As America emerges from COVID-19 and States reopen wholesale or by county, shadows are giving way to sunlight, furrowed brows to smiles, and reality is returning. Four facts define this moment, and they are encouraging – not discouraging.
First, the tipping point has come – and many medical professionals acknowledge it. The downside of shelter-in-pace, stay-at-home policies – which has necessarily translated into no work, no pay, and closed businesses – appears to be overtaking risks of interaction.
In other words, the personal, community, and societal costs of forced inaction and concentrated social confinement – including elevated drug, alcohol, child and spousal abuse, stress-related heart attacks and strokes, postponed cancer treatments and surgery, second-order consequences of delayed elective surgery, diagnosis and medical response, and even elevated crime in many cities – increasingly seems to outweigh shrinking risk of new COVID-19 deaths, at least before the recent spate of early June, close-up protests.
In some places, including cities and suburbia, masks and social distancing remain a precaution, if not commercially or legally required, but use for outdoor recreation, in commerce, and certain community engagements is tapering.
While guidance from the medical community – including CDC – has fluctuated and at times been contradictory, a consensus before June’s protests was that cost-benefit analysis augured for reopening.
On the numbers, more than 50 percent of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in one percent of US counties, which encompass roughly 15 percent of the population; more than 50 percent of counties have had no deaths. While facts continue to change, a tipping point is here.
Second, while mutual recrimination surrounding management of this Chinese-origin pandemic may endure as a political issue, the pendulum appears to be swinging away from making COVID-19 deaths the daily news lead.
The inference is that, barring spikes from no-mask-no-distance protests across the US, this pandemic is in retreat, deaths down in most states, testing available, citizen self-interest superseding government mandates. That too is good news.
Third, as increasingly reported by those reviewing numbers, more medical professionals “are crediting the Trump administration’s early, much-criticized virus response with saving lives,” and “keeping the pandemic’s death toll from becoming even worse.” See: https://www.newsmax.com/newsfront/pandemic-task-force-deaths-projection/2020/05/27/id/969321/?ns_mail_uid=7d360df5-f282-4321-9558-aa1a876b533c&ns_mail_job=DM114535_05282020&s=acs&dkt_nbr=010104rxzza2
Numbers are telling a story that mainstream media does not appear interested in reporting. While more than 101,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, roughly a quarter were in nursing homes. These deaths accelerated when governors relocated COVID-19 patients into nursing homes – often over local objections.
Mortality numbers – in review – appear to demonstrate that President Trump’s focused, fast, consistent, and undeterred resolve in frontally addressing the virus – may have saved an inordinate number of American lives.
For context, annually America loses more than 635,000 to heart disease, 598,000 to cancer, 161,000 to accidents, 154,00 to chronic lower respiratory infections (prior to COVID-19), 142,000 to stroke, 80,000 to diabetes, 51,000 to the flu (and flu-related pneumonia), 70,000 to drug abuse, 50,000 to kidney disease, 45,000 to suicide, 39,000 to septicemia, and 38,000 to chronic liver disease. Like COVID-19, these diseases are discoverable, preventable, and treatable.
On the infectious disease front, globally we lose 1.5 million annually to tuberculosis, while 140 million get dysentery and 1.5 million die of diarrheal diseases. Fully 228 million contract malaria, more than 400,000 dying, and 36 million acquire HIV annually, 1.1 million dying.
In short, the impact of COVID-19 is significant but – as questions surface related to death certificates (e.g. Colorado reduced deaths from COVID-19) and forced concentrations in nursing homes – worth reviewing.
Objective reporting is tainted with spin, making death counts presidential policy, regardless of contradictory medical and death certificate data, gubernatorial missteps, and public actions. Yet as Newsmax observed, “what is notable is how much drastically worse the early projections were, reflecting what could have happened had federal and state governments failed to act.”
For example, early projections by the Imperial College of London predicted the virus killing 2.2 million Americans, and NIH’s infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci projected a possible 1.5 million American death count. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s model projected up to 240,000 deaths, a number now revised downward by 40 percent.
In short, for all the critics’ crowing, President Trump’s swift action closing flights from China, then Europe, then US borders for non-commercial travel, then promulgating daily medical guidance, working with governors, establishing a presidential task force (i.e. preserving 10th Amendment freedoms), legally redirecting and personally pushing a retooling of the private sector, encouraging state mobilization of the National Guard to assist with sanitizing nursing homes, transporting dead, manning foodbanks and establishing operations centers – all had a significant positive effect.
A quick look at Europe offers the contrast. While the US tallied 28 percent of deaths, Europe accounted for 48 percent – even though our population equals the top seven European countries.
Bottom line is: Democrats should be careful what they choose to politicize. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden lambasted Trump’s actions as “hysterical xenophobia and fear mongering,” telling audiences to give credit to his friends in China, disparage Trump.
Turns out, as the virus settles, the President was right – and Joe’s view from the basement window was obstructed by more myopic prejudice.
Fourth and last point: This virus may be tapering permanently – or may not be. We should know in ten days, when incubation ends for thousands who threw caution to the wind and protested in dozens of cities– absent masks and distancing.
We will then know whether we are safely out of the woods, beneficiaries of Trump’s precautions and herd immunity, or whether political activists have – rather audaciously – started a second wave. Either way, actions taken by the Administration saved lives. We should be grateful for that leadership, rather than the sort that shouts, accuses, yammers, gaffes and gets it wrong.
Robert Charles is a former assistant secretary of state for President George W. Bush, former naval intelligence officer and litigator. He served in the Reagan and Bush 41 White Houses, as congressional counsel for five years, and wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003) and “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), the latter on WWII vets in a Maine town.