It was great to see Dr. Tony Fauci again. I don’t know about you, but I’ve missed the guy. I know Donald Trump isn’t a big believer in quarantines, but he has apparently been doing his best to quarantine his leading infectious disease expert.
But there Fauci was Tuesday morning, making his TV comeback, testifying with a few other task force officials before a House oversight committee. He was warning for the millionth time, by my unofficial count, that COVID-19 has not left the building and isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
In fact, if you check the numbers, cases are rising in something like 25 states, and there is incipient fear of an April redux in a few of those that weren’t hit hard back then, including Utah, Texas, Florida, California, Oregon and, of course, Arizona, where Trump was visiting on Tuesday. Is it fair to mention that Trump came to Arizona even as the state was setting hospitalization records for an eighth consecutive day? Is it fair to mention that the crowd of students cheering Trump was basically mask-free in a city where masks are now mandated?
In a news conference, Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott said the course of the virus in his state was “unacceptable.” Later in the day, he said what people needed to understand was that the safest place to be was in their homes. Yes, in Texas. Meanwhile, in Houston, the mayor says the city is nearing a crisis point.
One state where the virus numbers have been exceptionally good among early openers is Colorado, according to the data. John Ingold had a fascinating piece in The Sun noting that — again with the data — it seems more Coloradans are on the move of late. Of the states that reopened early, Colorado is one of two that has seen a decline in COVID-19 infections.
Ingold asks the question — one I’ve been wondering about for some time — whether Colorado has been lucky or good or both. I’ve been critical of Jared Polis when I feared he might be moving too quickly to reopen Colorado, but I’m more than willing to believe that Polis’ repeated insistence on masks and social distancing has been beneficial. I’m also willing to believe that Polis, as he has said, is quite anxious about the fact that neighboring states are seeing major outbreaks. And while we haven’t seen a trend yet, Colorado did have its first weekly uptick in cases since April.
For me, the real takeaway from Trump’s failed Tulsa rally is that you can be an insane Trumpist and maybe still not be entirely insane. Tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of Oklahomans stayed away from the rally because, Trump notwithstanding, most people, presumably even in Oklahoma, know that an indoor rally in coronavirus-spiking Tulsa was inherently crazy or risky or both. It was no surprise that Trump didn’t wear a mask and that most of the audience apparently threw theirs away.
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In other words, ordinary, non-politician Trumpists might like Trump, but they seem to trust Fauci. That’s hardly a surprise, given that in the latest polls, Trump is considered credible by only 34% of Americans.
If polls say Republicans are less inclined to worry about coronavirus and less willing to wear masks, the lesson from Tulsa, as cases rise in red states, may be that Trump’s case is becoming even less tenable. It’s becoming harder to blame China or the World Health Organization since the rest of the world got the same information — or misinformation — that America did. Politico reports that the White House is looking now to blame the CDC, which has certainly had its share of missteps. But how do you blame the CDC or anyone when Trump insists he’s doing a wonderful job?
Fears from the experts, and especially their faith in data, stand in direct contrast, of course, to what we hear from the remaining true believers in the Trump administration, starting with Donald Trump himself, sycophant in chief Mike Pence, sycophant from TV now on Trump staff Larry Kudlow and a few other flat earthers. Pence wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week saying coronavirus cases had “stabilized,” which was not exactly true, and now isn’t true at all. Since Pence’s op-ed, cases have surged by 18%.
You may remember when Trump said that he had his administration cut back on testing because more testing turns up more positives, and Trump — who rarely speaks of those who have lost family, friends, jobs, etc. — believes his major problem is fake news, meaning that those who insist on revealing the actual data. I mean, how many times can fake news say that 120,000 have died so far in the U.S. while numbers are moving in the exact opposite direction in most European countries?
After Trump made his absurd claim on testing and his aides tried to say he was just joking, Joe St. George, late of Denver’s Fox31 and now Scripps national politics editor, busted that theory by asking Trump the question in a one-on-one interview. Trump’s answer wasn’t precise, since he tried to dodge the question, but his answer was clear enough. And later, when CBS News reporter Weijia Jiang asked Trump about testing, he said, ‘I don’t kid.”
Meanwhile Fauci and the other experts openly contradicted Trump. “I know for sure none of us have ever been told to slow down on testing. That is just a fact,” Fauci said. “In fact, we will be doing more testing.” This is how we coronavirus in the United States, with Trump and science standing far more than the suggested six feet apart.
But some of Trump’s most loyal supporters in states that are being hit the hardest are backing away from Trump’s prescriptions. Texas’ Abbott said, “I know some people think wearing a mask is inconvenient or an infringement on freedom, but I also know it will keep Texas open.” Abbott also said Texas may, as a “last resort,” have to close the state down again.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott put it this: “We’ve got to, every one of us, take this seriously, wear your mask, social distance. Don’t go to places you don’t have to go to.”
The response to coronavirus is shifting, except at the White House, where masks are scorned and social distancing is discouraged. And, wouldn’t you know it, but that damn fake news would spoil everything by reporting that eight Trump campaign staffers in Tulsa and two Secret Service agents tested positive for the virus.
In the good news from Fauci’s testimony, he’s relatively optimistic about a vaccine sometime next year. But then there’s the news from now, in which Fauci puts us in the middle of the first wave, with no clear understanding of when or if the next wave might come.
“The next couple of weeks,” Fauci said, “are going to be critical in addressing those surges we’re seeing in Florida, in Texas, in Arizona and other states.”
Fauci didn’t use these words, but he might as well have: I kid you not.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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