Trump’s reopening push at odds with new 100K death toll prediction, new draft projections by JORDYN PHELPS and BEN GITTLESON•As President Donald Trump for the second time in two weeks conceded his prior COVID-19 death toll projections have proven too optimistic, draft government projections forecast steadily growing rates of deaths and cases even while the president presses to reopen the country.Trump on Sunday again revised upward his estimate of how many Americans will die from the coronavirus — now saying it could be as many as 100,000 people — even as he sought to take credit for the estimate not being worse than it is.“We’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people. That’s a horrible thing,” Trump acknowledged in a Fox News town hall. “We shouldn’t lose one person over this. This should have been stopped in China. It should have been stopped. But, If we didn’t do it, the minimum we would have lost is a million, two million, four million five. That’s the minimum. We would have lost probably higher than, it’s possible, higher than 2.2.” He was referring to an estimate, endorsed by the White House, that 2.2 million Americans would die without any social distancing or other mitigation, compared to a much smaller number if precautions were taken.
Tune into ABC at 1 p.m. ET and ABC News Live at 4 p.m. ET every weekday for special coverage of the novel coronavirus with the full ABC News team, including the latest news, context and analysis.Just last Monday, the president had said he expected 60,000 to 70,000 deaths.“If you look at what original projections were — 2.2 million, we are probably heading to 60,000-70,000,” Trump said. „It’s far too many. One person is too many for this. And I think we’ve made a lot of really good decisions.”But one week later, the president’s estimate is on track to be surpassed, with the current death toll now at more than 67,000 and climbing by the day.On Monday, The New York Times published a draft document that projected a constant rise in daily rates of coronavirus cases and deaths throughout May.The document warned that if social distancing was lifted too early that the United States would see about 200,000 new cases and 3,000 deaths per day by June 1 – eight times and nearly double the current rates, respectively – and was based on “preliminary analyses” that researchers at Johns Hopkins University had provided to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its consideration.”These preliminary analyses were provided to FEMA to aid in scenario planning—not to be used as forecasts—and the version published is not a final version,” the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said in a statement. „These preliminary results are not forecasts, and it is not accurate to present them as forecasts.”
The White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not endorse the document’s conclusions; the White House said other federal agencies had not properly vetted it.
„This data is not reflective of any of the modeling done by the task force or data that the task force has analyzed,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said in a statement.
Late last week, the CDC predicted the COVID-19 death rate in the United States would rise, although it did not provide specific numbers.
„National-level forecasts continue to indicate that deaths are likely to rise in the coming weeks,” it said in an update posted to its website on Friday.
It was just two weeks ago, on April 20, that Trump said he didn’t anticipate the death toll to surpass 60,000.
“We’re going toward 50- or 60,000 people. That’s at the lower — as you know, the low number was supposed to be 100,000 people. We — we could end up at 50 to 60. Okay? It’s horrible,” Trump said.
In late March, Trump and the White House coronavirus task force said their modeling suggested 100,000 to 240,000 would die in the U.S. even with aggressive social distancing measures in place across much of the country. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said Sunday that estimate remained in place even though the president’s own public projections have proven prone to fluctuation.
“Our projections have always been between 100,000 and 240,000 American lives lost, and that’s with full mitigation and us learning from each other of how to social distance,” Birx said in an interview with „Fox News Sunday.”
Trump has also changed his frame of reference for the virus. Initially, he repeatedly compared it to the 2009-2010 H1N1 pandemic, which killed an estimated 12,469 Americans; but then, when the coronvirus’s death toll jumped higher, he took to juxtaposing it with the 1918 influenza pandemic that left around 675,000 Americans dead.
The president’s shifting assessments of the public health crisis come as he seeks to redirect focus toward the economic reopening of the country, assuring the country that “you can satisfy both” public health and economic concerns in staking out a path for the country to resume more normal economic functions into the summer, even as the virus is expected to persist.
From the start, he has tried to downplay concerns over the coronavirus’s impact, seeking to allay fears as he seeks re-election. In late February, he predicted the number of cases in the United States „within a couple days is going to be down to close to zero.”
“I really believe you can go to parks, you can go to beaches, you keep it — you know, keep the spread, you keep — you stay away a certain amount,” Trump said, crediting the public for doing an “incredible” job in social distancing. “That’s one of the reasons — if you call losing 80 or 90,000 people successful, but it’s one of the reasons that we’re not at that high end of the plane as opposed to the low end of the plane.”
But while the president speaks of striking the right balance in championing a resumption of normal life, he does so from the sidelines, since he has left state and local authorities in control of making their own decisions.
The president has been critical of strict measures adopted by Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and has sought to sympathize with demonstrators who have protested stay-at-home orders across the country.
“I think a lot of people want to go back. They just want to go back. You see it every day. You see demonstrations all over the country and those are meaningful demonstrations,” Trump said.
But Birx has struck a far more somber tone in response to demonstrations like those in Michigan, where hundreds crowded into the Capitol building, some without masks and still others carrying weapons, warning that their actions could have deadly consequences.
“It’s devastatingly worrisome to me personally, because if they go home and infect their grandmother or their grandfather who has a comorbid condition and they have a serious or an unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of our lives,” Birx said.
As the president calls for the country to get back to work, he too is set to resume some sense of normalcy with the resumption of official travel.
On Tuesday, Trump is set to travel to Phoenix, Arizona, to tour a Honeywell plant that has employed 500 people to manufacture N95 masks that have been in short supply and serve as a critical piece of personal protective gear for frontline healthcare workers.
The president traveled to Camp David this past weekend, but prior to that, hadn’t set foot of the White House grounds since March 28, when he traveled to Norfolk, Virginia, to see off a military hospital ship bound for New York City.
ABC News’ Anne Flaherty contributed reporting.
What to know about coronavirus:
- How it started and how to protect yourself: coronavirus explained
- What to do if you have symptoms: coronavirus symptoms
- Tracking the spread in the US and Worldwide: coronavirus map
WASHINGTON — As the country copes with the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans are following social distancing guidelines from the White House coronavirus task force to slow the spread of the infection: staying 6 feet away from other people, avoiding large gatherings and wearing masks or cloth face coverings.
But inside the White House, many of these rules are not being observed. There are regularly large events with unmasked attendees in close quarters — including inside the Oval Office, where some people have been allowed to enter without wearing masks or taking tests for the virus.
Asked about the steps being taken to guard against the spread of the virus, White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said, “The President’s physician and White House Operations have been working closely to ensure every precaution is taken to keep the president, first family and the entire White House complex safe and healthy at all times.
“Those in close proximity to the president and vice president are being tested for COVID-19. Temperature checks are occurring for all those entering the complex as well as an additional temperature check for those in close proximity to the president and vice president,” Deere said.
Temperature checks are indeed being conducted at multiple points in the White House complex. And some people who come close to the president have been given rapid coronavirus tests. Last week the governors of Florida and New Jersey came to the White House and met with President Trump in the Oval Office. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he was tested before the meeting. And a source who came with one of the visiting governors said staffers from the state delegation were also tested. While this testing regimen has been described as a “cocoon of safety,” there are clear holes in the system.
Not everyone who goes inside the Oval Office, the president’s inner sanctum and one of the most secure spaces in the West Wing, is being tested. For both governors’ visits, a pack of pool reporters and cameramen were brought in. Though their temperatures were rechecked before they entered Trump’s office, the press pool, which stood feet away from the president, the governors and staff, were not given tests. And in the crowded confines of Oval Office press scrums, while Trump sits apart from most of the crowds, the 6-foot distancing rule is not observed, with reporters and top officials packed close together.
Dr. Kavita Patel is a primary care physician who worked in the administration of President Barack Obama as director of policy for the White House’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement. Patel, who is a contributor to Yahoo’s coverage of COVID-19, said she believes the partial testing for those in the White House complex is not sufficient.
“Having worked in the White House, there’s a ton of people that come in and out of there, and they touch things,” Patel said. “So, unless you are literally testing every individual and then following up … even with wiping down those surfaces every night, it’s not foolproof.”
Patel noted that someone exposed to the virus could test negative because they had been in an early “incubation period where the test doesn’t pick it up.” Overall, she described the protocols at the White House as “not adequate enough.”
“I work in a clinic. It’s not safe enough for us in a clinic. Why would we have an even lower standard in the White House, of all places, just given the importance of … obviously the commander in chief, but think of all the other officials, Cabinet members, etc., going in and out. It’s an incredible risk,” Patel said.
Patel said she sees the White House in the “same vein” as a hospital where critical medical personnel are working during the pandemic. She argued that the White House should have a similar protocol to the standard set for “critical hospitals,” including testing for everyone in the complex, “universal masking” and more accurate infrared scans for temperature checks rather than just thermometers.
Reporters at the White House were tested for the coronavirus on April 9 in response to a suspected case in the press corps. The testing protocol did not continue beyond that. There have been three suspected cases of the coronavirus among members of the press corps who have been to the White House, though two tested negative.
Basic social distancing and face covering guidelines are not being followed by many at the White House. Trump himself regularly appears at briefings and other events unmasked and with other officials standing close by his side. At a press briefing on April 3, the day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its recommendation on face coverings, Trump was asked why he was not wearing a mask.
“I just don’t want to wear one myself. It’s a recommendation. … I’m feeling good,” Trump said, adding, “I don’t know, somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute desk … I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens … I don’t see it for myself.”
While the CDC guidelines are indeed a recommendation without legal force, they are not dependent on whether someone feels sick or not. They specifically note that the virus, which has killed more than 67,000 people in the U.S. so far, can be spread by those who “are not exhibiting symptoms.” The mask recommendation, staying 6 feet apart and the prohibitions on large gatherings are aimed at “slowing the spread of the virus.”
“This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity — for example, speaking, coughing or sneezing — even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms,” the guidelines say.
And Trump isn’t the only one who isn’t wearing a mask at the White House. Masks are not mandatory in the complex, and on multiple visits last week there were staffers, members of the Secret Service and the press who were not wearing them. Asked about the lack of masks, Deere echoed the president’s characterization of the CDC guidelines as a recommendation.
“Per the CDC guidelines, the use of nonmedical face coverings is a voluntary measure. Face coverings are not required, but staff and press are welcome to follow that guidance,” Deere said.
Deere referred questions about Secret Service agents not wearing masks to that agency. Secret Service spokeswoman Justine Whelan responded to a question about why Secret Service agents and officers are not all wearing masks with a statement saying the agency is “working with all of our public safety partners and the White House Medical Unit to ensure the safety and security of both our protected persons and our employees.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on whether any staffers at the complex have tested positive for the virus. Whelan declined to answer a question about how many members of the Secret Service have been diagnosed.
“To protect the privacy of our employees’ health information and for operational security, the Secret Service is not releasing how many of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19, nor how many of its employees were, or currently are, quarantined,” she said.
The White House Correspondents’ Association, which runs the press pool, has taken steps to minimize exposure to the press corps, including implementing a restricted rotation that allows for extra space in the briefing room and fewer people in the Oval Office. However, the Trump administration has repeatedly invited Chanel Rion, a reporter for the pro-Trump One America News network, to come into the briefing room for events in defiance of the limits the Correspondents’ Association has attempted to impose.
And access to the White House has even been expanded. Trump shifted away from his coronavirus task force press conferences in the White House briefing room in the past week and held two events in the East Room. Those events included unmasked guests whose seats were spaced. But behind them, reporters and cameramen who are part of the rotation that goes into the Oval Office for events were packed in nearly shoulder to shoulder.
The White House’s lax attitude toward masks and social distancing comes as there has been a stark partisan divide when it comes to coronavirus precautions. Conservative pundits and protesters have balked at the lockdowns in many states and suggested that normal activity must resume to avoid further economic damage. On Capitol Hill, as Congress has implemented revised procedures for safety, a group of Republican members pointedly refused to wear masks. Trump has suggested there is enough testing capacity for Congress to operate safely and has repeatedly admonished Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for not reconvening.
“There is tremendous CoronaVirus testing capacity in Washington for the Senators returning to Capital Hill on Monday. Likewise the House, which should return but isn’t because of Crazy Nancy P.,” the president tweeted on Saturday.
Patel, the doctor who worked in the Obama administration, said that in addition to the concerns about the physical safety of Trump and other officials, it is important for the White House to model best practices in order to encourage the public to follow suit.
“It’s actually the symbolic nature of what it is for America. It’s clear in our country, we’re not comfortable wearing masks. … We’re not Asia. It’s not something we do,” she said, adding that “at a minimum” she would like to see the health professionals who appear with Trump at events wearing masks and maintaining proper distance.
The White House’s casual attitude toward masks also made headlines on April 28 when Vice President Mike Pence visited the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Pence did not wear a mask even though it is clinic policy for everyone in the building to wear one. His staff had been informed of the policy. After his visit, Pence said he did not need to wear a mask.
“As vice president of the United States I’m tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus,” he said.
However, on April 30, when Pence toured a General Motors facility in Indiana, he opted to wear a mask. Yahoo News asked the vice president’s office if he would be wearing masks going forward. An official responded that his decision to wear a mask was due to General Motors policy and indicated it might not be necessary for Pence to wear one in the future.
“Vice President Pence respects the GM policy, but the face covering guidelines were intended to prevent asymptotic [sic] spread,” the official said in an email. “Vice President Pence is continually tested to ensure he is negative and remains healthy.”
ATLANTA — As the nation edges away from lockdown and people once again share public spaces in the middle of a pandemic, wearing a face mask — or refusing to — has become a flash point in a moment when civic rules are being rewritten, seemingly on the fly.
The result has been dirty looks, angry words, raw emotions and, at times, confrontations that have escalated into violence.
In Flint, Michigan, a security guard at a Family Dollar store was fatally shot on Friday afternoon after an altercation that the guard’s wife told The New York Times had occurred over a customer refusing to wear a face covering, which is required in Michigan in any enclosed public space.
Police officials declined to comment on details of the case but are still looking for the suspect, who fled. The family of the victim held a vigil on Sunday night with cars lining up around the store where the shooting took place. A news conference was planned for Monday.
In Stillwater, Oklahoma, an emergency proclamation mandating face coverings led to so much verbal abuse in its first three hours on Friday — and a threat involving a gun — that officials swiftly amended it. Masks became encouraged, not required.
“The city of Stillwater has attempted to keep people safe by the simple requirement to wear a face covering to protect others,” Norman McNickle, Stillwater’s city manager, said in a statement posted on the city’s website. “It is unfortunate and distressing that those who refuse and threaten violence are so self-absorbed as to not follow what is a simple show of respect and kindness to others.”
The decision not to wear a mask has, for some, become a rebellion against what they regard as an incursion on their personal liberties. For many others, the choice is a casual one more about convenience than politics. The choice can also be a reflection of vanity, or of not understanding when or where to wear one. Some people said they found masks uncomfortable, and thus a nuisance they were unwilling to tolerate. Others were skeptical how much difference they made outside on a sunny day.
“I hate it,” groused Ammiel Richards, 27, who said that he had twice been ejected from New York City buses for not wearing a mask.
But public health experts have reacted in horror both at the sight of public places where people have crowded without masks, and at demonstrations, like those in Michigan and California, where protesters without masks have been jammed together and at times yelled in the faces of police officers. Experts described wearing a face covering as a considerate act meant more to protect others than the person wearing it.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coordinator for the coronavirus task force, said she was alarmed at the sight of protesters huddled together without masks, such as those at the Michigan state Capitol this week.
“It’s devastatingly worrisome to me personally,” Birx said on “Fox News Sunday,” “because if they go home and infect their grandmother or their grandfather who has a co-morbid condition, and they have a serious or unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of our lives.”
“We need to protect each other,” she went on, “at the same time we’re voicing our discontent.”
Even as governors imposed orders and public health experts dispensed their professional guidance, the effort to thwart the coronavirus nevertheless amounted to a grand national experiment in cooperation that hinged on the individual decisions of millions.
Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio had included a face-covering mandate as part of plans to reopen businesses, but he changed course. “It became clear to me that that was just a bridge too far,” DeWine, a Republican, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “People were not going to accept the government telling them what to do.”
As many states have moved toward reopening but have also set their own pace in doing so, an elaborate patchwork of orders and restrictions has emerged that differs from state to state, even municipality to municipality.
Those guidelines vary just as much with masks, which public health officials have encouraged people to wear, along with adhering to social distancing measures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises the “use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.”
The shift toward reopening businesses reflects a larger recalibration in the balance that officials have tried to strike between aggressively curbing the virus and avoiding further economic devastation.
“We have a public health crisis in this country, there’s no doubt about it,” Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi said in an appearance this week on “Fox News Sunday.” “But we also have an economic crisis.”
Polls have found broad public support for stay-at-home measures, with many Americans willing to accept a trade-off of lost wages, disrupted routines and an incalculable series of inconveniences to curb the virus. Public health experts expressed concern that easing restrictions could lead to a second, worse wave of the pandemic and weaken the nation’s vigilance.
Indeed, as many spilled outside, officials acknowledged a sense of restlessness as the measures dragged on.
“It’s painful,” Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey, who also appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” said of the frustration over the isolation, noting it as a factor in his decision to allow parks to open statewide. “This stay-at-home reality has been with us for many, many weeks.”
Rafael Palma, 43, does not wear a mask, and he and his wife, a health worker, have been going out in public and to church. They also participated in a protest this weekend in Sacramento to push California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, to reopen more of the state.
“It’s not like I’m hugging people and kissing them or anything like that,” he said.
He said guidelines were confusing, pointing to earlier guidance that masks should be reserved for health care workers and could only protect those who had the virus from spreading it. “People argue that we’re careless and not thinking about others — that we’re spreading the disease,” Palma said. “But in order to do that, you have to have it.”
Public health experts note that people can be infected and spread the disease without showing any symptoms or being aware they have it.
Elsa Aldeguer waved a Trump flag as she gathered with others protesting in Huntington Beach, California. The economy, she said, was the genuine crisis. She said the pandemic had claimed her job as a home health worker.
“I’m sure the virus is real,” Aldeguer, 46, said, but she also contended that the danger it posed had been overblown. “Why do we have the beaches closed?” she said. “Why the parks? This is like a punishment to us. We the people need these things to keep our sanity.”
The allure of pleasant weather in much of the country on Sunday drew many people from their isolation to beaches, parks, walking trails or anywhere else that was not their home.
In Brooklyn, most of the people spending the afternoon in Prospect Park wore masks. Others had them — but they were pulled down to their chin, or in their hands for strategic deployment.
Along a segment of Atlanta’s BeltLine, a walking and biking trail cutting through the city, David Johnson wore a colorful masked pulled up to his nose as he rode his bike. He noticed that it looked like more people had their faces covered. “People give you the stink eye if you don’t have a mask on,” he said.
Still, that was not enough of a deterrent, it seemed, for the many others without one.
Jay Sokloski sipped beer with a friend on the outskirts of the BeltLine and said he did not feel comfortable in a mask, nor entirely see the need for one.
“I just don’t see the big thing about it,” he said. “If I were riding an elevator for 12 hours a day with people coughing and sneezing, I’d probably feel different. But we’re outside, so it’s fine with me.”
In Huntington Beach, Colin Abbo said he would put on a mask in the grocery store or in a crowded space. But his effort, he admitted, had not been consistent.
“I shared my joint the other day with a buddy, so I haven’t been the best at it,” Abbo said. “I guess I’ll just give all my friends the benefit of the doubt.”
Rosana Lashlay, 60, was much more vigilant. “It’s very important to use the mask,” Lashlay, a teacher who lives in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, said on Sunday afternoon.
It was only in “special” moments when she left her face bare, she said, such as that one as she sat in Prospect Park safely separated from others and tried to clear her mind and meditate.
“Sometimes,” she said, “I need to take it off to feel the air.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
© 2020 The New York Times Company
I told Laurie Garrett that she might as well change her name to Cassandra. Everyone is calling her that anyway.
She and I were Zooming — that’s a verb now, right? — and she pulled out a 2017 book, “Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes.” It notes that Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, was prescient not only about the impact of HIV but also about the emergence and global spread of more contagious pathogens.
“I’m a double Cassandra,” Garrett said.
She’s also prominently mentioned in a recent Vanity Fair article by David Ewing Duncan about “the Coronavirus Cassandras.”
Cassandra, of course, was the Greek prophetess doomed to issue unheeded warnings. What Garrett has been warning most direly about — in her 1994 bestseller, “The Coming Plague,” and in subsequent books and speeches, including TED Talks — is a pandemic like the current one.
She saw it coming. So a big part of what I wanted to ask her about was what she sees coming next. Steady yourself. Her crystal ball is dark.
Despite the stock market’s swoon for it, remdesivir probably isn’t our ticket out, she told me. “It’s not curative,” she said, pointing out that the strongest claims so far are that it merely shortens the recovery of COVID-19 patients. “We need either a cure or a vaccine.”
But she can’t envision that vaccine anytime in the next year, while COVID-19 will remain a crisis much longer than that.
“I’ve been telling everybody that my event horizon is about 36 months, and that’s my best-case scenario,” she said.
“I’m quite certain that this is going to go in waves,” she added. “It won’t be a tsunami that comes across America all at once and then retreats all at once. It will be micro-waves that shoot up in Des Moines and then in New Orleans and then in Houston and so on, and it’s going to affect how people think about all kinds of things.”
They’ll reevaluate the importance of travel. They’ll reassess their use of mass transit. They’ll revisit the need for face-to-face business meetings. They’ll reappraise having their kids go to college out of state.
So, I asked, is “back to normal,” a phrase that so many people cling to, a fantasy?
“This is history right in front of us,” Garrett said. “Did we go ‘back to normal’ after 9/11? No. We created a whole new normal. We securitized the United States. We turned into an anti-terror state. And it affected everything. We couldn’t go into a building without showing ID and walking through a metal detector, and couldn’t get on airplanes the same way ever again. That’s what’s going to happen with this.”
Not the metal detectors, but a seismic shift in what we expect, in what we endure, in how we adapt.
Maybe in political engagement, too, Garrett said.
If America enters the next wave of coronavirus infections “with the wealthy having gotten somehow wealthier off this pandemic by hedging, by shorting, by doing all the nasty things that they do, and we come out of our rabbit holes and realize, ‘Oh, my God, it’s not just that everyone I love is unemployed or underemployed and can’t make their maintenance or their mortgage payments or their rent payments, but now all of a sudden those jerks that were flying around in private helicopters are now flying on private personal jets, and they own an island that they go to, and they don’t care whether or not our streets are safe,’ then I think we could have massive political disruption.
“Just as we come out of our holes and see what 25% unemployment looks like,” she said, “we may also see what collective rage looks like.”
Garrett has been on my radar since the early 1990s, when she worked for Newsday and did some of the best reporting anywhere on AIDS. Her Pulitzer, in 1996, was for coverage of Ebola in Zaire. She has been a fellow at Harvard’s School of Public Health, was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and consulted on the 2011 movie “Contagion.”
Her expertise, in other words, has long been in demand. But not like now.
Each morning when she opens her email, “there’s the Argentina request, Hong Kong request, Taiwan request, South Africa request, Morocco, Turkey,” she told me. “Not to mention all of the American requests.” It made me feel bad about taking more than an hour of her time on April 27. But not so bad that I didn’t cadge another 30 minutes on April 30.
She said she wasn’t surprised that a coronavirus wrought this devastation, that China minimized what was going on or that the response in many places was sloppy and sluggish. She’s Cassandra, after all.
But there is one part of the story she couldn’t have predicted: that the paragon of sloppiness and sluggishness would be the United States.
“I never imagined that,” she said. “Ever.”
The highlights — or, rather, lowlights — include President Donald Trump’s initial acceptance of the assurances by President Xi Jinping of China that all would be well; his scandalous complacency from late January through early March; his cheerleading for unproven treatments; his musings about cockamamie ones; his abdication of muscular federal guidance for the states; and his failure, even now, to sketch out a detailed, long-range strategy for containing the coronavirus.
Having long followed Garrett’s work, I can attest that it’s not driven by partisanship. She praised George W. Bush for fighting HIV in Africa.
But she called Trump “the most incompetent, foolhardy buffoon imaginable.”
And she’s shocked that America isn’t in a position to lead the global response to this crisis, in part because science and scientists have been so degraded under Trump.
Referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and its analogues abroad, she told me, “I’ve heard from every CDC in the world — the European CDC, the African CDC, China CDC — and they say, ‘Normally, our first call is to Atlanta, but we ain’t hearing back.’ There’s nothing going on down there. They’ve gutted that place. They’ve gagged that place. I can’t get calls returned anymore. Nobody down there is feeling like it’s safe to talk. Have you even seen anything important and vital coming out of the CDC?”
The problem, Garrett added, is bigger than Trump and older than his presidency. America has never been sufficiently invested in public health. The riches and renown go mostly to physicians who find new and better ways to treat heart disease, cancer and the like. The big political conversation is about individuals’ access to health care.
But what about the work to keep our air and water safe for everyone; to design policies and systems for quickly detecting outbreaks, containing them and protecting entire populations? Where are the rewards for the architects of that?
Garrett recounted her time at Harvard. “The medical school is all marble, with these grand columns,” she said. “The school of public health is this funky building, the ugliest possible architecture, with the ceilings falling in.”
“That’s America?” I asked.
“That’s America,” she said.
And what America needs most right now, she said, isn’t this drumbeat of testing, testing, testing, because there will never be enough superfast, superreliable tests to determine on the spot who can safely enter a crowded workplace or venue, which is the scenario that some people seem to have in mind. America needs good information, from many rigorously designed studies, about the prevalence and deadliness of coronavirus infections in given subsets of people so that governors and mayors can develop rules for social distancing and reopening that are sensible, sustainable and tailored to the situation at hand.
America needs a federal government that assertively promotes and helps to coordinate that, not one in which experts like Tony Fauci and Deborah Birx tiptoe around a president’s tender ego.
“I can sit here with you for three hours listing — boom, boom, boom — what good leadership would look like and how many more lives would be saved if we followed that path, and it’s just incredibly upsetting,” Garrett said. “I feel like I’m just coming out of maybe three weeks of being in a funk because of the profound disappointment that there’s not a whisper of it.”
Instead of that whisper, she hears wailing: the sirens of ambulances carrying coronavirus patients to hospitals near her apartment in Brooklyn Heights, New York, where she has been home alone, in lockdown, since early March. “If I don’t get hugged soon, I’m going to go bananas,” she told me. “I’m desperate to be hugged.”
Me, too. Especially after her omens.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
© 2020 New York Times News Service