Thursday Reads: Trump Tries and Fails to Quell Coronavirus Fears

Co Edvard Munch, Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu, 1919.

Good Morning!!

Yesterday the fake “president” tried to calm fears about the growing threat of a coronavirus pandemic by contradicting experts, hyping the stock market, and repeatedly lying about the administration’s preparedness. As health professionals tried to educate Americans about the possible dangers, Trump contradicted them and claimed he has everything under control, even though he has cut funds for the CDC and fired National Security Council staff who were in charge of global pandemic preparedness.

Trump was reportedly angry about the CDC briefing yesterday.

Here’s what Messonnier said:

“We expect we will see community spread in this country,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.”

The Plague of Rome, Jules Elie Delauney, 1869

The agency tweeted Tuesday evening that Americans should think about getting ready.

“Now is the time for US businesses, hospitals, and communities to begin preparing for the possible spread of #COVID19,” it wrote, referring to the name the World Health Organization has given the novel coronavirus. “CDC continues to work with business, education & healthcare sectors, encouraging employers to be prepared.”

“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad,” she said.

She said CDC officials have been saying for weeks that while they hope the spread won’t be severe in the United States, they are planning as if it could be.

“The data over the last week, and the spread in other countries, has certainly raised our level of concern and raised our level of expectation” of community spread, she said.

The CDC still doesn’t know what that will look like, she added. Community spread could be reasonably mild or very severe.

Off with her head! How long before Trump starts purging the CDC of people who know anything about viruses and pandemics and replacing them with Trump loyalists who will pretend nothing is happening?

Stephen Collins analyzes Trump’s press conference at CNN: Trump takes a victory lap early on in the coronavirus fight.

The President spoke at a news conference on Wednesday about the worldwide health emergency that has seen the virus sweep into South Korea, Italy and every continent but Antarctica, sounding as if the danger had already passed rather than was yet to arrive.

“The risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump said, as he unveiled his big announcement: Vice President Mike Pence will head the government effort.

Manuscript illustration depicting the Justinian Plague, from the Omne Bonum by James le Palmer, 14th century

The President’s optimistic performance came hours before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a patient in California who has the novel coronavirus might be the first person to be infected who did not travel to an afflicted region and was not exposed to another known carrier. The case raises the ominous possibility that the virus is already moving through the community….

His upbeat, election-year tone contrasted sharply with predictions from his government experts, who are warning of possible severe disruption to American life if the outbreak swells into a pandemic.

Here’s what two experts had to say when they were allowed to speak for a couple of minutes each:

“Our aggressive containment strategy here in the United States has been working and is responsible for the low levels of cases that we have so far. However, we do expect more cases, and this is a good time to prepare,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, delivered the sobering news that even with an unusually accelerated process of development and testing, it could be a year to a year-and-a-half before a vaccine becomes available. His assessment contrasts with Trump’s hints that inoculations are just around the corner.

Without warning HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Trump put Mike Pence in charge of dealing with a coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.–the same Mike Pence who enabled an HIV outbreak in Indiana when he was Governor by refusing to allow clean needle exchanges for opiate users. The Washington Post reports:

“We’ve had tremendous success, tremendous success beyond what many people would’ve thought,” the president said during a White House news conference that followed days of mixed messages, tumbling stocks and rising death tolls abroad driven by the coronavirus. “We’re very, very ready for this.”

The Triumph of Death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c.1562

The president declared that the risk to America was “very low” and predicted a swift end to the outbreak….

“We could be just one or two people over the next short period of time,” Trump said of the virus’s impact in the United States.

Minutes later, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat warned Americans to prepare for the number of cases to grow.

“We can expect to see more cases in the United States,” Azar said.

“We do expect more cases,” Schuchat said.

The case confirmed Wednesday in California brought the total in the United States to 60.

During the press conference, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta tried to ask Trump a question and Trump repeatedly interrupted and corrected him.

Trump’s main concern is calming the markets, because if the economy tanks he probably won’t be reelected. But what he’s doing is likely to make things worse. NPR this morning: Stocks Tumble Into Correction Territory On Coronavirus Fears.

Stocks continued their downward slide on Thursday, with major indexes falling into correction territory. Investors are worried about the economic toll of a widening coronavirus epidemic.

Pavel Fedotov, 1846-1860 Cholera pandemic

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled more than 500 points in the opening minutes of trading. The blue chip index is down more than 10% from its recent peak on Feb. 12. The broader S&P 500 index has also lost more than 10% of its value in just over a week.

President Trump tried to project a note of calm in a news conference Wednesday evening, stressing that the United States is well prepared for any health crisis and predicting the stock market will recover, thanks in part to robust consumer spending. But investors were not immediately reassured….

A poll by Morning Consult this week found that 69% of U.S. adults are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the domestic economic impact of the epidemic, a 14 point increase from a few weeks ago.

Trump won’t be happy to see this headline at Bloomberg: Yellen Says Coronavirus Could Throw U.S. Economy Into Recession.

“We could see a significant impact on Europe, which has been weak to start with, and it’s just conceivable that it could throw the United States into a recession,” Yellen said Wednesday at an event in Michigan. “If it doesn’t hit in a substantial way in the United States, that’s less likely. We had a pretty solid outlook before this happened — and there is some risk, but basically I think the U.S. outlook looks pretty good.”

The global economy was weak but starting to recover before the virus hit, Yellen said. The shutdown of factories due to the outbreak in China will impact supply chains and cause a drop in consumer spending as people have been quarantined or cease traveling.

A representation by Robert Seymour of the cholera epidemic of the 19th century depicts the spread of the disease in the form of poisonous air.

Yellen, who spoke about the economy at an event held by the Brookings Institution in Clinton Township, Michigan, also commented on the decline in the 10-year Treasury yield this week to historic lows. Yields have plunged as fears about the spreading coronavirus have rocked global financial markets.

The newly diagnosed Coronaviris patient in California was in the hospital for several days before the CDC agreed to allow a test for the virus. The New York Times:

A California coronavirus patient had to wait days to be tested because of restrictive federal criteria, despite doctors’ requests. The patient, who has tested positive, may be the first person to be infected through community spread in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

C.D.C. officials said it was possible the patient was exposed to a returning traveler who was infected. At the moment, however, the new case appears to be one in which the source of infection is unknown, suggesting that the virus may be transmitted within the community.

Doctors at the University of California, Davis Medical Center considered the novel pathogen a possible diagnosis when the patient was first admitted last week.

But the federal agency that conducts the testing did not administer the test until days later because the case did not fit the agency’s narrow testing criteria, university officials said in a letter to the campus community late Wednesday.

The C.D.C. has restricted testing to patients who either traveled to China recently or who know they had contact with someone infected with the coronavirus….

The C.D.C. could not be immediately reached for comment.
The patient was transferred to the medical center from another hospital in Northern California with a suspected viral infection, and was already on a ventilator upon arrival, according to the university’s letter.

“Upon admission, our team asked public health officials if this case could be Covid-19,” the letter said. The medical center requested testing from the C.D.C. “Since the patient did not fit the existing C.D.C. criteria for Covid-19, a test was not immediately administered. U.C. Davis Health does not control the testing process.”

So it looks like we have the first coronavirus case that may have been passed from person to person in the U.S., and we have a president and an administration in denial and woefully unprepared to deal with a health crisis.

I’ll add more stories in the comment thread. As always, this is an open thread.