No matter what Donald Trump says, there is no such thing as “magic.” At least, not when it comes to deadly pandemics where over 200,000 Americans have died through the deliberate neglect of a government that failed to implement a national testing strategy, failed to develop tools for case tracing, and—no matter what they say—never instituted either a national stay-at-home order or a mask mandate. The most horrible thing about this pandemic is not how many people have died, but how many people have died unnecessarily because of decisions made by Donald Trump.
What may be even worse is that Trump is still making these decisions. He knows that if there was a national mask mandate, implemented right now, in a period of about six weeks the number of new cases would be so reduced that it might actually be possible to have kids return to school safely. Masks combined with rapid tests that should finally reach the market in quantity over that same period should make it possible for many sporting events to resume, for businesses to return to something close to normal, and for families to gather at Thanksgiving. But for that to happen with anything approaching safety it has to start now, and Trump is not going to do that. He is utterly wedded to decisions he made explicitly because he thought they would result in more deaths in blue states.
Instead, Trump has found himself an “expert” in the form of Scott Atlas, a retired radiologist with absolutely no experience or expertise in infectious disease. Now, after having discarded NIH director Dr. Anthony Fauci, undermined Dr. Robert Redfield who Trump appointed to head the CDC, and sidelined even White House loyalist Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump is going to ride Atlas all the way down. And he may generate as many American deaths in the next three months as in the whole year up to now, because this thing is not over.
As NBC News is reporting, a phone call between Dr. Robert Redfield and a colleague at the CDC made it clear just how the director of that agency feels about Atlas and the advice he’s been providing on COVID-19.
"Everything he says is false," said Redfield, and when discussing Atlas’ claims that the pandemic was all but over, the CDC director made it clear. “We're nowhere near the end.”
Meanwhile on CNN, Dr. Anthony Fauci made it clear that he was concerned, because the things Atlas says are “really taken either out of context or actually incorrect.” While Fauci said that he was willing to sit down with Atlas to talk through areas of concern, he made it clear that on the subject of masks —which Atlas have repeatedly disparaged—his position is firm. “When it comes to a mask … I can just tell you how I feel. And what I feel is not very much different from what has been expressed by Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC. Masks are critically important in preventing the transmission and acquisition of SARS coronavirus 2. The data are strong. There’s no doubt about that.”
These reports come just days after Deborah Birx was reportedly distressed over the way that Atlas has taken over the coronavirus task force meetings and, with Trump’s support, shouldered everyone else aside. "The President has found somebody who matches what he wants to believe," said a source close to Birx. Birx is said to be upset that Atlas is telling Trump what he wants to hear about masks and social distancing, even if it’s all lies.
Right now around the world, there are 40 vaccines that have reached the clinical trial stage and an astounding 10 vaccines in Phase 3 trials. These vaccines—covering a whole range of technologies from tried-and-true to revolutionary—offer a fantastic chance of providing genuine protection against infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus by some time in 2021. But until a safe and effective vaccine becomes available, and even after, wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing, and the use of widespread testing is essential. The difference between having COVID-19 as a regular, endemic disease and having COVID-19 as a rare occurrence that doesn’t regularly spread across the population isn’t going to be through vaccination alone.
As The New York Times reports, experts are warning that even as Trump continues to encourage a return to sports, schools, and shopping, the pandemic is far from over. Washington’s IHME projection continues to warn that another 175,000 Americans could die before the end of the year.
Even as Atlas is bringing back the terrifying idea of “herd immunity,” new test results have shown that less than 10% of Americans have been exposed to COVID-19. That means that 90% of the population is still vulnerable to the disease. The rate of hospitalizations, heart attacks, strokes, nerve damage, heart damage, kidney damage, lung damage, and deaths from COVID-19 could all be nine times higher than they have been to date. Two million Americans have not been saved—they are still absolutely at risk, and absolutely vulnerable to COVID-19.
There is simply no evidence that 10% or 20% exposure will generate herd immunity. This is a new disease with absolutely no reservoir of immunity in the population. If this wildfire is allowed to burn without restrictions, it will burn everyone. And leave behind not only far more deaths, but a mass population of people who are in some way suffering the lingering effects of the disease.
This idea is gaining credence at just the wrong time. COVID-19 numbers are not headed down. Even at their lowest point in the last month, the level of new cases was actually above the high points from the first “wave” back in April and May. The United States is moving into the flu season with widespread cases of COVID-19 and still does not have the testing or case tracking infrastructure Trump promised in March. This is an incredibly dangerous moment, one where we cannot afford to listen to Scott Atlas, or to any of the “investor class” that wants to pretend that it’s all safe now for the little people to get back to work.