I’m not sure what did it -- and frankly I don’t particularly care -- but it appears that for whatever reason Donald Trump has belatedly realized that we are days away from a historic public health crisis. The new guidelines that have been issued are draconian, but also sensible.
To quote from them: “If you are an older person, stay home and away from other people.”
“If you are a person with a serious underlying health condition that can put you at increased risk (for example, a condition that impairs your lung or heart function or weakens your immune system), stay home and away from other people.”
Yet despite this, four states -- Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and Illinois -- were scheduled to have in-person primaries, both Democratic and Republican. There is simply no way to comply with those guidelines and also hold those elections as scheduled. Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, who has been among the most proactive leaders in the country in mitigating the pandemic, moved late Monday to postpone the primary. But a judge rejected his order, insisting that it would set a bad precedent, and ordered the elections to go forward. DeWine then did something extraordinary: along with the secretary of state and public health commissioner, he barred the elections as a public health emergency.
The other three states, inexplicably, are going forward. So let’s use the CDC guidelines to try to figure out, if you’re planning to vote Tuesday in Florida, Illinois, or Arizona, whether you should do that. Here are the questions to ask.
Are you an “older person” (interesting that they left that undefined) or do you have “an underlying health condition”?
In the next two weeks, will you be in contact with an older person or a person with an underlying health condition?
In the next two weeks, will you be in contact with any person who themselves might be in contact with an older person or a person with an underlying health condition?
In the next two weeks, will you be in contact with any person who themselves might be in contact with any person who themselves might be in contact with an older person…
Okay, you get the point of an epidemic, and how it spreads. If the answer to 1-4 is no, then go vote. If not, think about the risk.
The pandemic is forcing competing values to collide. It’s deeply painful as an American to suggest that an election ought to be postponed, or that a voter ought not to vote. It also cuts against our cherished value of the rule of law to have a governor simply override the judiciary, citing an emergency. I hate the way that DeWine made the decision -- and yet I agree with it, and therein lies the true threat to democracy. If our leaders, from Trump, to DNC Chair Tom Perez, to the remaining candidates for the Democratic nomination, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, refuse to show leadership in this moment, they are not just putting the public health at risk, they’re undermining confidence in democracy itself. If we want to emerge from this crisis with our democracy intact, people with power -- limited as it may be, as in the case of Perez, for instance -- need to use it and lead.
The judge who rejected DeWine’s request to postpone the election was no doubt influenced by the fact that neither Sanders nor Biden had called for the postponement, and, indeed, more than 100 progressive groups were calling on the state to push forward with its election. There are deeply legitimate reasons to be wary of a postponement, but, again, refer to the CDC guidelines. If older people are advised to “stay home and away from other people,” in what possible scenario can an election go on that doesn’t either put those people at heightened risk, or disenfranchise them? The clear, pressing need was to postpone this election. It should have been done by popular demand. Instead, it was done in an authoritarian fashion. Maybe it’s apocryphal, but when Ben Franklin stepped out of the constitutional convention and was asked what the founders had created, he said, “A republic, if you can keep it.” If your position is that an election must be held, even knowing that it will lead to many people dying needlessly, because it’s on the calendar and that’s the process, then don’t be surprised when people demand the process be thrown out. If we behave irresponsibly with our democracy, an authoritarian will be happy to ride in and take over, promising to do it smoothly. A republic, if you can keep it.
Let’s keep it. Don’t vote in person if you answered yes to any of the four above.
Meanwhile, the great isolation has begun. Millions remain in denial, but reality has a way of forcing itself upon even the most deluded imaginations. We took our kids out of school on Friday and we probably should have done so earlier. DC schools have since closed through the end of the month, but I suspect they’ll close for the rest of the school year. We are collectively telling ourselves we’ll be in isolation for the next couple weeks, but that could easily turn into months. I’m wishing all of us the best.
A huge problem we’re confronting is that authorities have suggested that the primary driver of infection is visibly symptomatic people. Republican Rep. Devin Nunes was recently on Fox News telling people to go to bars and restaurants if they’re not feeling sick in order to prop up the local economy. That is murderous, negligent advice. In fact, people not showing symptoms, including children, are most certainly able to carry the virus and transmit it. Here’s from a recent CNN article:
On Tuesday, Dr. Sandra Ciesek, director of the Institute of Medical Virology in Frankfurt, Germany, tested 24 passengers who had just flown in from Israel.
Seven of the 24 passengers tested positive for coronavirus. Four of those had no symptoms, and Ciesek was surprised to find that the viral load of the specimens from the asymptomatic patients was higher than the viral load of the specimens from the three patients who did have symptoms.
Viral load is a measure of the concentration of the virus in someone's respiratory secretions. A higher load means that someone is more likely to spread the infection to other people.
Another problem is that our hospital system is uniquely unprepared for this moment. Hospitals, to maximize profit (which even non-profit ones aim for), have moved to “just in time inventory,” meaning they keep only bare minimum of supplies on hand. It’s been one of the profit-driving trends of globalization, and now that it has become entrenched in hospital management, it will leave them short, as supply lines are broken and demand overwhelms productive and shipping capacity. The American decision to offshore our manufacturing capacity has set us up for catastrophe. A nurse at an American hospital wrote a first-person dispatch for us about the lack of preparedness they’re witnessing.
This weekend, Akela Lacy and I obtained a spreadsheet listing all the requests made by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy of the federal government. Murphy had publicly noted that a supply of masks and other equipment was being delivered to the state, but the spreadsheet shows that the deliveries amount to just a fraction of what the state believes it needs -- and included no ventilators, essential to keeping people alive who start nosediving with the virus. That story is here.
Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate was moved from a live audience in Arizona to CNN’s DC studios. That’s a good step, but that studio is probably itself a petri dish, and both remaining candidates are in their 70s.
Stay safe, and, if you can, stay home.