SOMERSET, KY — On February 29, 2020, a day after President Trump headlined one of his cult rallies in South Carolina and called the coronavirus the Democrats’ “new hoax,” I was in New York City with my wife, Gabrielle Gray, celebrating my mother’s 90th birthday.
The timeline, as you’ll see, is crucial to understanding the dimensions of an emergency that has unfolded in New York and the United States in the 15 days since, and is quickly getting worse.
First a word about the party, which was a lovely, joyous gathering at a restaurant on Madison Avenue highlighted by toasts and Jo-Anne Schneider’s grace and energy — and by the attendance of her children, grandsons and granddaughters, a niece and nephew, cousins, and in-laws who arrived from five states and both coasts. We are a family that enjoys gathering for big events and as Anne Schneider, my sister-in-law, noted, this was another “Schneider state occasion.”
In the weeks before the party we asked everybody to send 10 words that best described my mother’s values. Assembled in a word cloud by my younger brother, the three most notable values that define my mother are loyalty, family, discipline. From my perspective: Perfect
It is March 15 today, more than two weeks later, and for Americans who regard their own health and the safety of their family, friends, and colleagues with any degree of maturity, nothing is quite the same.
Hoarding of food and supplies — particularly toilet paper — is occurring around the country. Tens of thousands of schools closed. Colleges and universities closed. The NBA, Major League Soccer, and Major League Baseball postponed play. The NCAA cancelled March Madness. Airports and airplanes emptied. Elbow bumps replaced handshakes and hugs. Millions of people, including me and Gabrielle, hunkered down in their homes preparing themselves for a kind of determined self-isolation that could last weeks. Maybe months. Everybody I know is inspecting themselves and anyone near them for signs of a dry cough, headache, sore throat, fatigue, and fever — the telltale early symptoms of Covid-19.
Late last week, on March 13, the president declared his self-described “hoax” a “national emergency.” The span between the idiocy of the first statement and the tardiness of the second: 14 days. The administration’s mismanagement of a public health emergency that was three months in the making is malignant, even criminal. But it fits the imbecilic behavior of the president and the ugly sycophancy of his aides, Congressional supporters, and other scary elements of Trump’s America.
The essential tool for managing a pandemic is knowing where the virus is and who it’s infecting. The country did not have an effective test. It now does but it’s taken time for it to be scaled and distributed.
The other essential tool is communicating honestly and transparently. Even with thousands dying in China from the virus, and hundreds more dying in South Korea, and with the first cases rapidly spreading in the United States, this is what Trump said at the Charleston rally.
“Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus, you know that, right?” “Coronavirus, they’re politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs. You say, ‘How’s President Trump doing?’ They go, ‘Oh, not good, not good.’ They have no clue. They don’t have any clue. They can’t even count their votes in Iowa.”
That attitude, that negligence permeated the administration until the “national emergency” — “two very big words,” he said — was declared on March 13. Reporting is emerging in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and in other news organizations that the president and his White House aides blocked federal health officers from candidly alerting Americans to take precautions during those weeks and previously. The administration failed in every way to anticipate the threat and prepare an effective trustworthy response. Instead the president made it clear that his re-election and the health of the economy were more important. He deliberately put Americans in harm’s way.
It’s inexcusable. But the president was helped by his cult following at Fox News, which steadfastly excuse Trump and adhere to his messaging. Thank God for adult news organizations like the Times to inform America.
From the moment the virus was identified in China in late December, illness and death have swept the world. At this writing case numbers are growing 10,000 a day; 156,000 cases have been identified on every continent and nearly every country. The number of cases is growing much faster outside China (75,000) as in China, (81,000), where new cases have dropped to under 15 a day.
Some 5,800 people have died and deaths are mounting by more than 500 daily. In much of the world, so far, the mortality rate is about 2 percent to 3 percent. In Italy, where the number of cases has soared to nearly 25,000, 1,809 people have died. The Italian Covid-19 mortality rate is over 7 percent.
The United States has recorded 3,100 cases and over 50 deaths since the virus made its presence felt on the West coast when a 35-year-old man’s virus test on January 19 came back positive the next day. On the East Coast, New Rochelle, N.Y., a few miles from where I was born and raised in White Plains, and up the road from where my brother lives with his family in Scarsdale, emerged as an epicenter. A lawyer’s test for Covid-19 came back positive on March 2, two days after my mother’s party and on the same day that Gabrielle and I flew back from LaGuardia to Michigan.
Scarsdale closed its schools. Early last week my brother emailed me: “The National Guard is here.”
I’ll end this post, and pick up later in the week with another, with this. I’m appalled but not baffled by the president’s response to this threat. It’s been true for too long that he’s incompetent as a president. But I remain baffled by his support. About half the country, according to the most recent public opinion polls, show his support has not wavered at all. And about half of all Republicans say the Covid-19 threat is exaggerated. Thousands more Americans, as a result, will die from this virus.
My wife and I, my family, my friends, my colleagues are undertaking unusual behaviors, like staying indoors with rare moments of outdoor exercise, to avoid the virus. But thousands of Americans – Fox News watchers, Trump supporters, people who aren’t tuned in, people who just don’t give a flip — are partying on without regard for their safety. Or the safety of anybody else.
That characteristically American — don’t get in my way, I’ll do what I want – boorish behavior puts everybody in danger.
— Keith Schneider