On Sunday evening, Fox News is hosting an “America Together: Returning to Work” virtual town hall with President Donald Trump — capping off a weekend the president spent at Camp David to reportedly convene talks about reopening the economy (and post a lot of tweets).
At the event, Trump is likely to continue working to convince Americans that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is already in the rearview mirror. He has consistently done so, recently encouraging protesters agitating against stay-at-home orders, and saying last week, “I am very much in favor of what they’re doing,” referring to governors moving to reopen businesses. He’s declared “we’re opening our country again” and proclaimed the country will be ready for any second wave of coronavirus that might arise in the fall or winter.
But the US is not even close to being through the first wave. Not a single state has met a key reopening criterion identified by the White House coronavirus task force: a steady 14-day decline in new cases.
In fact, when hardest-hit New York state is taken out of the equation, the national trajectory of new daily coronavirus cases currently shows an upward trend:
This is a very important graph for the debate about "reopening" the country. This is new cases per day nationwide excluding New York State. pic.twitter.com/VJFQ80unBT— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) May 2, 2020
And with regard to the per-day trajectory of coronavirus-related deaths, the latest data shows that unlike almost all other comparable countries, the US death toll is plateaued at its highest point (around 2,000 deaths a day), not declining.
Here is the FT death graph — the US. Is plateauing, not falling pic.twitter.com/dPGlIzSuXx— Blake News (@blakehounshell) May 3, 2020
Trump has his reasons for wanting states to get going again. He faces a tough reelection fight and the positive economic message he planned to emphasize has, thanks to the coronavirus, turned into a dire discussion about Great Depression-level unemployment rates and historic declines in quarterly GDP. But he’s not alone in promoting plans to reopen. More than half of the states are moving forward with plans to reopen some businesses.
Even though these moves are not consistent with federal reopening guidelines, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Deborah Birx, basically offered a verbal shrug when asked about the disconnect during an appearance on the latest Fox News Sunday.
WALLACE: More than half the states have started reopening, but not a single one has met the guidelines of 2 weeks of decline in new coronavirus cases. Are you worried?— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 3, 2020
BIRX: "Federal guidelines are pretty firm policy of what we think is important from a public health standpoint" pic.twitter.com/4O5lWQJZIE
Later in the show, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) of Mississippi — who is moving to reopen some businesses even though new coronavirus cases haven’t been steadily declining in his state — bluntly said, “We believe that that particular gating criteria just doesn’t work in states like ours.” Other red states, like Georgia, seem to be manipulating statistics to create a misleading impression of a decline in cases.
The concern is that since stringent stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines haven’t been sufficient to bring the daily number of new cases down yet, things will only get worse as economic activity, and the person-to-person proximity it requires, resumes — especially since testing capacity isn’t yet where it needs to be to trace and contain outbreaks as they occur.
Trump, however, clearly wants to turn the page from the ongoing public health crisis to a story of economic revival. The Washington Post reported Saturday the administration is planning to scale back media appearances by public health experts like Birx in favor of appearances from White House economic advisers.
“The White House apparatus is totally shifting to the economy,” an unnamed senior administration who spoke with the Post said. And that change in strategy has already been reflected on the presidential level: Hours ahead of the virtual town hall, Trump posted a tweet describing the coronavirus pandemic in biblical terms, and in the past tense.
....And then came a Plague, a great and powerful Plague, and the World was never to be the same again! But America rose from this death and destruction, always remembering its many lost souls, and the lost souls all over the World, and became greater than ever before!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2020
But this, like so many aspects of Trump’s coronavirus response, is wishful thinking. The death and destruction is ongoing, and pretending that it isn’t will likely make things worse.