On Tuesday, the United States will pass 9,000,000 cases of COVID-19. By Friday, the nation will almost certainly be racking up over 90,000 cases in a single day. And by the end of the week, the rate of deaths—always a lagging indicator—are again likely to be pushing above 1,000 a day.
The most horrible thing about the COVID-19 crisis as America moves from a dark summer to a darker fall may be its utter predictability. Last week may have taken the nation above the peak rates of growth seen back during the June-July surge, but it was possible to predict that event well in advance. That’s because for eight solid weeks, the rate of infection has been marching upward with terrifying regularity. And that’s because this new surge in cases is very broad-based, and so nearly immune to any change in purely local actions.
Though the weekend decline in testing tends to make Monday and Tuesday of each week seem artificially low when it comes to cases reported, there is every possibility that election week will see the nation at 100,000 cases a day. What does that mean? It means that the United States will be seeing more new cases of COVID-19 in a day than Japan, Venezuela, or China has seen in the entire pandemic. More cases than Australia, Greece, Norway, and South Korea have seen combined over a span of nine months.
There’s no reason to believe it will end there. Because to stop it will require the one thing that Donald Trump won’t deliver: coordinated nationwide action.
Right now, Europe is seeing a renewed wave of COVID-19 that is again ravaging areas that were hit extremely hard in the earliest weeks of the pandemic. France hit a peak of over 52,000 cases on Sunday that was eight times its worst day back in March and April. It’s not so surprising that several nations that have reinstituted social distancing restrictions are now seeing the same kind of protests that popped up months ago in the U.S.—they thought they had sacrificed enough, cooperated enough, been good enough to put this thing behind them. Now, after a summer that saw them welcoming tourists, dining in restaurants, and renewing schools … things are as bad, or worse, than they ever were in the spring.
It’s horrible. But it’s also exactly what was predicted at the pandemic’s beginning. Experts from the outset knew that no nation could survive in constant quarantine until a vaccine is ready. They always anticipated that there would be periods of reopening, and then renewed restrictions to reassert control. They don’t seem to have anticipated the reluctance that would generate such lags in reaction, making each swing of the needle more severe. Or account for how people would simply grow exhausted, even with saving their own lives.
How hard is COVID-19 to control? Take a look at the tiny Faroe Islands, with a population less than 49,000. They’ve done enough tests there for every single person on the islands to be tested three times … and they’re still having cases. Granted, they had just four cases on Monday, but it shows that completely eliminating COVID-19 from any population is fearsomely hard. (Though it is possible. Forty-eight countries that have previously reported cases of COVID-19 reported no new cases on Monday, and over half of those nations have reported no cases for weeks.)
There are still countries where life is going on devoted to the idea of fighting COVID-19. Australia is still reporting cases in single digits, and so is Singapore, and so is the much-lauded New Zealand. South Korea has already seen a second wave of cases, but it deployed the same dedicated effort to managing that renewed threat as it had in the first round and was equally as effective.
The difference between the United States and every other nation on the planet is simple enough: They’re still fighting. Even Sweden, long criticized for a policy of letting most of its population carry on—and racking up one of the highest per capita death rates—is “tweaking” its rules to tighten restrictions on schools, transportation, and nightclubs.
There’s really only one country that has made surrender its official policy. Unfortunately, we’re it.
Donald Trump made the decision all the way back in March that not installing a national testing and contact tracing system would be the most effective way to kill more of his political opponents. That decision has successfully killed one out of 1,000 Black Americans. It’s also done something else Trump and his followers wanted—it’s caused a fiscal crisis in America’s cities that they can blame on Democratic leaders. Trump’s plan for addressing this can be summed up in a word: Don’t.
Trump’s calculation has always been allowing Americans to die in great numbers while claiming to have done a “fantastic job.” Except that covering up the way that grandparents, parents, siblings, and children are either dying or getting very ill has proven more challenging than Trump thought. He may gripe about the media saying “COVID, COVID, COVID,” but some of the reddest locations in the nation are now showing confirmed case counts that exceed 5% of the population. That turns out to be hard to miss.
Right now in Europe, protestors are complaining because their nations are attempting to regain control over a virus that has already killed over a million people worldwide. Right now in the United States, the government has made it official policy that it’s not going to attempt control.
Which is where we all came in.
Donald Trump hasn’t spent the last nine months fighting COVID-19, he’s spent that time fighting hope. And now the only hope that remains is showing Trump the door.