Coronavirus surge worsens as Trump ignores the danger
Medical staff at Kayenta Health Center in Arizona learn how to place a shield over the head of a corna-virus patient after an intubation tube is placed down his throat so he can breathe. | Carolyn Kaster/AP

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, already criminally absent, appears to be getting worse and the data confirm it.

Case numbers are proliferating. Irresponsible early reopening has backfired. Donald Trump veers between dismissing the threat and urging even more irresponsible reopening despite the fact that 46 of the 50 states, plus Puerto Rico, are setting new records for viral exposures or are seeing alarming increases in the numbers of infections.

When Trump isn’t shooting off his mouth on topics engineered to distract attention from the crisis, he’s threatening schools that don’t reopen this fall with a cutoff of federal funds, despite the fact that doing so would leave thousands of teachers and 60 million kids, as well as their families, potentially vulnerable to the virus. That has teachers, parents, and administrators up in arms.

And just to make a bad situation worse, Trump has gone back to slamming the science, and particularly publicly criticizing and sidelining the nation’s top scientist on viruses, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fauci keeps presenting facts that undercut all of Trump’s assertions, including that it’s safe to reopen the schools.

The raw data are bad, despite what the Oval Office occupant and his partisan enablers say.

With less than 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. leads the globe in the number of people who have tested positive, 3,364,918 as of 9:30 a.m. on July 14. That’s 25.6% of the world’s total. It also leads in deaths: 135,616 (23.6% of world numbers).

The data, from the most authoritative source, Johns Hopkins University, show another pattern: Nations with authoritarian rulers, or right-wing authoritarian-minded ones, such as Trump, also lead the world in numbers of coronavirus cases.

After the U.S., the next four nations, in order of positive victims, are Brazil, India, Russia, and Peru. They’re run by three right-wingers and one despot, Russia’s Vladimir Putin. And Moscow officials have been quoted as saying that there’s a big undercount there. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is as fanatic as Trump about denying the virus’s death toll. His nation is second to the U.S. in cases (1.883 million) and deaths (72,833).

That pattern repeats itself in the U.S. The new big U.S. coronavirus hotspot is not New York, but Florida, where GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, a slavish Trump follower is—like his leader—insisting the schools reopen in their buildings in late August. No distance learning allowed, DeSantis decrees.

Both the teachers union in Miami-Dade, Florida’s largest district, and the school board have told DeSantis, and by extension Trump, that he’s full of it. The board okayed a plan with limited use of buildings and lots of online learning.

“You have no plan,” one Miami-Dade teacher, with her own kids in the school system, tweeted after Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos followed her leader and demanded brick-and-mortar schools reopen, regardless of the pandemic.

“Teachers, kids, and parents are fearing for their lives. You point to a private sector that has put profits over people and claimed the lives of thousands of essential workers. I wouldn’t trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child.”

Miami-Dade County alone now averages 1,143 coronavirus cases a day and is on the top 20 list of U.S. counties in the coronavirus toll. That’s a 75% increase since June 17, just after DeSantis ordered everything in Florida to reopen.

Floridians flocked to beaches and bars, thus producing “community spread” of the virus, a spread that specialists in diseases at the University of California at Berkeley previously said would appear in the mortality numbers around three weeks later.

In Miami-Dade, they have. The cumulative toll is up to 67,713 cases, fourth among the nation’s 3,000-plus counties. Maricopa County (Phoenix) with 81,216, is third, in a state whose Republican governor, Doug Ducey, also slavishly followed Trump’s lead—and whose denizens crowded bars when he lifted restrictions.

By contrast, the coronavirus spread has slowed in the prior big hot spot, New York City. It reported no deaths at all on July 12, for the first time since the pandemic was declared on March 13.

Still, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., worries asymptomatic coronavirus carriers—people with no visible signs of the disease—traveling from Phoenix or Miami or a similar hotspot to the Big Apple could start the cycle all over again. The state now requires out-of-state new arrivals to self-quarantine.

“Shame on you! You are an embarrassment! We are getting record-breaking cases every day, and you are doing nothing! You are falsifying information and misleading the public,” Thomas Kennedy of Florida shouted at Gov. Ron DeSantis at a Miami coronavirus press conference. Here a member of the governor’s staff tries to usher him out of the room. | AP

And even those states that moved cautiously about reopening, notably California, had to shut down again. Once bonds were loosened, its people flocked to the beaches, shopping malls and beauty salons.

The result is Los Angeles County leads the nation by a wide margin in cumulative coronavirus cases, with 136,357, and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) had to shut the state again.

And in another rebuke to Trump, California’s two largest school districts, the Los Angeles and San Diego Unified School Districts, jointly said on July 13 they’re going to start school online, not in buildings, in August. Los Angeles is the second-largest school district in the U.S.

“LAUSD announced today that when the school year resumes August 18, all teaching will be remote and physical school sites will remain closed,” United Teachers of Los Angeles, the teachers’ joint NEA-AFT affiliate, tweeted. “The district’s decision comes after the clear message educators sent on Fridaywith 83% of the 18,000 members responding to an informal online poll—that LAUSD should not physically reopen schools and to refocus on distance learning. #UTLAStrong.”

“The decision to open school with online learning was made by the (San Diego) superintendent after a long weekend of discussions, and the two largest districts in California joined hand in hand with the announcement,” added the Administrators Association of San Diego, the AFL-CIO member union local for that district’s principals and other top officials.

“Today’s announcement takes many factors into consideration and AASD agrees that online learning is the safest way to provide instruction and the right option for our school leaders to open school on August 31.  Today’s announcement gives school leaders the time they need to plan for a physical school reopening in the future with safety measures in place.  Thank you, Superintendent (Cindy) Marten for this decision.  We are grateful!” said the union, School Administrators Local 134.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).