Fixing the COVID Numbers

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Right on schedule, when the death rate started to rise again, the Trump regime put the kibosh on any further CDC covid reporting. In the weeks before this death-rate spike, as the covid conflagration burned through Trump country, regime spokesmen crowed about the death rate being flat. No matter that all health experts warned death is a lagging indicator. No matter that the plague roared out of control. The Trump regime had a plan. Like any good banana republic, when the news got bad, the strongman stopped the news.

He did so just in time for his insane push to reopen schools, which will doubtless be as successful as his lethal push to reopen the economy. But hey? Does the Trump regime learn from experience? How about this experience: Israel, where they reopened schools and it was catastrophic – gasoline on the covid fire, now burning out of control throughout the country. Israel may have to lock down again. So, if they had any sense, the Trump regime would pause to consider this data. But don’t hold your breath.

The strategy is to suppress the facts and, as Steve Bannon memorably described dealing with the media, “flood the zone with shit.” The latest flood was Trump’s reported claim that if we didn’t test, we wouldn’t have cases. Why just limit this preposterous approach to covid? Pick your malady, Trump has the cure: don’t diagnose it, ignore it.

Trump dislikes testing because it makes him look bad. Too bad that it’s a vital diagnostic tool, without which one cannot control the pandemic by isolating the infected or plan to keep hospitals from becoming swamped. He aims to suppress it. He doesn’t like those death statistics being public either. They could interfere with his reelection campaign, though recently he was very occupied with his role as the law-and-order candidate, a performance that happily kept him too busy to do more covid damage.

When Trump’s aversion to science just involved climate change, Washington was happy to ignore it. But now Americans are dropping like flies, with well over 150,000 dead so far and 173,000 projected to be dead by August 22. Even concealing statistics won’t cover this mess up. People will find out. They’ll know someone who died of covid. Or they’ll see those telltale refrigerated trucks in the hospital parking lot. The Trump regime’s incompetent response to this plague is an international scandal, one the rest of Washington knows very cannot be swept under the rug. Indeed, seven governors acknowledged as much this week, by forming a pact to purchase tests for their states. They know they won’t get adequate testing gear from the national government. That’s led by someone who’s against tests because they’re bad for his image.

“Most states are failing to report critical information needed to track and control the resurgence of Covid-19,” the Washington Post reported on July 21. “In the absence of a national strategy to fight the pandemic, states have had to develop their own metrics for tracking and controlling Covid-19…the data are inconsistent and incomplete.” So even before the Trump loyalists in HHS commandeered the data from the CDC, we were already blind in one eye. Now the regime tries to blind both eyes.

Reopening was botched because it was rushed and because states with Trump-friendly Republican governors did not follow a plan. They just reopened, willy nilly, with a sigh of relief – “now life can return to normal.” Except it couldn’t, and it may never. The virus is out there. Return to “normal” and cases and deaths will spike, as is happening now. This rush to deny the covid problem killed people. Just as the rush to produce a vaccine could well produce a flop – and kill people.

Vaccine trials have protocols for several reasons – to learn if there are dangerous side-effects, to learn if it produces antibodies, to assess how effective it is – 60%? 70%? – and how long its protection will last – a month, six months, a year? Currently the Trump regime is all “hurry, hurry, hurry, make a vaccine in record time, preferably before the election.” This is a recipe for failure, just like rushing reopening was. It is impatient, thoughtless and ignorant.

How will vaccine researchers gauge the effectiveness of their medicine if they must get it to market by October? There won’t be time to do so. One pharmaceutical spokesman recently threw cold water on the white house’s vaccine development program, Operation Warp Speed, saying that researchers must follow protocol and take the necessary time to develop a covid vaccine. And according to Roger Perlmutter, president of Merck Research Laboratories, as quoted in Science online: “One of the things I think is disturbing is I don’t want people to imagine that…it’s all going to get taken care of in 12 months. It’s not. These things take a long time.” Just don’t tell that to Jared Kushner, who sits in on the vaccine development meetings to make sure one’s available by the election.

Six vaccines are now in phase 3 large-scale efficacy trials. But how will researchers confirm their effectiveness? Will the thousands of people who receive a placebo be careless and expose themselves to covid? For that matter, will those who receive the real vaccine be protected when exposed? And how do we measure the extent of that protection? This process, if handled responsibly, lasts quite a while. That’s a reason why vaccine trials usually take years.

Another problem with this plague is that apparently people who’ve had it can get it again, like herpes. This does not bode well for a vaccine. But never mind – we’re in a blind rush for a silver bullet. Back in 2009, the UK rushed an H1N1 vaccine to market, and thousands of people who got it suffered brain damage. It may have even killed some people. When the new polio vaccine came out in the 1950s, mistakes with it killed and paralyzed lots of people. But don’t worry. If that happens with our new super duper covid vaccine, the Trump regime will just hide the data.77

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Lizard People. She can be reached at her website.