncontained spread of the disease.
If President Trump doesn’t want to make sure that America follows the doctor’s orders, we are lucky that there are governors of both parties who take public health more seriously. Taking your medicine isn’t pleasant but it is the way to regain your health.