Contagion is geometry, not simple addition. If those the rates of new cases in the West and the South were to continue at their current level for just two weeks, each of those regions would be adding more new weekly cases of the coronavirus than were added in the entire United States last week. Each.
Back then, Donald Trump liked to say that New York “cried wolf,” as Trump claimed that New York's projections about how many hospital beds and ventilators it would need turned out to be higher than the actual case. It was true: New York did not end up needing as much of the capacity of the quickly reconfigured Javits Center and the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort as had been anticipated.
But there was a simple and profound explanation: the high initial projections were based on fears harbored by health officials that only roughly half of the population would agree to follow social distancing and shelter-in-place protocols. When 90% of the population adhered to these requirements, the need for beds and ventilators dropped significantly.
At the end of April, Newsweek reported on a study that ranked the states according to how thoroughly they had adhered to social distancing protocols.
Of the ten states that were rated as poorest in conforming to social distancing protocols, eight had Republican Governors: South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
The ten states with the best adherence to social distancing? Eight had Democratic Governors: Maine, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Vermont, Hawaii, and New Mexico.
Population 7-Day New Case Rate Weekly New Cases Per Million Pop
Arizona 7,278,717 72% 2,617
California 39,512,223 59% 747
Florida 21,477,737 71% 1,224
Texas 28,995,881 78% 937
One of these states has a Democratic Governor... Gavin Newsom of California. Newsom was given high marks for his early sweeping lock down in the most populous state. By virtue of is huge population, California trails the other three states when ranked by the relative measure of "new cases per million of population." California has huge challenges with this new spike, but it is clear that Newsom takes this threat extremely seriously.
The other three states -- each with contagion rates above 70% -- have Republican Governors... and they have been among the staunchest Trump supporters on COVID-19 issues.
Arizona Republican Governor Doug Ducey has been one of Donald Trump's most reliable sycophants, allowing Trump to hold a rally just this past Tuesday, even as his state's contagion rate roared out of control.
Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, a world-class Trump acolyte who, is the guy who allowed college students to continue their spring break raging on his state's beaches even as the virus wrought havoc in New York City. A study conducted using cell phone data showed that six of the counties in the United States that showed the most widespread local travel in the month of March-- and therefore the least compliance to sheltering-in-place -- were in Florida, where DeSantis had failed to order a statewide lock down until April 1.
And Texas is, of course, home to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, the man who suggested that his state's senior citizens would willingly sacrifice their lives to the coronavirus in order to maintain a thriving economy. “No one reached out to me and said, 'As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that America loves for its children and grandchildren?' And if that is the exchange, I'm all in,” the Lieutenant Governor asserted.
The messages coming out of the leaders of these states has consistently be one of supporting Trump, minimizing the threat of the virus, and eagerly re-opening their states for business.
Here's the crux of the matter. We've now proven that you can pretty much stop the coronavirus in its tracks if you are able to implement a 100% lock down, with masks, social distancing, proper personal hygiene, and sheltering-in-place. You can shut it down if you can put such a program in place.
The problem is that you just can't flip a switch with people, particularly with people who have been told for months that the coronavirus isn't all that big a deal, and they shouldn't be worried about it. People who have been getting that cultural message from their leaders, colleagues, and personal ecosystem for four months are simply not going to switch overnight to the 90% compliance that we witnessed in New York. That cultural re-education will take time, and it will take and absolute and emphatic reversal from their government leaders -- starting with Trump-- in order for it to happen. We have yet to see any of Ducey, Abbott, or DeSantis take the kind of bold, uncompromising stand that Cuomo took when his state was on fire.
So the wild, wild West is about to get a lot wilder. The South will rise again next week. And the week after. And it will keep rising until somebody realizes that the curve has to be flattened. Highly restrictive social distancing protocols will need to be implemented. Masks must be required. Sheltering in place will be re-instituted.
What appears more likely is that a number of large Republican states will have to live with a constant coronavirus presence, as the number of infections soars and elevates the odds of routine spread. The coronavirus will become a chronic illness, never eradicated until such time as a vaccine is developed and broadly available. Facing that degree of inundation and their allegiance to Trump, one wonders whether these states will have the will to commit to a new, sustained lock down. The unfortunate people under the sway of Trump will learn, over a painful and protracted period of time, that this disease is indeed far worse than the cure.
Or, consider these breathtaking words of supposed comfort from Vice President Mike Pence just this week. "The past five days, deaths are down to fewer than 750 a day, a dramatic decline from 2,500 a day a few weeks ago—and a far cry from the 5,000 a day that some were predicting." Do the math, Mike. You appear pleased that the U.S. is "down to" 750 deaths per day. Multiple that by 365 days and tell me that 273,750 American deaths per year is a figure that makes you feel proud of the work you and your administration are doing.