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Trump's Trifecta

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We're in the middle of a slow-motion catastrophe. The consequence of disease, depression, and Donald. Here are a few thoughts about what we can do about this dire situation.

The Pandemic: The best summation of our current situation was written on April 18 by New York Times science and health reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr, "The Coronavirus in America: The Year Ahead." (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/18/health/coronavirus-america-future.html) "In truth, it is not clear to anyone where this crisis is leading us... Exactly how the pandemic will end depends in part on medical advances still to come. It will also depend on how individual Americans behave in the interim. If we scrupulously protect ourselves and our loved ones, more of us will live. If we underestimate the virus it will find us."

"Resolve to Save Lives, a public health advocacy group run by Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the former director of the C.D.C., has published detailed and strict criteria for when the economy can reopen... Reopening requires declining cases for 14 days, the tracing of 90 percent of contacts, an end to health care worker infections, recuperation places for mild cases and many other hard-to-reach goals." Donald Trump is not willing to apply these criteria and is pushing states to reopen early. Some Republican governors are obliging.

Donald McNeil noted: "[Recently, a science writer] analyzed Medicare and census data on age and obesity in states that recently resisted shutdowns and counties that voted Republican in 2016. He calculated that those voters could be 30 percent more likely to die of the virus."

McNeil does not believe that we will see a COVID-19 vaccine soon: "Dr. Fauci has repeatedly said that any effort to make a vaccine will take at least a year to 18 months.... All the experts familiar with vaccine production agreed that even that timeline was optimistic. Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccinologist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, noted that the record is four years, for the mumps vaccine."

This is the new normal. Until we have a vaccine -- or the equivalent -- we have to keep doing what we are doing despite what Donald Trump, and his lackeys, say. We have to continue to follow the advice of health professionals and scientists: shelter-in-place, minimize social contacts, and support polices that will lead to a rapid increase in testing and, hopefully, the discovery of a vaccine.

The Economy: Because of the COVID-19 pandemic the global economy has collapsed. There's debate about whether we are in a recession -- negative GDP growth for two quarters -- or a depression -- a more severe recession. For those who are out of work, or whose savings have been destroyed, these distinctions do not matter. What's important is recognition that we are in a financial emergency unlike anything we have experienced.

For the unemployed who are sheltering in place, there's a natural tendency to want to go back to work. Donald Trump has said, "We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself." Many of his followers believe him and nurture a belief that if they go back to work they will not contract COVID-19. (This has led to the premature opening of states such as Georgia.)

The problem with this position is that it flies in the face of grim reality: COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease with a grim mortality rate (6.9 percent worldwide). Not everyone who contracts COVID-19 gets sick but those that do often are very sick -- ask Chris Cuomo about his symptoms. (Those who get sick suffer from Hypoxia -- loss of oxygen in the body.)

Not only is COVID-19 very dangerous and contagious, but also many who get it do not develop symptoms -- perhaps 14 percent or more (https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2009316 ). That means that until we get widespread testing, we will not be able to identify the silent COVID-19 carriers in our community. (It's not sufficient to merely take someone's temperature to see if they are "sick" or not.)

Therefore, if folks go back to work early and do not maintain social distancing -- that is difficult to do in jobs like hair stylist or massage therapist or fitness instructor -- then they run the risk of spreading COVID-19 and making the situation worse.

There are no simple choices here. As long as Trump is President, we are likely to pursue unwise economic policies. Nobel-prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/22/top-economist-us-coronavirus-response-like-third-world-country-joseph-stiglitz-donald-trump?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other ) recently observed, ""If you leave it to Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell [the Republican Senate majority leader] we will have a Great Depression. If we had the right policy structure in place we could avoid it easily." Stiglitz noted, "14% of the [U.S.] population [is] dependent on food stamps... the social infrastructure [can] not cope with an unemployment rate that could hit 30% in the coming months."

What this means is that we have to both hunker down -- suffer through the impact of the depression -- and do everything we can to get Trump out of office (and elect a progressive Senate and House of Representatives). Trump is making a bad situation worse.

Donald Trump: We're way past the point where we hoped that Trump would grow into the job. What we see is what we're stuck with for the next nine months. Trump is incapable of the leadership this catastrophe requires.

It would be better if Trump retired from the scene and left the day-to-day decision making to Vice President Pence and congressional leaders. But, of course, Trump won't do this. He will continue to blunder around the oval office like the proverbial bull in the china shop.

Trump is dangerous. First we saw him deny that COVID-19 was a problem. Then we saw him claim that his Administration had everything under control. Next he claimed that "Anybody that wants a test [for the coronavirus] can get a test." Then we saw him push hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure...

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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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