Covid in the US: a crisis of leadership

 “When did America start losing its war against the coronavirus,” asked Paul Krugman in The New York Times. How did we find ourselves “pariahs, not even allowed to travel to Europe”? The turning point, I’d argue, was back in April, when President Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MINNESOTA”, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA” – messages of support to protesters demanding an end to the lockdowns, which were imposed to bring the virus under control. As it happens, the Democratic governors Trump was targeting stood firm, but the Republican governors of Arizona, Texas and Florida soon lifted their stay-at-home orders and business restrictions. And those states are now at the forefront of a huge surge in infections. The US is currently averaging nearly 50,000 reported new cases every day; the overall tally is more than three million; the death toll is the highest in the world. Why has this happened? Because the president wanted to reopen the economy fast, so he could “boast” about big job gains at November’s election. “Actually, dealing with the pandemic just wasn’t Trump’s kind of thing.”

There’s been a lot of talk about the upsurge in cases, said Michael Thau on the RedState blog – and much less about the falling death rate. In April, 2,000 Americans were dying per day.

On 4 July, that fell to 254, the lowest since 23 March. The evidence suggests “the worst is over”. The rise in infections may actually be good news, said Gerard Baker in The Times – “proof that the disease is less deadly than feared”. More people are being tested, which of course raises the case numbers, and the virus now seems to be spreading fast among younger and less vulnerable people. Around 40% of the 130,000 US deaths from the virus have been in care homes. But Florida and Texas have managed to isolate the elderly. If you can protect the vulnerable, then shutting down “entire economies” isn’t necessary.

Maybe, said Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. But you don’t have to die of the disease to suffer from it: Trump claimed last week that 99% of Covid cases are “totally harmless”, which was a lie; some 20% of cases are hospitalised. “Second, allowing the exponential spread of a disease will eventually make protecting the vulnerable an impossible task.” At this rate, three million infections could become ten million infections. Deaths lag behind infections; even with a low fatality rate, we could see half a million dead. And Trump’s policy? He said last week that he hoped the virus would simply “disappear”. At this crucial time, the leadership of the United States is “vacant”.