New White House Outbreak Undermines Trump Message In Final Week Of Campaign

Marc Short, Mike Pence’s chief of staff, tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday. The news came just hours after reports that Marty Obst, an adviser to the vice president, tested positive earlier in the week. On Sunday, sources suggested at least two other aides were positive as well.

It’s unclear whether this represents a new outbreak at 1600 Penn., or is simply a remnant of the outbreak most believe started at the September ceremony for Amy Coney Barrett, widely seen in hindsight as a super-spreader event.

Short’s diagnosis, while not a devastating blow, isn’t the best news for Donald Trump with just a little over a week until Election Day. The president has repeatedly parroted familiar talking points about the country “rounding the turn” on the virus, even as cases surged past 83,000 in a single day on Friday.

I suppose this goes without saying, but what you see in the figure (above) is totally unacceptable. And unlike most commentators, I’m not here to play epidemiologist with you. I use the term “unacceptable” in a kind of generic, common sense way. Irrespective of your partisan affiliation and no matter whether you support containment protocols (like masks) or not, I’d wager everyone can agree that it isn’t generally desirable for 83,000 people to contract a potentially deadly respiratory illness in the space of 24 hours.

Even if you’re in the “it is what it is” camp, or you’re prone to espousing the view that the “cure is worse than the disease,” you’ll agree that the disease isn’t itself “good.”

Fortunately, the trend in deaths does not exhibit the same harrowing trajectory as the caseload trend, which makes the situation far less macabre than it was in March and early April. Still, the seven-day moving average for daily fatalities has been flat (basically) for months, and is far higher than where it was at the lows in early July (~780 now versus ~480 then).

Pence, apparently undeterred by Short’s diagnosis, almost immediately hopped on a plane to Florida to campaign for Trump after he was told that his chief of staff was infected. He planned to campaign in North Carolina on Sunday.

Pence spokesman Devin O’Malley said that while Pence is “considered a close contact with Short, in consultation with the White House Medical Unit, the vice president will maintain his schedule in accordance with the CDC guidelines for essential personnel.”

In other words, Pence will keep traveling around despite his close contact with Short.

For context, the Black Plague will probably never be “topped” (figure below), but sometimes I worry that Americans’ reluctance to follow basic safety protocols doesn’t bode well in the event something far worse than COVID comes along and science can’t catch up in time.

According to a pair of people briefed on the Marc Short situation who spoke to The New York Times, Mark Meadows “sought to keep news of the outbreak from becoming public.”

Speaking at a rally on Saturday in Wisconsin, Trump persisted. “It’s going away, it’s rounding the turn,” the president said.

He stressed (or maybe “mentioned” is more accurate) vigilance and the need to “be careful,” but also told the crowd that “we have to take our country back.”

That is precisely (as in verbatim) the same language the president has used to describe any number of windmills at which he’s tilted over the past three years.

The difference is, this dragon is real.


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8 thoughts on “New White House Outbreak Undermines Trump Message In Final Week Of Campaign

  1. “The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he is on.”
    Joseph Heller, Catch-22

    The Republicans have been the enemy since Nixon. Sadly I didn’t see it unti DJT. My only regret is believing “Greed is good”.

  2. Global commerce is the absolute best way to avoid WW3. War is always about economic gain (directly or indirectly), and with nuclear bombs/capabilities in the hands of many- we need to finesse the balance between greed and global peace.
    I am not saying the US should blindly accept whatever terms and behavior that China wants, including enslaving Muslims as workers, stealing our technology, allowing them to purchase real assets in the US or own controlling interests in US companies, etc.
    However, the US desperately needs leaders, more capable and knowledgeable than we currently seem to have, that can navigate this very difficult situation. If not, the Earth ( as we know it) might end even before our irresponsible environmental behavior destroys Mother Earth.
    As a country, we need to encourage and cultivate a new type of leadership from those who can address the really difficult and important issues and are not beholden to the money that encourages bad decisions.

  3. Certainly 85k new cases a day is huge. But keep that in perspective in relation to at least one epidemiological goal, herd immunity. “Stopping” COVID for the “herd” will require well more than half the population to have been infected or vaccinated — something like 165-200 million people. Given there is no vaccine, at even 100k cases per day it will take 2000 days to reach herd immunity by exposure! That is six more years of pain. We’re at just over 8 million cases now. If a vaccine is finally created that is safe and effective, there is still the problem of getting it into peoples arms, repeatedly, because it seems that current estimates are that a vaccine will only offer protection for 3-6 months, not unlike the current flue vaccine. If you don’t want to catch the flu you try the current year vaccine every year in the fall and hope it works and lasts until spring. The big difference between COVID and the flu is that the former is more likely to kill you than the flu is. But even now, with our well entrenched regime of flu shots we really haven’t achieved herd immunity for that disease. Millions of cases of flu every year result in 30-60k deaths. With COVID we can expect years before we will see any normal. Do we build our health system to process and deal with COVID at say 100k cases a day. No one wants to hear the answer to that but to get context we have to look at what “turning the corner” really means. I strongly suspect such a goal will become a growth industry for investors for many years.

    1. The reason they attach the 19 suffix to COVID is to denote a new coronavirus (2019) as opposed to the (at least) 4 known coronaviruses that have been circulating within the human population for decades. These viruses usually manifest as non-serious “colds” but are also notorious for the limited temporal immunity for humans. It’s optimistic to think a vaccine or previous exposure will have lasting immunity. There was a lot of hype early in the pandemic that the virus could mutate into one more lethal. The reality is that most pathogens evolve to become less deadly. Pathogens that quickly kill the host have less opportunity to spread and are buried with the host.

      1. There is not much truly known to be cast in stone in the world of virus orthodoxy. The thought that these viruses are evolving to be less deadly could as well be partly or fully be that the population gaining enough exposure to create sufficient antibodies to not die from the novel virus.

        Our overwhelming viral treatment success has been with therapies. All virus infections have proscribed therapies that help reduce the most deleterious effects. That we are now seeing case counts spike up and deaths flat line could be indication of medical therapy development. Which works until hospitals are overwhelmed, then well you just die.

        Vaccines are the holy grail but not always have been achieved nor are necessary for a smoothly functioning society.

    2. I suspect long term, COVID may end up being just like the flu, killing a certain number each year that society can tolerate (not the best word, but couldn’t find a better one). Perhaps, in the future a COVID vaccination will just be included in the flu jab cocktail. A lot depends on how the virus mutates and how it spreads once we are past the current crisis phase. We have much to learn but I suspect we are closer to some form of near normal than most think.

  4. keep in mind that the graph showing deaths lags infections and hospilizations. With both rising rapidly, deaths will also start trending up. While it is great that the doctors are saving more patients as they learn what works and what doesn’t. It won’t change the fact that deaths will follow admissions.

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