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On Sunday, Axios reported that the president’s aides intend to hold multiple events this week broadcasting the administration’s preparedness for the second wave of the coronavirus when it is expected to hit this year. According to one official, they will emphasize their ability to ramp up “testing capacity going into the fall,” as well as increased access to personal protective equipment, so that “the American people can have confidence as they begin to go back out into the public square.”
Though the message is intended to assure Americans that federal and state governments can safely navigate the current reopenings occurring in many areas of the country, it has one glaring problem: The current outbreak is still roaring, with over 1,000 Americans dying every day since April 2. As the administration’s estimate for COVID-19 deaths continues to crawl upward, a leaked draft report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week showed that the rate could reach as high as 3,000 deaths per day by June 1. And as New York’s David Wallace-Wells notes, media depictions of the draft largely did not “communicate all that well just how dire the near future depicted by the model really was:”
The median projection — 3,000 deaths a day, as soon as the end of this month — is quite horrific, a 50 percent increase above our current peak. But for the lifetime of the model’s projections, no single day of data came anywhere close to as low as the median prediction. For the last two weeks, with the country’s infection and death rates shaped profoundly by social distancing and shelter-at-home orders, the results have fallen at or above the model’s 75th-percentile projection. That percentile, on June 1, yields a projection of more than 7,500 deaths every day. For most of the lifetime of the model, when the data reflected fewer lockdowns and less social distancing — that is, when it reflected conditions more like the ones we are going to see more of going forward — daily deaths fell at or above the 97th-percentile projection. For June 1, that projection is for 15,000 deaths every day. If that rate held for a month, it would produce 750,000 deaths just in June. And though the leaked projections end June 1, the model shows no sign of flattening then, which means, as far as the CDC is concerned, not only could the totals grow as the summer goes on but they could accelerate.
While the administration reportedly intends to emphasize its ability to test Americans for the coronavirus, the government’s report card on testing so far suggests that it could be another example of the president mistaking the announcement of a project for its execution. Despite the son-in-law-led task forces and the comically botched mobilization of the private sector, as of two weeks ago, the federal government only had enough tests to diagnose
2 percent of the U.S. population. Meanwhile, a low-end projection from Harvard identifies that the appropriate number of tests needed every day for a safe reopening is in the range of 500,000 to 700,000 tests daily, which is as high as three times the current capacity.
The most poetic example of the White House’s failure to handle the first wave of COVID-19 is the outbreak currently inundating the White House: Last week, Vice-President Mike Pence’s press secretary and an aide who handles Trump’s meals both tested positive, while a Department of Homeland Security document showed that there are 11 active cases of COVID-19 in the Secret Service in addition to 23 members who have recovered from the virus since the shutdown began. And as the president provides comments in which it’s clear that he still doesn’t understand how testing works, CNN reports that over the weekend, he worried that White House aides contracting the coronavirus would undermine his current message that the outbreak is easing.