Sunday, May 10, 2020

America's Grand Experiment

                                                                                                  written 3 May 2020
                                                                                            published 10 May 2020

            Last week I was in communication with a friend who expressed the opinion that humans don't deserve to survive.  While I don't agree, it isn't hard to find justification for that perspective.  
            What can you say about Trump's suggestion, during a press briefing on COVID-19, that people might drink or inject bleach to cure coronavirus?  This kind of comment can get his gullible followers killed.  The next day he tried to walk it back as a joke, but poison control hotlines got increased calls and the manufactures of Lysol and Clorox put out special notices saying their products were NOT meant for internal use. His crass disregard is reflected in other recent policies.
            Everyone wants the economy running again, but people also want to minimize the risk to themselves, their families, and to the health care system they may need.  Trump knows that a bad economy makes his re-election more difficult, so he is rushing to "reopen America".  In the Guardian, Robert Reich summarized Trump's plan, which prioritizes economic coercion over medical realities.       
            "Step 1: Remove income support, so people have no choice but to return to work.  Trump’s labor department has decided that furloughed employees “must accept” an employer’s offer to return to work or forfeit unemployment benefits, regardless of Covid-19."
            "Step 2: Hide the facts.  No one knows how many Americans are infected because the Trump administration continues to drag its heels on testing.  Dr. Fauci, the administration’s leading infectious disease expert, warns that reopening poses a significant risk without more testing. The White House has blocked Fauci from testifying before the House."
            "Step 3: Pretend it’s about “freedom”.  Weeks ago, Trump called on citizens to “LIBERATE” states with strict stay-at-home rules.  Attorney general William Barr has directed the justice department to take legal action against any state or local authorities imposing lockdown measures."
            "Step 4: Shield businesses against lawsuits for spreading the infection.  The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, insists that proposed legislation giving state and local governments funding they desperately need must include legal immunity for corporations that cause workers or consumers to become infected."
            Trump activated the Defense Production Act on March 27th, giving him emergency powers.  He refuses to use this power to organize increased production of test kits or personal protection equipment, despite ongoing shortages of these essential materials.  But last week he prohibited the public health closures of meat processing facilities, overriding governors and health officials.  Center for Disease Control reports, defining specific deficiencies in the plant design, were weakened from mandatory changes to simple suggestions.  Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which can also demand workplace changes, has refused to step in.  The irony is that these plants are in the heart of Trump supporting states.
            America is beginning a grand experiment: will the expected economic profits of rushing to renew economic activity justify the increased deaths and public health costs?  
            I am writing this on the third of May.  As of noon today, Johns Hopkins University site lists total cases in America at 1,148,004, with a daily increase of 30,025, and total deaths of 68,489 (more deaths in 2 months than in 11 years in Vietnam) for a death rate of 5.8%.  These numbers are probably an undercount.  America has administered over 7 million tests so far, only 2% of the population, but health experts estimate that we must test 5-10 million people every day to know where the virus is.  With renewed social activity and inadequate testing, the virus will spread undetected and a week or two from now newly infected people will begin to hit the hospitals and death rates will increase. 
            Our lack of coordinated national response, combined with inadequate testing, has allowed US daily infection rates to steadily average 30,000 since April 1st, while other countries show sharp peaks, which then decline toward zero.  We have 4% of the world population, and 33% of the cases with no sign of decreasing intensity.  Republicans have long favored profits over people, forgetting that it is people who make up the society and support the economy.  This pandemic, taking place under the "leadership" of a president least suited to the task, will change the US for decades.  I don't think Trump intends to destroy America, that is just collateral damage.