They Don’t Care if We Die

President Trump expressed outrage about having to “close the country” to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and said he’ll consider scaling back steps to contain the virus during a town hall conversation from the White House on Monday broadcast by Fox News.

“I gave it two weeks,” he said. “We can socially distance ourselves and go to work.” But medical experts including those within the Administration are unanimous: more restrictions on movement are needed to stop the spread, not less.

Don’t trust the experts? Then take it from some of the toughest people in the country, New York City construction workers. “I’ve heard so many builders saying their wife’s pleading with them not to go to work,” tweeted one builder.

Yet the President has his doubts and says the country can “do two things at once.” He believes we can suppress the virus while resuscitating the economy. “I think it’s possible, why not,” he said with a shrug.

On Tuesday he tweeted:

Trump is saying, “Americans want to get back to work.”

What he means is, “get back to work.”

New York City could face a humanitarian crisis within days. According to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the state has 53,000 hospital beds, but could need as many as 140,000 at the peak of the crisis. It has 3,000 ICU beds statewide but may need 37,000.

Last week Cuomo predicted the peak would fall in five weeks. Tuesday, he suggested it may come within two to three. There are now more than 23,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases citywide and 365 fatalities.

At least 38 inmates and corrections officers at the crowded Rikers Island prison complex have tested positive, a number that will assuredly rise. 52 transit employees at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, whose infrastructure was moving about nine million people per day before the outbreak, have tested positive as have 177 members of the New York Police Department.

According to The City NYC, medical personnel are drowning. They’re devising protocols on the fly and “creeping closer to the line where their resources begin to get outstripped by crushing need.” Personnel at public hospitals are reusing N95 face masks and keeping them in paper bags between shifts. At Mount Sinai West in Manhattan where staff were photographed wearing garbage bags as protective gear, a nursing manager has died from COVID-19. (In Italy, about 9% of coronavirus patients are medical professionals.)

Standing on my rooftop in Brooklyn tonight, at certain moments I can plug one ear, turn slowly in a circle, and hear a different siren in each direction.

Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are pleading with the President to activate the Defense Production Act to deliver more medical supplies, particularly the ventilators which are needed to help COVID-19 patients in critical condition breathe.

“I can’t be blunt enough: If the president doesn’t act, people will die who could have lived otherwise,” de Blasio told Meet the Press on Sunday. “If there are ventilators being produced anywhere in the country, we need to get them to New York, not weeks from now or months from now, in the next 10 days, and the only force in America who can do that is the military.” 4,000 ventilators from the nation’s stockpile are on their way to New York City, but the Governor said Tuesday the state needs 30,000.

Trump did invoke the Defense Production Act last week, which would allow the federal government to compel companies to manufacture medical equipment that the government then pays for. On Tuesday night, he reversed. “Mr. Trump is said to be deeply resistant to using the law, according to people who have been briefed on the matter, in part because major business groups have warned that it could hurt companies,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Where are we headed? Italy has been torn asunder by the virus and called in the military to enforce lockdowns in the North. More than 700 people died on Monday, up from more than 600 on Sunday. Footage from Reuters showed army trucks collecting the bodies of coronavirus victims overnight in Lombardy.

The US is on track to outpace Italy. Indeed, we now lead the world in cases and as The Atlantic suggests, we’ll likely end up with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the industrialized world. We have done less than Italy to restrict social movement, less quickly, and we’ve tested less. Now our largest, most dense urban area is the epicenter of the pandemic. The virus claimed exactly 100 lives in New York City on Wednesday.

It wasn’t the virus but our inability to respond to it that triggered the mass shutdowns and the evisceration of the economy. Trump’s refusal to prepare for the virus prompted this break-glass pull-lever scenario that’s brought the country to its knees. If, as Trump says, “the cure is worse than the virus,” then he is to blame.

To restate: If we were prepared for the pandemic, we wouldn’t have needed to shutdown. For example, South Korea immediately scaled up testing and contact tracing after it detected its first COVID-19 cases. The country contained the virus with minimal impact on its economy.


The Trump Administration is responsible then for the worst economy since the Great Depression and an impending humanitarian crisis. Now he wants to leave you with the bag — the bodybag, that is — by suggesting we lift restrictions on movement because the impact to the economy of public safety measures has become too severe.

Newspapers are subtly legitimizing this narrative. An Orwellian headline in the Wall Street Journal read “No society can safeguard public health for long at the cost of its economic health.” The front page of the New York Times recently featured a stock market ticker rebounding as the headline blared “Trump, Defying Experts, Talks of Easing Restrictions by Easter.”

The Journal continues:

Economists derive the numbers from surveys and through inferences from individual work choices, for instance by looking at how much added compensation people demand for doing high-risk jobs like logging, deep-sea fishing or roofing.

Value-of-statistical-life measures are routinely used by the federal government to calculate the costs and benefits of a wide range of health and environmental regulations, which also come with trade-offs between public safety and economic cost.

Politicians like the Lieutenant Governor of Texas Dan Patrick have been less subtle. “No one reached out to me as a senior citizen and said, ‘are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that everyone knows and loves for your children and grandchildren?’ If that’s the exchange, I’m all in…It’s worth whatever it takes to save the country.”

Put yourself and your family at great personal risk for the economy, they’re saying. Lay down your body beneath the golden calf in lower Manhattan.

Trump has walked Americans to the edge of a cliff, blindfolded them, spun them around until dizzy, and now is now saying “walk.” How many will fall off as a result?

Of those who fall, how many will be poor, Hispanic, Black, blue-collar, vulnerable, uninsured, imprisoned, homeless, essential? How many will be fed into the maw to score percentage points on the DOW?

Lower-, middle- and working-class people bore the brunt of the Great Recession in 2008, as they carried banks “too big to fail” aloft on their backs. US households lost one-fifth of their wealth in one year. For 40 years prior, pay for 90 percent of Americans remained stagnant or declined while executive pay at America’s largest companies quadrupled.

The Obama administration hardly came to the aid of working people. As author Eric Alterman writes in The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism, “During the fight over the financial reform bill, [the administration] consistently took the positions for which the banks were lobbying.”

“The banks that caused the 2008 crisis had since then significantly increased their share of global assets, ensuring that the next time around, whatever crisis took place would be even worse.”

Well, here we are. Again we face economic collapse. Again, the invisible hand of the market demands a sacrifice. Only now the stakes are higher. There’s a second invisible hand at play as the coronavirus sweeps across the country like the grim reaper’s scythe through amber waves of grain. Clenched between them is the neck of the lower- and working-class American, gasping for air. But the hospital is out of ventilators.

During the Great Recession, Americans were forced to prop up the economy with their wealth. Now, they’re being asked to prop it up with their lives.

Shifting the paradigm

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