The New Yorker:
COVID-19 presents a test of leadership but also—because it preys most fiercely on the vulnerable—a test of values, and President Donald Trump, in his press briefing on Monday, showed that he has failed on both counts. Closures had barely been put in place in much of the country; the curtains were still being drawn. But he is tired of it. “Our country wasn’t built to be shut down,” he said, noting the disruption. “We’re not going to let the cure be worse than the problem.” Or, as he put it in a tweet in which he announced that he would soon be reassessing the federal government’s guidance for radical social distancing, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.” The “problem,” in case anyone missed it, is a novel coronavirus rapidly spreading through a population that has no resistance to it. One model shows that it could leave more than two million Americans dead. On Tuesday, on Fox News, Trump said that he wanted the country opened back up and “just raring to go” by Easter—nineteen days from now.
Is it the disease or the cure that Trump doesn’t understand? In his briefing, he said that one of his motivations for rushing to reopen the country is new research into the mortality rate—this is “a big factor” for him. And he doesn’t think that the numbers on the table are that big. There had been talk that the rate might be three, four, or five per cent; now it looked like it might be one per cent, or a little less. He might do the math on what one per cent amounts to in a country of more than three hundred million. Think of whatever group of a hundred or more you like—your office, your school, your wedding-invitation or holiday-card list—and now imagine yourself or someone you love as the one. And that number may not even be right, not even in ideal conditions of limitless medical resources. There is a lot that we don’t know; widespread testing catches presymptomatic and asymptomatic people, which changes the numbers. But one per cent is certainly not likely to be accurate when hospitals are overwhelmed, and people who could be saved die. As Peter Hessler notes in this week’s magazine, according to a report from China, the death rate in much of that country seems to have been about 0.7 per cent, and could be even lower. In Wuhan, which was overwhelmed, it was 5.8 per cent.
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