President Trump and his administration have taken to estimating eventual casualties from the coronavirus epidemic. The numbers they originally embraced were 100,000 to 200,000 casualties, with an estimate of 2.2 million casualties if they didn’t act. (Actually, the original number was 15 cases which were supposedly going to disappear, but I digress…) (Actually again, I don’t merely digress and I’m setting this aside.)
The 2.2 million number should automatically anger anyone who hears it presented, because that is a projected casualty rate if the government does nothing on a federal, state, or local level. There is also no validity to the argument that it’s not being used as a comparison point; it has been repeatedly used in exactly that format by the President and his supporters. Whenever anyone says that millions of people would have died, they are using that number as the floor for their analysis instead of putting it in its proper context: a nightmare scenario, to be envisioned only as a theoretical by people who are trying to compose their response to the crisis.
The very fact that any government body would use that as a baseline should be infuriating. It is tantamount to saying there is no expectation of them doing the most basic aspect of their jobs despite the exorbitant amount of money and power given them. If a person assigned the most menial of tasks were to demand payment and then, after being paid, were to flatly refuse to do their job we would fire them and attempt to regain the payment. In most cases, anyone seriously entertaining the idea of such a refusal would cause us to terminate them.
As angry as you might thus be… let’s set that aside, too.
Let’s look hard at the 100,000 to 200,000 number. Then let’s notice that the larger number has jumped to 240,000 in recent briefings. This is the number at which Trump expects to garner praise. Many have pointed out that this would be more dead Americans than were seen under all of the Middle East wars, more dead than the terrible “meat grinders” of Vietnam and Korea. That is hardly an indicator of a good job. But let’s set that, also, aside.
The 100,000 number is the low end. What happens if the casualty rate clocks in under that?
Personally, I’ll be happy that we didn’t breach a six figure mortality count. But I expect there will be celebration from Trump’s sycophants. They will point out, incessantly, that there were only tens of thousands of dead.
Let’s think about the ghoulishness of that… and let’s look at South Korea. South Korea is a nation far smaller than the United States, and in theory they would thus have more difficulty with issues like social distancing and dispersing cases to different hospitals. They have a population roughly 1/7 that of the United States, but a huge percentage of them live in Seoul. Seoul has more people who live in the city proper than live in New York City (by more than a million) and the metro area has a greater population than the New York City metro area… this, despite the fact that the Seoul metro area is about 4,500 square miles and NYC’s is about 13,300.
This all means there are far more people crammed into a far smaller area in South Korea. They had their first coronavirus case on the same day that the US had theirs. Their current mortality count is not projected to be in the hundreds of thousands, nor in the tens of thousands. It is likely that, even if they have further waves of outbreaks, they will keep their total deaths to under one thousand.
Currently, it stands at 165. If there are no further outbreaks, they will likely make it through the entire Covid-19 crisis with under 250 deaths.
All of the other numbers… the 15 cases which will disappear; the 2.2 million cases if the government refuses to do any aspect of its actual job and instead focuses on improperly spending the wealth of the nation; the 240, 000 that’s grown from 200,000; the 100,000 that has been chosen as an acceptable loss level, and the tens of thousands of dead which will be hailed as a great success by the Trump cultist media… they’re all smoke and mirrors, numbers designed to obfuscate and distract from the one actual, valid point of comparison: the number currently under 200, almost certainly to end at below 1000 and plausibly far fewer than that, that has been experienced by a country which had efficient leadership performing the most basic of tasks.
Ramp up production of test kits and other necessary medical equipment. Facilitate testing and isolation, including mandatory testing and isolation of those who have merely been in contact with those who have already tested positive. Inform your populace of the actual danger, and tell them what they need to do to minimize the danger of spread. Defer to the health care and epidemiology professionals when they say they are going to need things. That’s all, that’s the complete total of everything that a leader needs to do in a case like this.
We have seen the effect of this policy in South Korea and in its neighbor Japan. Trump could easily have followed that model. His ego got in the way, and that ego is thus directly to blame for the vast majority of the deaths we are now experiencing. He doesn’t get credit if we have fewer than 100,000 deaths; he gets blame that we have more than a thousand.