Friday March 27: the US takes the lead in new infections globally; in Dr. Fauci we trust; what’s in a name
“The federal government is doing a hell of job. The federal government has really stepped up. We have done a job the likes of which has not been seen.”
~Donald J. Trump, Friday March 27th
Today is Friday, and I saved the daily journal post for after the White House coronavirus task force briefing, and the news isn’t good. In the US deaths from the virus are hitting the stick part of the hockey stick trendline: yesterday in New York City the number of deaths stood at 365, today they added more than 100 to that total. The number of hospitalizations also jumped 40%.
We look at these statistics all the way from California and we know Governor Cuomo was right, New York is our future New York is all of us. The tornado has touched down. The UK is also reporting its biggest daily rise in coronavirus deaths (181); the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has it, and the country is busy converting its empty stadiums into supplemental hospitals. There was hope in Italy the extraordinary death rate was leveling off but today it again confirmed a record number of 919 daily deaths. If that number doesn’t make your breath catch in your throat, the sight of the long convoy of military trucks bearing coffins rolling through the streets of Lombardi will. Deaths in France are starting up the hockey stick. Already we are numbed with reports of deaths on cruise ships and nursing homes. I fear we soon we will all be inured to the the news of thousands of daily deaths, unable to process more sadness, our cups runneth over with sadness.
The vibe from the White House is confusing. I say vibe instead of news because it’s hard to know the right way to describe or categorize these briefings. I watch the CDC livestream every day. First, there is a wait screen
The livestream starts with an empty podium and all the reporters sitting with empty chairs between them. The microphone picks up their chatter. A door opens to the left and 6-8 people file in, and the rapid shutter clicks go off. Donald Trump is never in the first wave, who take their positions behind the podium (one is strongly reminded of middle schoolers getting ready for a spelling bee). They then stand there, alternating between staring out at the reporters or off into the distance, shifting their weight back and forth. This can go on for twenty or thirty minutes. It’s not the same people every day. Usually Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx are either/both present (not unlike the distant aunt and uncle making a guest appearance on some weekly sitcom about a dysfunctional family); sometimes Ben Carson is there. Today we had a whole host of new attendees including a red-faced gentleman who, by the way he said ‘cattllemen and farmers’ made me think he’s a Texan, and Betsy deVos making her first appearance as the devil in a blue dress. (just kidding, but she was wearing a blue dress, see below).
Donald Trump enters last with Mike Pence and takes the podium and reads from prepared remarks, ad libbing freely. This goes on for an hour or so, then the President takes questions from the press, then turns it over to Pence who more often than not, for most of the time he speaks, alternates between praising the president, and re-summing up what the president said. Sometimes while the VP or others talk, the President will step aside but stay on to listen, appearing to try to strain and read the notes of whoever is talking at the podium (not unlike a boss I used to have); other times he leaves abruptly, and the mood among the remaining speakers is visibly more relaxed, or maybe I am imagining that.
Today’s briefing started with the remark “We’ve had very great success this week” by which I’m pretty sure he did not mean the US is now winning in the number of infected, which we are (99,706) There were in fact two big news items in today’s briefing:
- first, the president invoked war powers, ordering GM to make ventilators.
- second, Congress and the president signed the stimulus bill that bails more corporations out than people.
There are not a lot of details on either point. “We’re going to make a lot of ventilators,” Trump tells us. For our own US needs first, then to sell to other countries (though presumably not New York, which asked for 30,000, a number Trump said didn’t sound realistic).
No one knows when they get a check or how. Amidst the news every Canadian is getting $2,000 apiece for four months the US stimulus is a one-time payment of $1,200 that will arrive “within weeks” to some Americans but by no means all. Speaker Pelosi has alluded to more (“We think we’ll get more direct payments in another bill.”). In France they have suspended rent, mortgage and utilities for three months.
United Airlines has said it is worried it isn’t getting enough aid and says it might have layoffs in September. In response President Trump said not to worry, he has a bunch of brilliant people “and they’ll be dealing with United. We’ll be able to handle it, we have plenty of money. ” (I put that in bold because I think we may want to remember that statement). He wondered aloud if the US taxpayer will end up owning big chunks of the airline industry, then answered himself “It’s possible!” That will no doubt be a great relief to millions of Americans who have lost jobs and homes but hey, here’s a shiny new airline! Well, not new, or shiny. Or new. Maybe even failing. But it’s ours! Or part of it. Or something, maybe.
Curiously, at no point did President Trump mention what the state of infection rates and deaths are for the US – there was no national picture painted but luckily the New York Times noticed this and is now painting the national picture for us, daily. It really is amazing what journalists are doing with the visual display of data these days.
At one point President Trump reminded us that the stock market “was at an all time high for the 150th time during my presidency.” He then promised we’d have better and not broken systems if this kind of pandemic happens again.
No effort will be spared to win this war.
In other news the use of wartime language, like the above quote from the president, is now a regular thing. Relatedly, the president announced economist Peter Navarro was promoted to the National Defense Production Act Policy Coordinator for the Federal Government, which is going to be hard to fit on a business card. I don’t know why we had to know Navarro’s alma mater (it’s Harvard) but it was mentioned twice and when Navarro took the stand he and the president chuckled over the well-known Harvard joke “You can tell a Harvard man, you just can’t tell them much” before canning the joviality and seriously telling us we are engaged in the most significant industrial mobilization since WWII, for a wartime president fighting an invisible enemy. I hope that joke doesn’t come back to haunt us, lol.
Navarro announced we’d all be moving in “Trump Time” – from what I gathered, this is the new ASAP.
In the category of “Things MBA’s Say” certain terms were much in evidence: fact-based, data-driven, on the ground evidence. We are tautologically reassured we’ll have all the information very shortly and that we already have a lot of that information.
In general, the daily White House coronavirus task force briefings are full of reassuring statements that are not very reassuring. Information is provided but data are missing. The president says things like “We’re testing nearly 100k patients per day which is more than anyone else in the world!” which is information that is both true and not accurate at the same time; South Korea was testing 20k per day for weeks before we’d tested even 200; there’s just no point in this comparison, the US population is 6x that of South Korea. there is no way they can ever conduct the same number of tests as the US – they’d run out of people. The only point to be made about testing is that it took us way too long to start doing it and now we’re in rapid catch-up mode, but many ER nurses and physicians even haven’t had the test, though they are symptomatic. So testing is not solved, by any means, but I am with Dr. Fauci that we can move into solution mode and stop belaboring the point because to keep teasing a bear with a stick is a really really fucking dangerous thing to do.
In the category of “this doesn’t jibe with what the infectious disease experts are saying”, Monday is the end of the 15 Days to Slow The Spread, and President Trump says they’ll be making a determination on Monday what comes next. He speculated that New York would not be opening up, but maybe other states would, but maybe not. It should also be noted that yesterday every single speaker held the 15 Days To Slow The Spread power point deck up in the air, urging Americans that if they follow the guidelines we can all be packing into the pews on Easter Sunday, not because disease experts think it will be safe but because the president finds this ‘a beautiful timeline’, something he is quoted saying somewhere but I am took tired to go look up and link to it.
President Trump is also going forward with a rally, an event where he will be socially distanced from the crowd but the crowd will likely struggle to remain socially distanced from itself. He told the reporter in aggrieved tones,
It’s a tiny trip. It doesn’t mean I’m going to be hugging. We’ll be careful.
Now pretend it’s your smartypants thirteen year old daughter you love to death but want to throttle sometimes for her intense case of world-revolves-around-me-ism saying that. Or your five year old, or a bratty nephew you hate. Or even yourself! NOW it just sounds like what it is, which is straight up whining that the plague is bad sure but social distancing doesn’t apply to me, just everyone else! There was also talk of a vaccine though experts have made it clear the timetable for that is at least a year, maybe eighteen months.
In the vaccine thing I think we’re very close.
How long will we have to live like this? one reporter wondered. There was no answer, though the President emphasized, “I want it open soon, I hope it disappears faster than in months.” The only thing faster than ‘in months’ is ‘in weeks’, which is coincidentally the estimated timing of the peak of the infection curve and hospitalizations by then shall have well exceeded the number of available beds. And ventilators. And care workers! Not to mention all the PPE equipment they are already saying they are out of. We’re leaving our doctors and nurses like surfers paddling out to the big wave in the middle of the ocean and then yanking their surfboards away just before the wave gets to them.
One reporter asked, what is your message to kids who are bored at home and want to be with their friends? (the reporter was careful not to phrase it like the last reporter who asked for a message and got called a terrible journalist). President Trump advised:
“Tell them we were attacked, tell them we are winning the battle, we have to win the war, and hopefully it won’t take that long. Just learn from it. And sit back and be proud of your country.”
Which isn’t a half bad thing to say to kids, though most kids don’t really know what it means to be proud of a country, being so close to their own birth they still recognize the blind luck of that whole business of where you come from. Also many of those kids come from homes where parents have lost jobs, don’t have health insurance, and don’t know how they’re going to pay rent, situations that evoke lots of emotions pride not being on that list.
While not half bad as a message it was a missed opportunity for a good message, giving kids suggestions to help or keep busy or even *ways* they can learn from it. I for one would love to read a bunch of high school essays on “Things we should keep, things we should throw away” in our post-pandemic reality. Maybe we should just not fire up all those plants making individual sized plastic bottles for water and what have you. Maybe all those plants pumping out plastic product should not restart without a reset on the economics of doing so, a bottom line that accounts for them accounting for where the plastic ends up. For starters.
In other news, it’s hard not to touch your face. I know because I’ve seen Dr. Fauci do it twice, both times in response to something Donald Trump was saying. And he’s an infectious disease expert!
As one reporter put it, “If there’s one person in this whole saga who has built up vast reserves of credibility, it’s Dr. Fauci.” It’s true, when Dr. Fauci talks, you inherently trust him. At first I thought I might feel that way because Dr. Fauci looks endearingly like the father of my best friend. His name was Vincenzo, and he was Sicilian, and I bet Dr. Fauci is Sicilian too – they could be brothers, that’s how much they resemble, both of them neat, compact men, handsome in rimless glasses and a way of talking that shows they are thinking closely about what they are saying. Vin is no longer with us, but I know he too, would be impressed by Dr. Fauci and the point of view he brings to this crisis.
“You have a responsibility, not only to protect yourself, but you almost have a societal, moral responsibility to protect other people,” Fauci urged the population in a recent interview. This is the kind of talk that I find reassuring – straight talk, unadorned and human. It’s not the way the president talks, which makes me worry Dr. Fauci will get fired, though I think Dr. Fauci knows, much better than me, the kind of fine line he is treading with this boss. It’s not that he won’t be able to find another job, he’s set for life as far as opportunities go, if he cares about that which I doubt: it’s that we the people, – and especially some of you the people who are slow on the uptake with the whole social distancing thing – need him up there, a voice of experience and reason, a voice that represents the best of us during the worst of times. A soft voice that carries with it a big stick that he will use only for the cause of the people, never against, and with no thought for himself.
When one reporter pressed him on a falsehood the president promulgated, Dr. Fauci said with a beleaguered and infinite dignity:
“It is expressed in a way that I would not express it, because it could lead to some misunderstanding about what the facts are about a given subject.”
My friends, this is Olympic-level volleyball with words. Sometimes, though, he says exactly what he’s thinking, and maybe that’s why we love him and trust him because it turns out he is thinking of doing exactly what we hope he’s thinking of doing:
I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down.
Technically of course he could, in fact, jump in front of the mic without pushing the president down. But that would be a reality show move, and the good doctor is far too serious to risk normalizing non-serious confrontations that are beside the point, which of course is to save lives.
I sometimes like to assert that names are destiny. It’s silly of course – like astrology, you can almost always make the case fit (my husband’s name means “illustrious warrior” and you can laugh but I think it might be true). But listen to this: Fauci means, “jaws” or “mouth”, and Anthony means “praiseworthy”. Coincidence? I’ll leave it to you to decide if acting as the mouthpiece for this pandemic demonstrates the Dr. Anthony Fauci is fulfilling his destiny. In the meantime we can all get a big reassuring mouthful of the good doctor in the form of carbohydrates and frosting: there is a a shop in upstate New York is selling doughnuts featuring an image of Dr. Anthony Fauci
See past entries in Coronavirus Event