Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Rump and Pence Are Scrambling to Explain Away Coronavirus Spikes

Trump and Pence Are Scrambling to Explain Away Coronavirus Spikes

The vice president urged governors to chalk up a rise in COVID cases to ramped up testing, as the president mused about how the numbers would better if testing just stopped.

In a Monday meeting at the White House, Donald Trump offered up a bold strategy for eliminating COVID-19—simply don’t test for it. “If we stop testing right now,” he said, “we’d have very few cases, if any.” It was a classic Trump solution: appearing to fix the problem, in his mind, has always been precisely the same as fixing the problem itself. In the early days of the pandemic, he reportedly worriedthat the increased testing regime his health officials had been calling for would result in the unappealing discovery of more cases and hurt his reelection odds. The head-in-the-sand approach didn’t work so well then; the United States quickly became the epicenter of the crisis, close to 120,000 Americans have died in a matter of months, and the economy has been battered. And yet, as cases once again begin to rise in states across the country, the administration is continuing to downplay the situation—and is now asking local leaders to do the same.

Speaking to governors, Mike Pence echoed Trump’s line on testing, falsely claiming later Monday that new spikes in cases in states like Arizona, Florida, and Texas merely reflect ramped up testing—not the premature reopenings the administration cheered on. “I would just encourage you all, as we talk about these things, to make sure and continue to explain to your citizens the magnitude of increase in testing,” the vice president told governors on the call, according to the New York Times. “And that in most of the cases where we are seeing some marginal rise in number, that’s more a result of the extraordinary work you’re doing.” Insisting that growing rates of hospitalization are being driven primarily by Americans seeking elective surgeries and other treatments they’d put off, Pence urged the local leaders to sound an optimistic note when speaking to their constituents.

“Encourage people,” he said, “with the news that we are safely reopening the country.”

That characterization is far from the truth. Back in April, the White House issued a set of guidelines states had to meet to safely reopen businesses. Trump, however, encouraged states to reopen whether they’d met his own administration’s benchmarks or not, and a number of them followed suit — loosening restrictions that they were, in some cases, slow to impose in the first place. Many of those states are now seeing significant increases in confirmed cases and hospitalizations, with more than a dozen states experiencing a rise in infections following last month’s Memorial Day holiday. Just two states—Illinois and New York—were meeting federal guidelines when they began easing restrictions; those states are among a handful that have seen decreasing numbers of cases.

The lesson there would seem to be clear—that a more cautious approach to loosening social distancing measures is more effective in blunting the spread of the novel coronavirus, in the absence of a vaccine or proven treatment. “Illinois was the first state in the nation to meet the federal metrics laid out by the White House for reopening and right now is showing the largest decline in COVID cases,” Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s office said a statement. “The governor will continue to follow the science and data and rely on the public health experts when it comes to reopening the state.”

But the Trump administration is continuing to thumb its nose at the dangers of the virus, regarding the pandemic as if it’s already in the rearview. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told NPR on Tuesday that he hasn’t spoken to the president in two weeks. Trump has repeatedly suggested that any increases in cases would be mere “embers” that could be quickly and easily extinguished without further lockdowns, and next week will attempt to project a return to normal with an extremely ill-advised campaign rally in Tulsa, where supporters will have to agree not to sue him or the venue if they come down with coronavirus after attending the event.

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