Nicholas Kristof: Trump is feeding America’s coronavirus nightmare

"'It’s going away' only in the president’s delusion," writes Nicholas Kristof.

President Donald Trump says the coronavirus is “fading away” and pats himself on the back for “a great job on CoronaVirus” that saved “millions of U.S. lives.”

“It’s going away,” Trump said Tuesday at a packed megachurch in Phoenix where few people wore masks.

That’s what delusion sounds like. We need a Winston Churchill to lead our nation against a deadly challenge; instead, we have a president who helps an enemy virus infiltrate our churches and homes. Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt worked to deceive the enemy; Trump is trying to deceive us.

For a reality check, my colleague Nathaniel Lash has prepared a map showing how much of America is trending in the wrong direction.

"'It’s going away' only in the president’s delusion," writes Nicholas Kristof.

A few glimpses of the challenge:

— Texas, California, Arizona and four other states reported record numbers of cases this week.

— Some 27 states, by the count of the New York Times tracker, are reporting increasing numbers of new cases. Ten states and Washington, D.C., are reporting declining numbers, with the rest holding steady.

— Arizona, where Trump held his rally, now has the highest number of new cases per day per million population, and the highest share of positive test results.

Black Lives Matter protests do not seem to have spread the virus much, perhaps because they were held outside and many participants wore masks. The virus is spreading most quickly in Trump Country in the South and Southwest and in both red and blue states in the West.

“The next couple of weeks are going to be critical in our ability to address those surges that we’re seeing in Florida, in Texas, in Arizona and other states,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told a congressional hearing Tuesday.

The rest of the world is watching aghast.

“What’s happened in the U.S. is utterly tragic and seems like a consequence of appalling leadership and incompetent government,” said Devi Sridhar, an American who is a professor of global health at the University of Edinburgh. “Those of us abroad are watching in horror, disbelief and pity.

“This is a warning to other countries of the dangers of the virus going out of control,” she said.

The European Union is even preparing to bar American visitors because of the United States’ failure to manage the coronavirus properly. Visitors from countries that have controlled the virus better, like Vietnam, Cuba and Uganda, will be welcome.

That’s humiliating for the United States, but it should be a wake-up call as well. Europe is right to fear American visitors. The United States hasn’t brought down case numbers the way European countries have and seems to simply accept a vast continuing toll of deaths.

Tracking the new COVID-19 cases in the European Union versus the United States, with Canada and Australia thrown in for good measure, yields an interesting result.

The United States is now reporting new cases at nine times the rate of Europe, per million people.

In the New York region, memories are fresh, people are scared, and the virus is under control. But in much of the rest of the country, the virus initially seemed remote, and people relaxed in ways that are now leading to a crisis.

I passed through Phoenix twice last month to report on COVID-19 cases in the Navajo Nation, and I was horrified then by how few Arizonans wore masks. Now we see the consequences.

Deaths are still below their peaks because for now it’s disproportionately younger people getting sick. That may change.

“I wonder how many fathers got a Father’s Day present from their kids — this virus,” reflected Michael T. Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist.

While some epidemiologists expect a second wave to arrive this fall, Osterholm foresees more of a relentless toll of sickness and death. He anticipates spikes in this city or that — he fears Houston may become the next New York — but not much of a reprieve.

“I think it’s going to keep going on,” he told me. But he also emphasizes that even the experts don’t really understand the virus or know what to anticipate.

His advice: Be humble and be bold, and make rigorous preparations.

We don’t know for sure, but the post-peak experience from New York and Europe as well as from street protests, offers some guidance: If people wear masks, distance as much as possible and avoid mixing indoors, it just might be possible to keep the virus in check.

Instead, our president refuses to wear a mask and brings people together indoors to cheer his newest proposed strategy, which in his words is “slow the testing down.” After aides rushed to say he was joking, Trump denied that, saying, “I don’t kid.” He amplified in a tweet: “With smaller testing, we would show fewer cases!”

Yes, and by ending cancer screenings, we would reduce cancer rates. By locking hospital doors, we would reduce hospitalizations. And if we stopped issuing death certificates, Americans would achieve immortality!

That’s the kind of strategizing that has led the United States, with 4% of the world’s population, to experience one-quarter of the deaths worldwide from the coronavirus — and instead of “fading away,” it’s surging.

Nicholas D. Kristof

Contact New York Times Op-Ed columnist Nicholas Kristof at Facebook.com/Kristof, Twitter.com/NickKristof or by mail at The New York Times, 620 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10018

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