Hoping to avoid COVID-19? Survive it if you get it?
Who’s your state’s governor? In many states, that may matter.
Our individual odds for surviving COVID-19 are emerging as somewhat of a crapshoot, dependent on countless ways we can avoid or contract the virus and, if you get it, to a large degree how healthy your heart and lungs are and on your body’s ability to fight it.
But a significant factor recently and unnecessarily thrown into the mix is our luck in who happens to head our state government. It seems to matter more and more.
Relentless misdirection from the Oval Office
That’s because President Trump’s role with the pandemic has been mostly to manage and crow about his TV ratings and to hawk phony, untested COVID-19 remedies, largely defaulting his national leadership role.
The president declared his “total authority” over the nation’s pandemic response but within days told states to each chart their own defenses instead. He acknowledges, in his words, “no responsibility at all“ for the gaping deficiencies in coronavirus testing.
Worse, the president dismisses and demeans his administration’s top experts on public health and fighting disease. He recently pulled Robert Redfield, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, onstage at his daily coronavirus harangue to bully him into denying his warning that the novel coronavirus’ second wave, likely coming in tow with the next flu season, will probably be worse the current epidemic. (Fortunately, Redfield didn’t deny it, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, soon backed him up with a similar prediction.)
Also, in his penchant for promoting scams, Trump recently removed the leading scientist and federal team leader pursuing vaccines against COVID-19 because he wouldn’t back Trump’s baseless promotion of hydroxychloroquine (a traditional malaria medicine) as a remedy against the virus.
This is the president who sees himself as a genius on all matters and who declared, for example, “I know more about ISIS than the generals,” and ridiculed Gen. Jim Mattis, one of the top U.S. Marines in history, as he dismissed him as defense secretary. Such examples of his daily blends of arrogance and ignorance across the whole spectrum of national security, defense and the U.S. economy are just endless.
Trump poisons the nation’s COVID-19 fight
Now, however, Trump has spread his contempt for learning and disdain for expert advice to the realm of public health and the nation’s invasion by COVID-19, splattering the best virus-fighting efforts of governors and other leaders with misdirection, confusion and lies.
He has topped his best efforts at misdirection lately by tweeting to the nation his encouragement for crowds to gather and carelessly spread the virus, in cross-purpose to his own declared encouragement for social distancing to slow the pandemic. “LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” he tweeted April 17, and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” my own longtime home state, egging on protests against social distancing and avoiding crowds. A resurgent Tea Party, for example, quickly picked up on Trump’s tweets, drumming up support for protesting governor’s stay-at-home policies in over 20 states, that party recently bragged.
It’s no surprise, then, that some Trump-devoted governors have joined Trump in his effort to spread the virus.
It’s also no surprise that five weeks after Trump began hawking hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 treatment, the first large hospital-based tests using the drug to fight that virus found twice as many hospital patients died using it than those not using it. Within days of those findings, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned the public against its use, saying it often causes “serious heart rhythm problems,” including ventricular fibrillation, even death.
With his hydroxychloroquine sales pitch apparently losing some luster, Trump volunteered at another of coronavirus briefing that disinfecting cleaners might be injected into people or pumped into their lungs to kill the novel coronavirus. Doctors, even the maker of Lysol, immediately objected to such foolish and dangerous suggestions.
Governors take the vanguard
With the president’s functional default on COVID-19, the nation’s battle with COVID-19 is being led mostly by state governors, tremendously supported by hard-working federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Navy and National Guard units.
Governors’ performance with COVID-19 diverges, but fortunately less along party lines and more along their states’ coronavirus infection levels and their adherence to, or disregard for, advice by health professionals.
Though a few mid-America states, such as Arkansas and South Dakota, haven’t had the stay-at-home orders imposed in most states, it appears all governors have closed schools and either restricted or closed most nonessential businesses. Also, all governors, at minimum, recommend the behavior guidelines by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention for citizens to avoid and minimize risk of COVID-19 infection.
For most, a cautious reopening
All top state executives are itching to get their economies, schools, sports events and other things back in gear as soon as possible. That’s a given.
But the governors of nearly all states, whether Democrat or Republican, meanwhile are taking hard looks are economic reacceleration, staying on the same page with health and disease experts in planning loosening business, school and social restrictions.
As examples, updated COVID-19 action plans by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland and Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia are typical and similar to that of Gov. Doug Burgum, Republican of North Dakota, even though Burgum has not imposed a homebound order. In all three states, schools and nonessential businesses are closed, folks are asked to observe social distance and wear masks.
The governors are certainly not divided by party when it comes to demands for quick, reliable coronavirus testing, so essential for health workers and for anyone wanting to return to work with other people. Trump has repeatedly lied and distorted facts around testing, starting with his blatant lie at CVD headquarters March 6, announcing “anybody that wants a test can get a test” for COVID-19.
Burgum recently extended his executive order and declared he wants assurances (as Hogan and Northam also want) on several benchmarks — “robust, widespread rapid testing capacity … robust contact tracing and infrastructure … adequate PPE availability for the health care system and public” — before easing restrictions on businesses and other events.
Next door in South Dakota, meanwhile, COVID-19 cases have remained low so far, except for the now-closed Smithfield pork plant, where hundreds were infected. However, mayors and other leaders there fear an outbreak and want more action. Nonetheless, Republican Gov. Kristi Noam, a Trump loyalist, has held off on homebound orders while pursuing grants to research the pet Trump remedy, hydroxychloroquine.
For better or worse, governors in several Southern states — Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee — say they’re easing rules and letting many businesses and public events resume by early May. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, in fact, was one of the last to impose a stay-at-home order and has already told many types of businesses they can reopen, despite objections by city mayors and public health experts.
Quick-shooting California may provide a model
California may emerge as a good lesson in how to stifle COVID-19. Especially vulnerable as the first stops for airplanes from Wuhan, China, the virus’ birthplace, California was also the virus’ first U.S. stop, it turns out. The state has the largest population (nearly an eighth of Americans).
California Gov. Gavin Newsom moved early and quickly to staunch the virus’ attack, ordering all people (except for essential activities) into their houses March 19, and pressed for maximum prevention efforts.
Nonetheless, the virus killed more than 1,500 Californians by April 24, especially in the Los Angeles area.
But California fatalities are ninth among states, and just 3.3 deaths per 100,000 population, which is among the lower of the state COVID-19 death rates, especially compared to most states of the East Coast and Southeast.
California’s experience may prove invaluable in anticipating COVID-19’s inevitable second wave. Despite Trump’s unhelpful antics and resentment of health professionals’ honesty about what’s ahead, this fight against a deadly virus isn’t over by a long shot.
So let’s hope governors will keep listening to intelligent sources about COVID-19; not to the con-artist in the Oval Office.