Desperate to revive the economy in time for the November election, President Donald Trump keeps insisting on a reckless rush to end the nationwide shutdown even as his top health advisers warn of disastrous consequences ahead. For entirely political reasons, senior Trump administration officials tried to squash a more cautious timeline approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rarely has there been a more stark display of a decision to sacrifice human life to bolster Trump’s economic bragging rights.
“People are dying in the lockdown position, too,” Trump told reporters Monday, suggesting without evidence that deaths from suicide and/or drug abuse during the shutdown might exceed the more than 80,000 deaths caused by the pandemic.
His top health advisers, several of whom testified remotely before a Senate panel Tuesday, insist that disaster awaits if states and cities fail to meet specific criteria before businesses, schools and public facilities reopen. Dr. Anthony Fauci warned senators of avoidable “suffering and death” that could actually wind up setting back any reopening effort.
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, told senators, “We’re not out of the woods yet.” But to hear Trump’s heavily politicized description of the situation, Americans are raring to go, while Democratic hand-wringing is holding the nation back.
CDC guidelines call for a series of benchmarks to be met for a reopening to start, including a sustained decline in new daily coronavirus cases over a 14-day period. The Associated Press reported that Redfield signed off on the guidelines last month.
But on April 30, the White House shelved them while trying to deflect responsibility by saying the CDC, not the White House, was holding them up. That was a lie, and emails obtained by The Associated Press showed that top administration political appointees were the ones who squashed the guidelines, saying they were overly prescriptive.
The result was that a more rigorous list of benchmarks and procedures, included in a 60-page document, was shelved. It was only after the AP reported on May 7 what had happened that the White House called the CDC and ordered the guidelines revived.
A far shorter and more vague list ultimately was released, lacking key specifics such as how schools and universities can prepare to resume classes in the fall if the pandemic continues to rage. Health officials consistently insisted that dramatically expanded testing and tracking are essential. Trump keeps reverting to his stock retort that no country in the world does more testing than the United States.
It’s not a competition. The issue is whether testing and tracking are now adequately in place to justify a speedier reopening. By experts’ assessment, the nation isn’t there yet. Sadly, it appears that more death and suffering will have to occur before Trump gets the message.