Thursday, April 9, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got a little confused about how infectious disease works.

Two weeks ago Trump said he expected to see "packed churches" this Easter Sunday, at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak in many places. After a few days, experts talked him down from that ledge, leading his handlers to claim that it was merely an "aspirational" thought.

As Trump briefly seemed to understand, there are only three ways that large public gatherings can resume without risking the lives of millions of Americans: 
  1. When most Americans have immunity to COVID-19 because they have already been infected and recovered. This is known as "herd immunity." The goal of "flattening the curve" is to keep sick people from overwhelming hospitals while the disease spreads. But most Americans have not yet caught the disease.
  2. When a proven vaccine is available and widely distributed. No such vaccine exists, and one is not expected for at over a year.
  3. When massive, widespread, rapid-response testing is available everywhere people congregate. This would allow public health officials to identify and quarantine specific areas and individuals before they showed symptoms.
Anything else would simply recreate the same conditions that started the outbreak in the first place—except with hundreds of thousands of potential carriers instead of just a few.

Trump has occasionally insisted—and may actually believe—that "everyone who wants a test can get one." In the real world, unless you are Trump himself or someone Trump thinks might have exposed him to the virus, it is extremely difficult to get tested even if you are showing symptoms. The rapid-response tests are even rarer in the United States, although they have allowed South Korea to partially reopen.

Today, Trump—who is desperate for good economic news to save his chances at re-election—said that the United States was "going to be opening up... very, very, very, very soon." Leaks from within the White House say Trump is privately demanding that normal routine starts by May 1.

What little federal support for testing currently exists will expire tomorrow

Why should I care about this?

  • The health and safety of Americans is more important than Donald Trump's political needs.
  • Presidents don't have to be doctors or an epidemiologists, but if they can't remember basic facts about how contagious diseases work, they aren't competent to hold office.