Coronavirus cases continued to rise over the weekend, and when it comes to America’s epidemic, the Trump administration is sticking to a controversial two-pronged strategy that generally entails faulting China for the outbreak and blaming testing for rising infection rates in some states.
There’s some truth to both pillars of the White House’s narrative. The virus did, of course, originate in China, and it’s obviously true that if you simply stop testing people, the number of new cases will drop to zero — just ask North Korea.
And yet, the president and his surrogates have seemingly abandoned even the pretense of seriousness when it comes to discussing the virus in the context of the US, while doubling down on the bombast as it relates to China.
During his rally in Tulsa on Saturday (which was mocked on social media for a lackluster turnout), Trump referred to the virus a the “Kung Flu”. In addition to being absurdly racist, the remark appeared to prove that CBS reporter Weijia Jiang was not lying when she suggested a White House official used the term in her presence earlier this year.
“When you do testing… you’re gonna find more people, you’re gonna find more cases”, Trump told supporters, most of whom were not wearing masks. “So I said to my people, ‘slow the testing down please!'”
To say that is a debatable message would be an understatement. There is almost universal consensus that more testing is better, and I don’t think it’s entirely off base to say that Trump’s remarks suggest he’s more concerned with the political implications of higher infection totals than he is with public health.
On Sunday, during remarks to Jake Tapper, Peter Navarro again alluded to the possibility that COVID-19 was a bioweapon, a claim for which there is no evidence.
“Did I hear you say China created this virus? Did I hear you wrong?”, Tapper wondered.
“You did not hear me wrong”, Navarro said. “That virus was a product of the Chinese Communist Party”.
“But you think it was purposely created?”, Tapper pressed.
“That is an open question”, Navarro responded. He also said Beijing is indirectly responsible for the removal (by protesters in the US) of a statue of Francis Scott Key.
Asked about Trump’s contention that America should slow down on testing, Navarro said Tapper should get a sense of humor. “Come on. It was a light moment”, Peter said. “A tongue in cheek thing”.
Maybe, but as Navarro readily admits, there isn’t anything funny about this situation.
Tens of millions of Americans are jobless and nearly 120,000 are dead. Cases continue to rise in states like Florida and Arizona. In Texas, hospitalizations have spiked, and hit a record high in Dallas County on Saturday. Available ICU beds in the state are the second-lowest since the pandemic began.
To be sure, many of the new cases across states are in young patients, whose risk of dying from the virus is much lower. Nevertheless, it’s not clear that’s a good reason to simply ignore the numbers.
Alabama has a serious problem on its hands too. Consider this, from an AP piece published Sunday:
Dr. Don Williamson, a former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association says hospitals are managing for now but the trends are worrying.
“This is the first day you’ll hear me say these words: I am now worried,” Williamson said. “I am worried that the virus is now ahead of us and we aren’t doing enough as individuals to contain it.”
Williamson said only about 16% of total ICU beds are empty, and in some areas like Montgomery “we essentially have none.”
Meanwhile, China has suspended imports of products from a Tyson plant where 227 workers tested positive. Any product arriving at Chinese ports originating from the plant will be seized.
In another example of how COVID continues to affect the flow of commerce, China last week banned some pork imports from Germany following an outbreak at a meatpacking plant. Germany, like the US, has struggled to keep the virus from spreading at processing facilities (more here).
Beijing is just now getting a handle on an outbreak in the city tied to imported seafood, and authorities are in no mood to chance another flare-up.
Although one assumes the Tyson situation will be a temporary issue with little to no bearing on the trade deal, it does speak to the fact that while the post-COVID world may not be as radically different as some fear, the fallout from the pandemic will be felt for quite some time.
Global trade and commerce will be permanently impacted by the events of the past three months. It’s just a matter of how large the impact is and how it manifests.