Charlie Sykes
The Bulwark Presents
Morning Shots with Charlie Sykes

A Pandemic of Madness

In the midst of the coronavirus, America has an outbreak of crazy.
May 5, 2020
Featured Image
(Collage by Hannah Yoest / Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

1. This Is Us

Can we just pause and consider the moment we are in?

While polls show that most Americans still support stay-at-home policies, many have grown impatient and annoyed with the mitigation efforts. President Trump is already pitching his comeback narrative and states are beginning to open back up. And all of this is happening at the very moment we are getting word that this deadly pandemic is spreading and growing. (We are also getting reports of a new mutant strain that may be even more contagious.)

Even as it shifts into rah-rah mode, the administration has a new model projecting a steady rise in coronavirus infections and deaths over the next several weeks, reaching about 3,000 daily deaths by June, which would be double the current rate. This is all happening in plain sight: 

While the worst-hit parts of the United States have seen new infections recede and hospitalizations drop after strict social-distancing measures were put in place, the country is still in the firm grip of a pandemic.

For every indication of improvement in controlling the virus, new outbreaks have emerged elsewhere, providing a steady, unrelenting march of deaths and infections.

As states continue to lift restrictions, impatient Americans are freely returning to shopping, lingering in restaurants and gathering in parks. New flare-ups and super-spreader events are expected to be close behind.

The mood has been set from the top, as Trump has pivoted “to where he preferred to be: cheering an economic revival rather than managing a catastrophic health crisis.” The result is a pandemic of confusion and madness, where mixed signals, conspiracy theories, paranoia, and tribal loyalties clash with common sense medical practices.

Some dispatches from the front lines of crazy. Here’s a scene from Massachusetts:

And Arizona:

And in Stillwater, Oklahoma, city officials had to quickly back off an order requiring the wearing of face masks, after threats of violence against employees of private firms who tried to enforce it. Ohio also had to back off a similar mask order after pushback as well. Here is the city manager explaining the decision to back off:

In the short time beginning on May 1, 2020, that face coverings have been required for entry into stores/restaurants, store employees have been threatened with physical violence and showered with verbal abuse. In addition, there has been one threat of violence using a firearm . . .

Many of those with objections cite the mistaken belief the requirement is unconstitutional, and under their theory, one cannot be forced to wear a mask. No law or court supports this view. In fact, a recent Federal lawsuit against Guthrie’s face covering order was fully dismissed by the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, Fox News hosts kept up the drumbeat. While Sean Hannity came out against armed protests, Laura Ingraham continues to disseminate bogus death counts, peddle her favorite malaria-drug, and criticize “social distancing,”

This part can’t be stressed too strongly: all of this comes as we get new evidence that the worst of this pandemic is ahead of us.

On Monday, the widely watched model from the University of Washington’s School of Medicine said that it is now projecting 134,000 coronavirus-related deaths, up from 72,000. But that is just a guesstimate, and with the model’s margin of error, deaths could range anywhere from 95,000 to 243,000.

By now it should be clear that whatever the number turns out to be, Trump will declare victory and his defenders will find a way to rationalize the tradeoff. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie makes what will quickly be the Ur-Trumpian case that Americans are “gonna have to” accept that there will be more deaths. Asked specifically whether the public would accept a daily death toll of 3,000 a day, Christie said: “They’re gonna have to. We’re in the midst of a pandemic that we haven’t seen in over 100 years. And we’re going to have to continue to do things. . . . The message is that the American people have gone through significant death before.”

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