Coronavirus paralyzes the U.S.
American life ground to a halt this week as the coronavirus swept across the country, prompting a historically unprecedented effort to isolate people in their homes. With schools, offices, bars, and restaurants closing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that widespread “social distancing” was necessary to slow the virus’ spread and prevent the CDC’s worst-case scenario of 160 million to 214 million Americans infected and 200,000 to 1.7 million dead. All the major sports leagues suspended their seasons, and the NCAA basketball tournament was canceled. Schools were closed for some 30 million children, or half of national enrollment. Americans, everywhere, confronted eerie scenes of emptiness (see Talking Points) while U.S. infections soared past 7,500, with 124 deaths. Globally, the tally of those sickened surpassed 200,000, with more than 8,000 dead.
After downplaying the coronavirus for several weeks as similar to a flu, and castigating the media for “panicking markets,” President Trump abruptly changed his tone and messaging, warning that the epidemic could last into August or later. “It’s bad,” he said. “It’s bad.” But testing still lagged far behind the demand—about 41,000 Americans had had one by midweek—leaving most people feeling symptoms unable to know whether they had Covid-19. Federal officials promised to make 1.9 million tests available by the end of the week.
With swaths of the economy shutting down, House lawmakers passed an emergency multibillion-dollar bill offering free testing, 14 days of paid sick time, and free food for children whose schools are closed. Days later, Trump called on the Senate to pass an additional $1 trillion stimulus, which would include two $1,000 direct payments, in April and May, to most Americans and $300 billion in business loans and assistance. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones industrial average has plunged more than 9,000 points in recent weeks, wiping out all the gains during Trump’s term.
What the editorials said
Meeting this crisis demands “a full-scale national effort” on the order of the one made during World War II, said The New York Times. Trump needs to use the Defense Production Act to mobilize private industry to produce needed medical supplies like ventilators, masks, hand sanitizer, and test kits; deploy the National Guard and Army to build ad hoc testing and quarantine areas; and put the unemployed to work disinfecting hospitals and delivering food to the elderly.
Finally, the Trump administration is “manning the health barricades,” said The Wall Street Journal. In recent days the president has deployed “the full force of the federal government and private business,” announcing a broad swath of economic stimulus measures and a plan to roll out rapid testing around the country. But Trump and his aides will have “to take on the financial panic with the same urgency,” with markets in free fall and the GDP likely to drop 10 percent in the second quarter.
What the columnists said
What grim irony, said Anne Applebaum in http://TheAtlantic.com. In January, Americans mocked Chinese officials for their Orwellian virus response, smugly noting how the communist regime delayed its response for three weeks, threatening doctors into silence and insisting that no medical staff had fallen ill when the opposite was plainly true. Now the very same farce has played out in the U.S., with Trump administration officials slow-walking testing for weeks so as not to anger the president, who preferred to downplay the threat to protect his “political prospects.” This is what you expect in a totalitarian police state—not here.
Trump’s dithering has made him a “bystander” in the crisis, said Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman in The New York Times. With little clear guidance from the White House, the official response fell to school superintendents, sports league officials, college presidents, CEOs, mayors, and governors. Trump has since advised all Americans to avoid groups of more than 10 and the elderly to remain indoors, but for weeks he was “more follower than leader.”
Actually, the federal government is almost always slow out of the gate, said Rich Lowry in the New York Post. America was woefully underprepared to meet the challenges of World War II, the Great Depression, Sputnik’s launch, and the Mexican-American and Civil Wars. The 2008 financial crisis was initially “greeted with denial and half-measures.” Hurricane Katrina, too. Eventually, though, massive resources were brought to bear, as is happening today. Trump has finally ditched the denial, said Stephen Collinson in CNN.com, and is combining “unimpeachable facts” with somber calls for “national unity.” This version of the president “will save lives.”
Trump voters are getting exactly what they asked for “in spades,” said Julia Ioffe in GQ.com. He promised he would smash the bureaucracy and the deep state “to smithereens” and then dance on the rubble. Now all Americans must pay the price for a dysfunctional federal government that relies on a “one-man, megalomaniacal savior” rather than on the thousands of dedicated, professional public servants we once had. Let’s hope many people don’t die as a result.
Scientists are warning “we made need to live with social distancing for a year or more,” said Brian Resnick in Vox.com. So far, such draconian measures have proved the only reliable way to prevent the virus’ spread. A vaccine is still likely to be at least a year away, and herd immunity, which only occurs after more than 60 percent of the population has been infected, would require the deaths of hundreds of thousands. A new federal report also has a pessimistic timeline, said Peter Baker and Eileen Sullivan in The New York Times. The 100-page plan warned that the pandemic “will last 18 months or longer” and could result in “widespread shortages that would strain consumers” and hospitals. The report urged a maximum federal response. “State and local governments, as well as critical infrastructure and communications channels, will be stressed and potentially less reliable,” the report said.
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from Reuters, Getty, Newscom ■