Ahead of the United States election, President Donald Trump’s administration has effectively given up on controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.
A new upturn in reported COVID-19 cases began in September, rose steadily, and then began to accelerate.
Measured as a seven day moving average of new cases (which smoothes out daily reporting fluctuations) as of October 26 there were about 70,000 new cases per day and growing.
This exceeds the previous high of about 65,000 set during the US summer. Scientists predict it will reach 100,000 per day in a few weeks, but not stop there.
Hospitalisations, which lag behind new cases, have begun to rise. Deaths will follow.
Since the pandemic began in the US, there have been two peaks in new cases and now we are heading rapidly towards a third.
The first peak was about 30,000 in March-April. Then, President Donald Trump’s administration ordered a shutdown of all but essential areas of activity, such as health, food and transportation.
This was the only time the Trump administration acted to curtail the virus.
The virus continued to spread at a lower rate, as the use of masks and social distancing, avoiding large crowds, and such measures were implemented in some states. New cases were recorded among essential workers, including nurses.
The downturn in cases leveled off at about 20,000. Trump then called for the whole economy to reopen by the end of May. This reopening was done without caution in some states, and more carefully and measured in others. Consequently, a new upsurge in cases began that peaked in early June, at a rate more than double that of the earlier peak.
In response, restrictions were implemented in many places, which brought the national average down to about 30,000.
From the beginning of the pandemic, Trump has downplayed its seriousness, with that one exception in March. He continues to make fun of wearing facemasks.
Despite coming down with a serious case of COVID-19 requiring him to be hospitalised, Trump continues to hold large campaign rallies, with people packed together, most not wearing masks. He even uses his illness to play down the seriousness of the pandemic, saying “not to worry” if you get COVID-19; like him, you will recover.
Because Trump has a large following, and the Republican Party stays on his message, there is a big difference in how and whether measures to contain the virus are implemented between the 26 Republican-controlled states and the 24 Democratic ones.
This doesn’t mean that the Democrat-run states haven’t relaxed, opening up too much and too soon — they have, just not as much.
The tens of millions of Trump’s core followers also help spread the disease by their cavalier disregard of the proven ways to help contain it, such as wearing masks in public places, especially indoors, and keeping a safe distance from others.
This partially explains how the virus has spread geographically. The first peak centred on the Northeast, especially New York. The second was in the southern states of the “Sun Belt”. This third upsurge has spread to the Midwest and West, including rural areas.
In the latter, small towns are often hundreds of kilometres from the nearest hospital. Hospitals often have only a small number of beds, and are threatened with being overwhelmed.
In almost all states there is an increase in new cases. The main reason for the continued spread is the highly contagious nature of COVID-19.
No national plan
Throughout the pandemic, Trump has refused to come up with a national plan to contain the pandemic. That leaves it up to the different states, which are financially strapped because of a lack of federal assistance, to come up with their own plans. Some cities are also trying to do so.
The truth about the Trump administration’s approach to the pandemic has now been exposed. On October 25, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told CNN: “We are not going to control the pandemic.”
That means the virus will continue to spread with no federal check. Trump is now emphasising this at his campaign rallies, telling his supporters “not to worry” — it will pass on its own.
The idea is that if the government allows the virus to continue to spread, so that a great majority of the population gets it, we will achieve “herd immunity”.
That means well over 50% of the population — more like 70% — would need to be infected. That translates to 245 million people. If the death rate is 1%, that would mean 2.45 million people would die from COVID-19. That is immoral, unacceptable and worthy of the likes of Nazi physician Josef Mengele.
Moreover, it is not known how long COVID-19 immunity lasts. It is not forever for many viruses, like the flu. Flu vaccines, which make antibodies to the virus, last only six months. Like the flu, COVID-19 mutates and may become impervious to previous antibodies.
Vaccine at 'warp speed'?
Meadows also said the administration will concentrate on developing a vaccine and treatments. Trump is pressuring companies working on vaccines to come up with one “at warp speed”.
“Warp speed” is a term from science fiction, imagining travel between stars, which is very difficult because nothing that has mass can ever reach the speed of light. For light to traverse our Milky Way galaxy takes 107,000 years.
These writers imagine a “warp” in space-time that would allow objects to pass through and come out in a different space and time, getting around the limitation of the speed of light.
While this may be possible in some mathematical way, it has never been observed. Moreover, going through such a “hole” would destroy any object.
The danger is that developing a vaccine as fast as Trump demands may also harm the recipient or not be effective or only partially effective, because it will mean cutting corners on testing for harmful side effects and efficacy.
Also, if not enough people take a vaccine, it cannot result in herd immunity, even if temporary.
Unsurprisingly, many people say they won’t take a vaccine developed on Trump’s timeline, and will wait until they are satisfied that truly independent scientists, with peer review, have approved one.
This is what we face, at least as long as the Trump administration is in power: a new upsurge of cases, then hospitalisations and deaths, without any federal plan to control the virus. The medical system will be overwhelmed.
If enough state and local governments wake up and take corrective measures, resulting in 90% or more of citizens wearing masks, safe distancing and not attending large gatherings — this will bring cases down. Alternatively, it depends on enough individuals taking action on their own.