On the same day that the World Health Organization warned that America could become the next epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump suggested we should all get ready to go back to work in less than three weeks from now. Said he wanted “packed churches” on Easter Sunday, even.
Who knows whether it will happen. He changes his mind a lot. And governors could keep statewide lockdowns in place either way. Or people might keep staying home on their own. But if it does happen, a great many avoidable deaths will follow.
When the President made his announcement, the CDC had the total number of confirmed cases in America above 44,000, with 544 deaths. As plenty of outlets have already pointed out, that’s the smallest possible number of people who had been infected as of this time two weeks ago. From the time you catch the virus, it typically takes about two weeks to get sick, get tested, and get results. But many who carry the virus have mild symptoms or no symptoms, and don’t bother getting tested. For two weeks those people have been spreading the virus without realizing it. It’s possible there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who already have it.
The worst case scenario if we take no preventative action is more than two million deaths. Most of those will be people over 70. And most of those will be reliable Republican voters. A disproportionate number could be from Florida, where the population is older, the outbreak is already severe, and the state government is bungling its response. Florida went for Trump in 2016 by only 113,000 votes, out of more than nine million cast.
We can only hope that Florida doesn’t come anywhere near a hundred thousand coronavirus deaths before November. Even on the worst-case scenario, that seems like a stretch. But the people who will die have family and friends who will survive them, and the avoidable death of a close friend or family member is the kind of thing that just might bring a person to think about checking a different box at the top of the ballot this time.
Not only that, but the coronavirus death rate is only something like 3% — so for every person across the country who dies, another 30 will catch it and survive. Many of them will end up on life support before they pull through. Suffice it to say, “Trump Saved the Economy, But Nearly Killed Me” doesn’t make a great slogan for the next round of red hats.
On the worst-case scenario, even those of us who don’t catch the virus would still deal with it in some significant way — watching a loved one suffer, having to care for those who are sick, experiencing multiple losses in our immediate community.
It’s true that a great many people will suffer and die during an economic recession, as well. But it would be on a much smaller scale. One study after the 2008 recession found that it caused only 10,000 suicides across the U.S., Canada and Europe. Drug abuse would go up, domestic violence would go up; these things are known. But a choice between tanking the economy and turning the virus loose should be easier for Trump than a choice between quinoa and McDonald’s for lunch.
Lastly, the coronavirus will almost certainly kill off a disproportionate number of conservative Republicans overall. If Trump changes the social distancing guidelines, most Americans will use their common sense and stay inside anyway. The ones who go out and expose themselves will be the ones who take Trump’s word that it’s safe to do so — his base of dedicated followers.
Now, Mr. President, before you take your finger off that chess piece. Are you sure that’s the move you want to make?
Are you really sure?