83% of US COVID-19 Deaths Avoidable

A new study finds earlier lockdowns could have saved 54,000 lives by early May.

blue door chained and locked
“Locked” by Ekin Arabacioglu is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Another day, another study on the effectiveness of government lockdowns to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. This one finds horrific losses as a result of delays.

James Glanz and Campbell Robertson reporting for the New York Times (“Lockdown Delays Cost at Least 36,000 Lives, Data Show“):

If the United States had begun imposing social distancing measures one week earlier than it did in March, about 36,000 fewer people would have died in the coronavirus outbreak, according to new estimates from Columbia University disease modelers.

And if the country had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, two weeks earlier than most people started staying home, the vast majority of the nation’s deaths — about 83 percent — would have been avoided, the researchers estimated.

Under that scenario, about 54,000 fewer people would have died by early May.

The enormous cost of waiting to take action reflects the unforgiving dynamics of the outbreak that swept through American cities in early March. Even small differences in timing would have prevented the worst exponential growth, which by April had subsumed New York City, New Orleans and other major cities, the researchers found.

That’s phenomenal, indeed. As of this writing, we’re at 94,948 dead here in the United States. But we’ve had as many as 2500 daily deaths in the three weeks since the study concluded—and only one day below 1000.

Turning to the studywhich is a preprint that has not been peer-reviewed—itself, we see that

[W]e use county-level observations of reported infections and deaths11, in conjunction with human mobility data12 and a metapopulation transmission model13,14, to quantify changes of disease transmission rates in US counties from March 15, 2020 to May 3, 2020. We find significant reductions of the basic reproductive numbers in major metropolitan areas in association with social distancing and other control measures. Counterfactual simulations indicate that, had these same control measures been implemented just 1-2 weeks earlier, a substantial number of cases and deaths could have been averted. Specifically, nationwide, 61.6% [95% CI: 54.6%-67.7%] of reported infections and 55.0% [95% CI: 46.1%-62.2%] of reported deaths as of May 3, 2020 could have been avoided if the same control measures had been implemented just one week earlier. We also examine the effects of delays in re-implementing social distancing following a relaxation of control measures. A longer response time results in a stronger rebound of infections and death. Our findings underscore the importance of early intervention and aggressive response in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s commonsensical that, if the virus is spread by coming into contact with other humans, measures that reduce human-to-human contact would reduce the spread of the virus. And, rather obviously, doing so before the disease is widespread is going to be more effective than doing so further along the curve.

I’ve skimmed the explanation of the modeling beyond the abstract and, alas, I simply don’t have the training to understand it. Glantz and Robertson talk to some other experts, who seem to think it’s a well-constructed.

All models are only estimates, and it is impossible to know for certain the exact number of people who would have died. But Lauren Ancel Meyers, a University of Texas at Austin epidemiologist who was not involved in the research, said that it “makes a compelling case that even slightly earlier action in New York could have been game changing.”

“This implies that if interventions had occurred two weeks earlier, many Covid-19 deaths and cases would have been prevented by early May, not just in New York City but throughout the U.S.,” Dr. Meyers said.

Much of the NYT report is devoted to rehashing President Trump’s fecklessness in dealing with the issue, which is well-trod ground. But, ultimately governors and mayors took the lead in locking down the country.

One has to get pretty far into the story to get to the obvious point that we discussed yesterday

Official social distancing measures don’t work unless people follow them. While the measures have enjoyed generally widespread support among Americans, the findings rely on the assumption that millions of people would have been willing to change their behavior sooner.

People are apt to take restrictions much more seriously when the devastation of a disease is visible, said Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida who specializes in emerging infectious diseases. But in early March, there had been few deaths, and infections were still spreading silently through the population.

Here’s the day-by-day death toll in the USA, as tracked by Worldometer:

The chart at the link is interactive, not static as my capture above. But you can see that the lockdowns happened very early relative to the spike in deaths. While we’ve since learned that there were deaths in early February from the disease, the first reported death was on February 29. By the time lockdowns were starting, we were at 22 deaths a day.

People are rioting in the streets over the inconveniences of a lockdown at a point when the pandemic is killing thousands of Americans a day. But they’re making the news precisely because so few are doing it. Can you imagine the reaction if governors started ordering businesses closed when there had been one death in the country?

In hindsight, that would absolutely have been the thing to do. Whether we would actually have saved 83,000 lives is unknowable, but we’d have saved a lot. But it’s unreasonable to expect political leaders to take extreme—indeed, essentially unprecedented—measures that far ahead of the curve.

And, yes, it would have been easier if Trump had been using the bully pulpit to spread the caution from Dr. Fauci, the CDC, and other experts rather than downplaying the pandemic because he was more worried about his ratings than the death toll.

As it was, many of us were voluntarily self-isolating ahead of the mandatory shutdowns. My office didn’t close until March 18 but we had stopped going out to restaurants a couple of weeks earlier. The Virginia stay-at-home order wasn’t issued until March 30.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    In hindsight, that would absolutely have been the thing to do.

    Fair enough.

    But if this pandemic’s hindsight does not become the next outbreak’s foresight, we’ll pay the same price, or a higher one, next time.

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  2. KM says:

    If the entire country had gone into a complete and mandatory lockdown for 2-3 weeks way back in March, we’d be done by now. Economy’d on it’s way back and we’d be dealing with minor flareups, not a raging wildfire.

    But it’s unreasonable to expect political leaders to take extreme—indeed, essentially unprecedented—measures that far ahead of the curve.

    I must quibble with this. We saw lockdowns working for weeks before anyone in the US decided to try it. We weren’t ahead of the curve – we were behind specifically because lockdown’s effectiveness depends it being early, thorough and complete. We saw the train coming and stayed on the tracks. Had we had the political balls to do it *before* we started dying en mass, the economic damage would have been confined and not as prolonged as it is now. Instead of less then a month of damage, we’re going to see several months worth as start/stop will become a thing. What’s utterly irrational is doing something to save lives half-assed and expecting to not turn out worse then the well-organized extreme.

    Quarantine is a very old and honored legal concept. Shutting businesses and churches during mass illness has much historical precedence. “But mah rights!” people don’t understand this is nothing new, only the scale. Voluntary self-isolation means little when you have “But Mah Rights!!” idiots *intentionally* acting in ways to spread disease. It literally only takes one to kill dozens or more. The “extreme” measure was the rational one; letting piecemeal decisions and covidiots run amok was like donning PPE with holes cut in it.

    To bastardize Jurassic Park, our citizens were so preoccupied debating with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they absolutely should. Now we’re gonna crack 100K with many more to go. History is going to look back and wonder WTF were we thinking not nipping this in the bud the way we look back at AIDS. It didn’t have to become a global pandemic that’s not going to end anytime soon – it happened because it wasn’t handled right. 20 years from now our grand-children will be furious with us when they realize we could have stopped or minimized COVID “but, but mah rights!!!”

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  3. SKI says:

    Reminds me of Churchill’s commentary on Americans…

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  4. Kari Q says:

    According to the University of Kentucky study, the lockdown in that state cut the number of cases to one-tenth what it would have been if no lockdown had been enacted.

    With respect to Dave Schuler, it appears his conclusion that government mandated lockdowns don’t impact death rates is one that is not widely shared.

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  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    @KM:
    What you said.

    And add this: we are busy right now doing with climate change what we did with Covid 19. If the goobers in some West Virginia trailer park cain’t git their heads around it, well, whaddya gonna do? We have to at all times defer to the opinions of people with neither education nor evident intelligence, because: freedom.

    Only two opinions hold sway: greed-blind billionaires and superstitious cretins, the building blocks of the Republican Party.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy:

    But if this pandemic’s hindsight does not become the next outbreak’s foresight, we’ll pay the same price, or a higher one, next time.

    I think that’s right. I noted very early on in the crisis that US-South Korea comparisons were really unfair, because the ROKs have dealt with enough of these crises in the past for the leadership and population to accept the need for drastic measures early. Lockdowns are an easy sell and masks are second-nature. I suspect that we’ll be far more aggressive—maybe overly so—if we have another pandemic within a generation.

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  7. Kari Q says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    we are busy right now doing with climate change what we did with Covid 19.

    This is what kids will be furious about in 20 years. Covid 19 will just leave them shaking their heads, because they won’t have to worry about it. Treatments or vaccines will be available.

    But climate change will be accelerating and lives will be endangered in 20 years because people today won’t make changes to fight it.

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  8. James Joyner says:

    @Kari Q:

    With respect to Dave Schuler, it appears his conclusion that government mandated lockdowns don’t impact death rates is one that is not widely shared.

    The modeling assumes full compliance. Dave’s argument is that the study cited yesterday indicates that compliance, which is a social phenomenon with many layers, is the issue rather than policy per se.

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  9. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Only two opinions hold sway: greed-blind billionaires and superstitious cretins, the building blocks of the Republican Party.

    While there’s truth in that, it’s not like New York City or New York State, both run by Democrats, were that far ahead of the curve. Hell, California, the first state to order lockdowns, didn’t do so until March 20. We can’t blame Republicans for that.

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  10. James Joyner says:

    @KM:

    If the entire country had gone into a complete and mandatory lockdown for 2-3 weeks way back in March, we’d be done by now. Economy’d on it’s way back and we’d be dealing with minor flareups, not a raging wildfire.

    I agree with that. And, again, it would have been far easier if Trump hadn’t been trying to claim the whole thing was a Democratic hoax. But the fact that nobody was willing to issue a lockdown before March 20 is a pretty good indicator of the political realities.

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  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    You’re just wrong.

    Was someone passing Gavin Newsom copies of the president’s daily intelligence briefing? Were the CDC and the WHO reporting to the governor of California?

    It was the job of the president of the United States. He had the intel no governor did. He ignored the intelligence no one else had access to. It is absolutely on him. The unnecessary deaths are his fault. Tens of thousands of Americans are dead because an ignoramus repeatedly ignored intel and refused to do his job. Tens of thousands more are dead because he flat out lied.

    Newsom did his job, Trump did not and is still refusing to do his job..

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  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    And by the way, James, it goes deeper than that. Which party has pandered to conspiracy theorists? Which party glories in its rejection of science? Which party has attacked the civil servants we are meant to trust in emergencies? Which party refuses to build a social safety net, so that we are faced with these draconian choices between killing people and killing jobs?

    Which party lies, James, again and again and again, just plain lies to people for the benefit of bigots and billionaires? No, these tax cuts won’t just benefit billionaires. We don’t need regulations because all regulation is bad. Naw, climate change isn’t real. Racism isn’t real. The government is your enemy. The free press is your enemy. Putin’s our buddy, and MBS is a swell guy, and we’ve got us a deal with Kim Jong Un, and on and on and on.

    The refusal of Americans to behave rationally may be human nature, but it is human nature exacerbated by a thoroughly corrupt political party. The GOP can’t poison the well and then shrug its shoulders and look innocent when there’s nothing to drink.

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  13. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: We were hitting Trump pretty hard here even before the study authors suggest a lockdown. (See my February 29 post “No, Mr. President, COVID-19 isn’t a Democratic Hoax” and Steven’s March 1 “COVID-19 and the Trump Administration“) But I don’t recall hearing calls for massive lockdowns at that point. Was the CDC recommending that and Trump ignoring it? Not that I know of.

    Again, there’s no question we’d have a lot fewer deaths if we’d had a competent administration. Hillary Clinton would doubtless have been far, far more competent—which is why I held my nose and voted for her. But I don’t think we’d have shut the country down on 1 March if she were in charge.

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  14. JKB says:

    Well, we could have saved a good number of the lives if governors and health administrators in NY, NJ, PA, MA hadn’t seeded nursing homes with the virus under threat of police violence against the operators. And much of the country would have been spared if those from the NYC metro area hadn’t been permitted to metastasize across the country after their dense urban area did what dense urban areas always do when a new virus is introduced.

    As for dueling studies, here’s one, also a pre-print, that argues simple surgical mask level wearing, without the lockdown or social distancing kills outbreaks. But when that would have been effective, before they destroyed lives and livelihoods with the shutdown, the experts argued vehemently against wearing masks.

    For an epidemic with basic reproduction number R0=2.5 and with a linear dose-response, the critical mask efficiency is calculated to be 0.5 for a mask adoption level of 0.8 of the population. Importantly, this efficiency is well below that of a N95 mask, and well above that of some fabric masks. Numerical solutions of the model at near-critical levels of mask efficiency and mask adoption demonstrate avoidance of epidemics. To be conservative we use mask efficiencies measured with the most- penetrating viral-particle sizes. The critical mask adoption level for surgical masks with an efficiency of 0.58 is computed to be 0.73. With surgical masks (or equally efficient substitutes) and 80% and 90% adoption levels, respiratory epidemics with R0 of about 3 and 4, respectively, would be theoretically extinguished.

    What we are really learning is how poor the critical thinking is of the experts. Hindsight is great, but you have to discipline your thought to what was known at the time the decision was made. We can question why the experts doubled-down instead of always reevaluating the guidelines to refine them. We can wonder why NYC, et al, didn’t notice they were killing people in nursing homes with their orders. We can notice how many governors, police, etc., so quickly took up the dictatorial methods and threw off any feint toward liberty or democracy.

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  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    But I don’t think we’d have shut the country down on 1 March if she were in charge.

    January 31 is when Trump claimed he was shutting down travel from China. Somehow he was able to take strong action so long as it fit with his pre-existing xenophobia.

    Lockdown orders were largely up to governors. Did Trump give them the information they needed to make that decision? No. He lied and minimized. Had Trump been honest we might now have a basis for blaming governors. But by lying and attacking, Trump made it harder for governors to act, or for their actions to be effective. If the guy who has the facts lies to those who need to take the action, and subverts what actions they do take, who is at fault?

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  16. KM says:

    @James Joyner :

    But the fact that nobody was willing to issue a lockdown before March 20 is a pretty good indicator of the political realities.

    I agree with you that that nobody was willing to stick their necks out early to stop it. Feb was the time to do it, March was borderline too late and nobody was willing to be the canary in the mine until it became bleeding obvious Trump wasn’t going to jack nationally and they’d have to do it on a state level.

    I disagree with your wording slightly, though. “Political realities” implies more then I think you were intending. Frankly, had Trump not been POTUS or had turned out to not be completely worthless in a crisis, the reality would have been allowing 100K+ citizens to die by *not* implementing lockdown or similar procedures nationally would have been unthinkable. Instead, I think “present unusual circumstances” might be more what you were going for. A fatally incompetent or actively detrimental POTUS is something America’s really not had to deal with before; even Reagan with dementia or BushJr’s follies still weren’t as bad and there was at least one competent adult in the room. “Political reality” makes it look like standing up to Trump to save lives is a *bad thing* because the country doesn’t want that on whereas “present circumstances” means everyone was waiting for the adult in the room to step in before realizing to their shock THEY are the adult and everyone was waiting for them to act.

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  17. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    I suspect that we’ll be far more aggressive—maybe overly so—if we have another pandemic within a generation.

    You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Yet even now, with corpses still piling up and hospitals still nearly full, lots of people refuse to take basic, and easy, preventive measures, and lots more are sold on a worthless medication.

    I related an incident early on in the pandemic, that a coworker said to me when I asked him if he recalled the H1N1 pandemic, that “nothing happened.” That was 11 years ago. But we’ll know the answer soon enough, if/when the second wave of COVID-19 hits.

    As for another pandemic within a generation, it seems very likely. SARS, MERS, Ebola, H1N1, COVID-19, all occurred within a window of 17 years. Granted only the last has become an oppressive global problem, none of the others were precisely merely a bad flu season in scope.

    Note five of the six are respiratory diseases, transmitted by casual social contact. The next is likely to be so as well.

    It’s not just the memory, but the will to do something about it. Do you see Trump, now or in, gods forbid, a second term, open the funding floodgates for research on anti-virals and global cooperation? Never mind preparing for the next pandemic?

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  18. Kit says:

    @James Joyner:

    I don’t think we’d have shut the country down on 1 March if [Clinton] were in charge.

    Can you imagine how Red America would have reacted to being told by a woman, and not just any woman, by Hillary, that the country was to shut down? For every problem she would have solved, and I think she would have shined, Republicans would have thrown up another. One half of this country doesn’t want to be governed, and that makes them the enemy of the other half.

    Although I dislike the man, only Romney jumps to mind as someone both willing, competent enough, and practically capable of facing such a crisis. But on the whole, we are ungovernable and I see no one capable of changing that.

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  19. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    We all know that Trump wasted February and March. This puts a number to his slow and weak response. Not sure I care.
    What troubles me is that we aren’t much better prepared for the second wave, this fall.
    Some places, like NY, will have testing and tracing programs. But not many.
    Typically more people die in the second wave. That’s what happened in 1918 and in 1969.

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  20. drj says:

    @JKB:

    What we are really learning is how poor the critical thinking is of the experts.

    Says the man who obsequiously defends obvious bullshit even after the bullshitter himself has already disavowed it.

    Have you no pride? No spine?

    Why this excessive servility?

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  21. Teve says:

    @Kit: also, the $Billions in stimulus money the GOP approved to keep things going would have been replaced by demands for cuts if Hillary had been president.

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  22. KM says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl :
    It’s going to be an unmitigated shitshow.

    Red states will never agree to lockdown or mandatory masking /social distancing again. They’ll die in droves rather then admit they were wrong and the local economy will take a dive. 100K would be on the low end for them and they’re sparely populated.

    Blue states will implement lockdowns and likely prohibit travel from states that don’t. Huge legal fights over whether they can, possible literal fights as mandatory quarantines for out of state travelers or road blockades get attacked by “protesters”. Blue states will still suffer but come out of it better off, increasing the resentment because they’ll have less death and a stronger economy. Astro-turfed “protests” will increase and I won’t be surprised to see the first major COVID-related bloodshed be in a blue state, likely MI or NY.

    Should Trump lose the election, expect spiteful and malicious actions. He might care up until the loss but as a lame duck? Nope! He’ll cheerfully steal from the stockpile, interfere with blue states trying to protect their citizens and actively foment rebellion and chaos like he’s doing in Michigan. He’ll declare the second wave punishment for abandoning MAGA/him and that we all will deserve it – no federal help even to the red states since they didn’t come through for him. We’ll hit 200K dead by December and the vast new numbers of facilitates will be in rural or red areas. The politicization of COVID will accelerate rapidly and help kill off a huge chunk of red state America.

    It’s gonna get bad, guys. My only hope is that if social distancing and mask wearing becomes mainstream enough that it carries social weight and judgement, people will do it instinctively as a new norm. People don’t like standing out. If everyone in an elevator is standing backwards when you get in, you will almost inevitability turn around to face the direction they’re in. If mask-wearing and social distancing take root, we might have a chance. That’s why the covidiots are fighting so hard against it now – they won’t be able to when it really matters.

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  23. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    If the guy who has the facts lies to those who need to take the action, and subverts what actions they do take, who is at fault?

    I don’t think there’s any question that Trump bears significant blame. His messaging made the governors’ jobs harder. But EVERYONE KNEW HE WAS LYING. We knew he was lying in February, if not before.

    New York has its first COVID death on March 14. As a theoretical, then, we may well have avoided the entire plague that was mostly concentrated in that state, particularly the NYC Metro area, had we locked down on March 1. But I just can’t imagine Cuomo or de Blasio issuing the order by then even if Hillary were President.

    Again, we’re in full agreement that we’d have handled this much better at the Federal level with pretty much any random yahoo other than Trump as President. But we could have had Abe Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Barack Obama in there and we weren’t shutting down on March 1. Just wasn’t gonna happen.

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  24. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    No, we knew he was lying. Republicans believed he was telling the truth, and when 40% plus of the population is buying happy lies it’s damned hard to sell the truth.

    If Trump had come out March 1 and said, look, we have credible threat assessments from the CIA, the CDC and WHO, so I’m calling for a lockdown, even I, full-time Trump-hater, would have said, “OK, I believe the CDC and the WHO.” It is a leader’s job to make hard decisions.

    Knowing everything Trump knew by mid-February, would you have made the call? Would Obama? Would FDR or Eisenhower or Reagan? Trump had the facts that no one else had, he would have been briefed on options, he chose inaction and lies. Had he been honest yes, he would have faced pushback – mostly from his own side – but that is the job. That is what we elect a president to do. Captain Crozier of the Roosevelt showed leadership, did the right thing despite knowing the risks, and was fired for it. That’s leadership.

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  25. Liberal Capitalist says:

    All,

    I had previously posted a link to the Trump Death Clock, but I think that it is germane to this conversation.

    https://trumpdeathclock.com/

    As of posting, 56,000+ deaths attributed to the impact of trump undeniably knowing, but choosing to be willfully ignorant.

    Here is the information and logic behind that number, via the Democracy Now story on those who created the clock:

    https://www.democracynow.org/2020/5/8/times_square_trump_death_clock_covid

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  26. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: We agree that, if the experts were strongly urging him to advocate shutting down on March 1, a President ought to do that. And, if a President did that effectively, the citizenry would likely rally around it more rapidly and give governors confidence in making the call. But I remain highly skeptical that even a stellar President could have been so persuaded that early in the crisis.

    It is, of course, unknowable. And, even a decent President could well have been advocating for it by March 7—which still could have gotten the ball rolling well before Newsome pulled the trigger on March 20.

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  27. Michael Reynolds says:

    James, my father, like you, was an Army officer (CWO) and my notions of responsibility can be traced directly back to him. He was in boats, starting as an E3 or whatever it was then on an LCM, moved up to LCU’s, then to command of the (late lamented) Army yacht on the Potomac, and retired after skippering an ocean-going tug out of the Azores. His position was clear: if you are in command everything that happens is your fault. Freak storm sinks your boat? Your fault. Jesus comes down out of the sky and leaves a muddy footprint on the deck? Your fault.

    Somehow with Trump we’ve started making excuses. We know he’s a moron, so we treat him like a toddler in a way we never would have with any previous president. Did he have the facts? Yes. Does he have the power to act? Yes. Did he act appropriately? No. That’s not Jesus’s muddy footprint, it’s unmistakable dereliction of duty, and would be if you, I or Gavin Newsom was in that position.

    This is appropriate, from Progress Pond:

    For what seems like the umpteenth time, there’s an article out describing how difficult it is for intelligence officials to brief the current president of the United States. The new one is authored by Julian Barnes and Adam Goldman of the New York Times, and it relies on “interviews with 10 current and former intelligence officials familiar with his intelligence briefings.”

    There’s not a whole lot of fresh information in the piece, so it mostly reads like something you already know. Donald Trump is a colossal moron with the attention span and memory capacity of a gnat who doesn’t read his intelligence reports, ignores the advice of experts, spouts conspiracy theories, grows impatient when his nonsense is contradicted, and is generally unpleasant to be around. As a result, his briefers are always thrashing around trying to come up with ways to get Trump to actually pay attention, learn, remember and believe what he is being told.

    I suppose the nation needs to be reminded of this dangerous state of affairs from time to time, but it’s something we’ve been told repeatedly for four years now. The reason it is cropping up again now is that Trump did his Fox News interview at the Lincoln Memorial and used the occasion to blame his intelligence briefer for his slow response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

    “On Jan. 23, I was told that there could be a virus coming in but it was of no real import,” Mr. Trump said in a recent interview with Fox News at the Lincoln Memorial. “In other words, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, we’ve got to do something, we’ve got to do something.’ It was a brief conversation and it was only on Jan. 23.”

    Trump didn’t name his briefer, but her name is Beth Sanner and she’s a 56 year-old senior analyst at the CIA. Apparently, she made the mistake of explaining the virus by comparing it to the first SARS virus, which obviously wasn’t nearly as contagious as this second one, and was quickly contained. So, now she’s the fall gal.

    You know what that is? It’s a tacit admission by Trump that he fucked up so he has to deflect blame onto someone who can’t fight back. Even Trump knows in his bee-bee brain that this is his fault.

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  28. Kathy says:

    BTW, to be honest, plenty of people and institutions, including the WHO, were behind the curve.

    Back in January or February, when the Primaries and polls dominated conversation here (remember? It was not centuries ago), I almost commented that a ban on travel to and from China would be a good idea. I did not do so, because I was reading new about the novel coronavirus (remember that?) in the other tab, and he WHO chief was advising agasint travel bans.

    Boy, what dopes we were.

    That’s why I think there must be a plan set ahead, with lock downs, travel restrictions, screenings, etc. all set to go immediately and automatically. All restrictions can be modified as new information becomes available, but we must assume the worst right at the outset.

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  29. charon says:

    @James Joyner:

    EVERYONE KNEW HE WAS LYING

    You don’t get out much, it seems, nor talk to real life Trumpers much.

    And, BTW, re governors and what they can do – they get punished by a vindictive Trump if they cross him or even fail to be obsequious enough.

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  30. Monala says:

    @James Joyner: I wonder if we can also look at other measures taken by various states prior to lockdowns, and what difference they made. I was surprised when you said CA was the first to lockdown on March 20th, so I checked for WA: our state locked down on March 23rd. However, Gov. Inslee closed all the schools on March 12th, so many businesses followed suit and started shutting down right afterward (including my own), and for weeks prior to that, we had been encouraged to wash hands, social distance, etc. It’s been interesting to see how Washington was the first state to have an outbreak, yet despite topping the list at first, over time, WA has dropped further and further down the list of states in terms of total cases, total deaths, cases and deaths per capita, etc. I wonder if some of those other, pre-lockdown measures made the difference.

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  31. Hal_10000 says:

    I have no doubt that Trump (and DeBlasio, and Cuomo and a bunch of other “leaders”) has bungled this badly. But color me extremely skeptical of these claims that earlier lockdowns could have cut this down that dramatically.

    First of all, we know that people were social distancing and going out less well before the lockdowns happened. Second, we know that the virus was in this country long before we thought and spreading faster than we thought. Third, we know that we were massively undercounting both case and deaths up until relatively recently.

    It’s not that I don’t agree with their point; it’s that I think the data are far far far too noisy do draw such a dramatic conclusion. They are taking small differences in death rates — which are affected by MANY factors — and amplifying them up to big conclusions. It may be years before we know much about this.

    As an example of what I mean: a month ago, New Orleans was being pilloried for their response to the virus while Cuomo was being praised to the skies. But we know now that Cuomo did a mediocre job at best and may be responsible for thousands of deaths for sending sick people back to nursing homes. Meanwhile, NOLA has absolutely crushed the curve.

    Let’s just be careful drawing conclusions here. Especially when they support our political priors.

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  32. Monala says:

    JKB wrote:

    Well, we could have saved a good number of the lives if governors and health administrators in NY, NJ, PA, MA hadn’t seeded nursing homes with the virus under threat of police violence against the operators.

    Anybody know what he’s talking about?

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  33. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Hal_10000:
    BTW, I am not by any means exempting Cuomo from criticism, the same rules apply: if you’re in command, it’s your fault. Doesn’t mean an automatic firing squad, doesn’t mean I won’t listen to the reasons, but everything starts with a leader stepping up, telling the truth, even the truths that don’t present them in a good light. Tell me the truth and I will be merciful in my judgment. Lie to me and you lose any shot at consideration.

    Some king or other is credited with the idea that explanation or apology is a mistake. I suspect in the American mind the notion came from some screenwriter looking for an easy line. It was always stupid, a weak man’s notion of how a strong man should behave. No one expects zero errors from POTUS or a governor or anyone else, but you have to own your screw-ups or as far as I’m concerned, you’re done.

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  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Monala: I think it’s his version of

    But Lauren Ancel Meyers, a University of Texas at Austin epidemiologist who was not involved in the research, said that it “makes a compelling case that even slightly earlier action in New York could have been game changing.”

    The whole “seeding the nursing homes” thing is something he’s said before, so someone might want to check to see if someone more famous has also said it and he’s parroting that person. In any event the point is blame Cuomo, not Trump.

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  35. James Joyner says:

    @Monala: When I did a Google search to see when California went into lockdown, I found the article saying it was the first state to do so. That Washington beat them makes sense.

    Did being proactive help? Sure. But I suspect the main difference is that Washington doesn’t have anything like a New York, Boston, or Chicago, where massive numbers of people are picked into tiny spaces and the disease spreads like wildfire.

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  36. James Joyner says:

    @charon: Oh, sure, some 25-30% of the population believed him and maybe still do. I was talking about the people in positions to order lockdowns. Even Republican governors had to know Trump was lying his ass off.

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  37. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I’ve blamed Trump for a lot, including the outrageous way he’s handled the crisis. If there’s one person to blame in the US for how much we’ve effed this up, it’s him.

    At the same time, the United States isn’t the Army. As I constantly remind my students, Trump (or any President) is their commander-in-chief; he’s not mine. Even though I’m a DoD employee, he’s not my commander because civilians don’t have commanders.

    More to the point, Trump isn’t the boss of the governors. Indeed, Trump has little legal authority over lockdowns. What he has—and we agree he effed up massively here—is the bully pulpit. If he’d have put Fauci and company front and center from the get-go and amplified, rather than muddied the message, the governors might well have been more aggressive earlier. But would Cuomo have locked New York down 20 days earlier because Trump was telling people it was a good idea? I rather doubt it.

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  38. Crusty Dem says:

    I still think the worst early spreading event that has fallen down a memory hole was Trump’s idiotic “European travel ban” on March 12. At the time, the US had ~1000 cases, mostly in Washington. Then tens of thousands of Americans flew back from Europe (including Italy where numbers were vastly higher than the US), spent hours and hours tightly packed in groups waiting at customs with poor ventilation and no screening (because the Trump administration didn’t plan for Americans to return home in droves to avoid being stuck in Europe long-term), and then dispersed throughout the country to spread the virus. Whole viral sequencing demonstrates that the vast majority of Americans infected with COVID-19 were infected from Europe. All this could’ve been mitigated had the Trump administration recognized the consequences of their actions or engaged in any reasonable planning.

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  39. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “I think that’s right. I noted very early on in the crisis that US-South Korea comparisons were really unfair, because the ROKs have dealt with enough of these crises in the past for the leadership and population to accept the need for drastic measures early. ”

    In the sense that one party in the US system is 100% FUBAR, yes.

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  40. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “I don’t think there’s any question that Trump bears significant blame. His messaging made the governors’ jobs harder. But EVERYONE KNEW HE WAS LYING. We knew he was lying in February, if not before. ”

    Two points – first, we know that Trump is lying, but we don’t know how much.

    Second, the fact that Trump was lying made sure that The Base was far more resistant. The governors already had an uphill battle there, and Trump was making it harder.

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  41. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    . But would Cuomo have locked New York down 20 days earlier because Trump was telling people it was a good idea? I rather doubt it.

    But it wouldn’t have been Trump saying it; it would have been the Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Immunology, the CDC, etc. And then, if Cuomo still didn’t do it, we’d have known that it was because he’s the asshat that Trump says he is–which would be important to know.

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  42. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: ” everything starts with a leader stepping up, telling the truth, even the truths that don’t present them in a good light.”

    Which is one thing Cuomo has done repeatedly during this crisis (and I say this as a lifelong former Cuomo-hater). He does his daily briefings, and he says that mistakes made were his fault, period. He lays out what’s been done wrong and what they’re going to do differently.

    No one in any position of leadership can be expected to do this all right — for all of us this is a completely new set of facts. But the real leaders — including Cuomo and as far as I can tell Newsom — study, learn from, and respond to changing information.

    Trump relies on his “feelings.”

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  43. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “I suspect in the American mind the notion came from some screenwriter looking for an easy line. ”

    Sure, blame the writer…

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  44. Jen says:

    @Monala: Not a flippin’ clue. I was thinking of asking but the phrasing is crazy (“seeded”? WTF?). The first cases in MA were connected to the Biogen conference.

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  45. CSK says:

    Well, despite repeated requests (from Ford Motor Company and the Michigan state A.G.), Trump refused to wear a mask while touring the Ford plant in Ypsilanti. He said he didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing him in one.

    What a silly, pathetic little man. Dangerous as well, since because he won’t, his culties won’t wear masks, either. If he doesn’t, why should they?

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  46. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: I’m late to this debate and I’m not arguing but just pointing out that for things like pandemics the States follow behind the CDC. That is what the CDC is for. They are the ones with hundreds of employees overseas. They are the ones tracking the whole nation and the whole world to see what’s going on. It is very comparable to the way tornados were handled in the Chicago area when I was growing up. Every business, school, and (if they had an ounce of sense) family had a sheltering plan. Every little municipality had emergency services trained to respond. At the county level they went further and coordinated amongst each other. But the instigation was the National Weather Service announcing warnings and then upgrading them to watches. If the skies turned dark everyone would turn on their radios or televisions to see what was coming from the weather service.

    In this case, the CDC is the weather service. And the individual states are equivalent to those local municipalities who gradually realize there are funnel clouds on the horizon with the weather service saying “nothing to see here”. It was, and is, criminal.

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  47. Monala says:

    @James Joyner: Good point.

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  48. DrDaveT says:

    @Teve:

    also, the $Billions in stimulus money the GOP approved to keep things going would have been replaced by demands for cuts if Hillary had been president.

    It’s much worse than that. Remember, the GOP is all about projection — that’s the way to understand their motivations. I think the GOP claims that the lockdowns are unnecessary and intended to harm Trump’s reelection chances tell you exactly how the GOP Senate would have responded to any Dem-proposed combination of lockdown and relief: they would have done whatever maximized the pain and anger of the populace. More deaths, more unemployment, more better for the GOP.

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  49. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    More to the point, Trump isn’t the boss of the governors.

    Of course he is — in the “mob boss” sense. They operate on his turf, and he punishes them if they operate in ways he doesn’t like. He has shown that he is perfectly willing to deny or delay aid to states whose governors do not kowtow to him, or that act in ways inconsistent with his messaging.

    This is not just a matter of idiotic random tweets from the toilet at 3 AM — Trump’s vindictive actions kill people, and the governors know that. They have to walk a line between doing what’s best short-term and not getting their people wished into the cornfield.

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  50. Daniel Hill says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Somehow he was able to take strong action so long as it fit with his pre-existing xenophobia.

    Somehow he was able to pretend to take strong action so long as it fit with his pre-existing xenophobia.

    40,000 Americans were allowed to return from China after Trump’s so-called travel ban.

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  51. Jay L Gischer says:

    I just wanted to mention that my county in California, Santa Clara County, had its first Covid-19 death on Feb 2. We didn’t know it at the time though.

    The county issued a “shelter in place” order for all “non-essential” businesses and services on March 11. For probably 2 weeks before that, the attendance at our usual restaurants had thinned quite noticeably as people began to social distance.

    I attended a weekend social gathering in mid-to-late February that had a man who had returned from a business trip to China and had undertaken a 14-day quarantine from work as a result.

    So the notion that “nobody knew” and that it was a political non-starter seems a bit weak to me. But not all counties/cities/states are affected equally or at the same time. We are very China/Asia oriented out here. Pacific Rim, etc.

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  52. engineerman says:

    hindsight is always 20/20

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  53. An Interested Party says:

    hindsight is always 20/20

    Indeed…at the same time, just about everything Trump has done has been predictable, and yet, a whole bunch of people voted for him anyway…

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  54. rachel says:

    @James Joyner:

    I think that’s right. I noted very early on in the crisis that US-South Korea comparisons were really unfair, because the ROKs have dealt with enough of these crises in the past for the leadership and population to accept the need for drastic measures early.

    Yes, and we can also see from the Korean example what happens when organizations and individuals decide that the rules don’t apply to them. First there was that church in Daegu whose members decided they couldn’t be making people sick because Jesus. Then a couple weeks ago there were those nightclubs in Itaewon that decided to open early because profits.

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  55. Bort says:

    @Kathy: Yes! If 10 moving around without restrictions became a million in a matter of weeks, what will 10,000 be in the same timeframe. This theory about it going away in winter and coming back is not well supported. tropical countries seem to be affected as well.

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