Covid-19, a long-term menace, downplayed for political gain

Covid-19 is a bad dream, and we’ll soon wake up.

That is the false claim of President Trump and many of his top supporters who say that we are already emerging from that dream and should get on with life as it was before our coronavirus nightmare.

Vice President Pence has been trying to sell the story to the nation’s governors. He admits the number of cases is again growing in about 20 states, but that’s not because of reopening the economy and easing social contact.

Pence, echoing Trump, says the main reason for the recent increase is that states are testing more people, so more cases are being found. The illness is not really getting worse. Using this line, he is openly taking the American people for fools.

The growth in new cases of Covid-19 in many states is greater than the growth in testing. Almost explosive growth is taking place in states, mainly in the South, that have deployed weak measures to slow the spread and which are aggressively reopening.

Even if Pence were right, the news is ominous. If increasing testing to five percent of the population led to finding cases among, say, 3 percent of the population, there would be about 10 million cases. At the start of this week, when the worst had supposedly passed, there was a total of 2.1 million cases.

With more cases, there are more deaths. With the growth in cases, the rate among younger people increases.

Pence asserts that, with fewer people going to the hospital, the virus is somehow less of a threat. More people may have it without knowing it. Good for them, perhaps, but they are still able to spread it to others who are more vulnerable.

The implication of Pence’s message is that Covid-19 is becoming benign, so the economy can reopen while we wait for the early arrival of a vaccine. Reopening could help GOP election chances.

In other words, people are told not to trust science about the spread of Covid-19 and wear masks, practice social distancing and curtail business. But do trust science to produce an effective vaccine and do it quickly.

Optimists, who want to see the economy recover quickly, buy what Pence is selling. However, if the polls are right, most people want health protection rather than a rush to recovery.

Instead of wasting time on what is turning out to be a Republican mantra that is wishful thinking at best and dangerous thinking at worst, the U.S. needs to get real. That means we need to recognize that the risks are great, mainly because of our ignorance of this deadly new virus.

Science tells us that Covid-19 is something new. It is not the flu and it may not react like the flu. We do not yet know enough about how to treat it completely effectively.

It may react to warm weather or it may not. If it slows this summer, it could come back with a vengeance in the fall, possibly swamping health care facilities even more than ever.

We don’t know if a vaccine will be developed by the end of this year or next year or ever. And we don’t know how effective it would be and if we would need regular booster shots. It will take many months for there be enough to vaccinate everybody. And what about the effect of those who refuse vaccination?

Covid-19 may cause other illnesses that can’t be cured by a vaccine. Some doctors worry that the virus is causing problems with organs like the heart and kidneys. If these problems are widespread, it would be far worse than a passing nightmare.

The doctors hope that having had the virus will make a person immune. But they do not know if the immunity would last or stop the spread.

Is herd immunity the answer? If enough people get the virus and acquire immunity, the spread might stop. That would require about 60 percent of the population to get Covid-19. That means a lot of deaths and not only of old people.

Aside from health issues, we need economic activity. The country cannot depend on the federal government continuing to print money. Who is planning for the new economy with more remote activity and less face-to-face contact?

Covid-19 is not a Democrat and should not be treated as a partisan issue. It is a real crisis, more serious than Pence’s phony facts.

This is not fear-mongering. We do not know when the situation will improve. Meanwhile, we need to stop the spread, make a plan and find some leadership in or out of government.

We must get real.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.