A Disaster for the Ages

This crisis is going to get a lot worse before it gets better, I fear. And even as the effects of the pandemic fade in the rest of the world, they are going to be felt in the U.S. for a long, long time. And that’s because Donald Trump is president.

The Trump administration’s botched coronavirus response, explained by German Lopez at Vox does a good job walking us through all the ways the Trump Administration failed to respond to the pandemic when it would have made a difference.  We’re past that point now. Even if the Trumpers get everything else right going forward, there will be tremendous misery, and lots of people will die who didn’t have to die. And the economy will be thoroughly bleeped for a long, long time.

This will go down in history as profound failure of our national government,” Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said today. And the failure continues.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo asked the federal government to put military logistics experts in charge of procuring and distributing medical supplies. Instead, right now pandemic response is being managed by Jared Kushner. I’m serious. Having already screwed up negotiating a bleeping contract with General Motors, Mr. Ivanka is now the nation’s ventilator czar.

What started two-and-a-half weeks ago as an effort to utilize the private sector to fix early testing failures has become an all-encompassing portfolio for Kushner, who, alongside a kitchen cabinet of outside experts including his former roommate and a suite of McKinsey consultants, has taken charge of the most important challenges facing the federal government: Expanding test access, ramping up industry production of needed medical supplies, and figuring out how to get those supplies to key locations.

Kushner has even obtained a new center of power at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the crisis-response organization that’s taken over coronavirus strategy and planning — and where Kushner and his deputies ride herd on the health agencies that had been criticized for their slow responses to the pandemic earlier this year.

So we’re screwed. Jonathan Chait writes,

As head of an ad hoc task force, Kushner is “working alongside government officials from FEMA, HHS, and USAID to solve a range of logistical and technical challenges” and “has stepped in to coordinate decision-making at agencies including the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,” according to Politico. “I don’t know how our government operates anymore,” one Republican source complains.

For anybody familiar with Kushner’s boundless self-confidence in his ability to master even the thorniest of policy challenges, from modernizing government processes to solving the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, his disposition will come as no surprise. Gabriel Sherman reports that, in one meeting, the presidential son-in-law insisted that he had mastered the problem of ventilator disbursement. “I have all this data about ICU capacity. I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators,” Kushner announced, according to someone present.

A lot of people will die who didn’t have to die. See also an old Frank Bruni column from last November, Jared Kushner Fails Up Again.

And just when you might have through the derp couldn’t get any deeper, this happened today.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said he wasn’t aware that asymptomatic people could transmit coronavirus as he announced he was preparing to issue a state-wide shelter-in-place order.

Let us take a moment for a mass facepalm.

It’s a good guess the pandemic is going to hit the southern states especially hard. See Where America Didn’t Stay Home Even as the Virus Spread. The concept of shelter in place was lost on the Deep South until maybe yesterday. See also The Coronavirus’s Unique Threat to the South in The Atlantic. For some reason, mortality rates from coronavirus among middle-aged and younger people are much higher in the South than elsewhere.

Although the majority of coronavirus-related deaths in Louisiana are still among victims over 70 years old, 43 percent of all reported deaths have been people under 70. In Georgia, people under 70 make up 49 percent of reported deaths. By comparison, people under 70 account for only 20 percent of deaths in Colorado. “Under 70” is a broad category, not really useful for understanding what’s going on. But digging deeper reveals more concerning numbers. In Louisiana, people from the ages of 40 to 59 account for 22 percent of all deaths. The same age range in Georgia accounts for 17 percent of all deaths. By comparison, the same age group accounts for only about 10 percent of all deaths in Colorado, and 6 percent of all deaths in Washington State. These statistics suggest that middle-aged and working-age adults in the two southern states are at much greater risk than their counterparts elsewhere; for some reason, they are more likely to die from COVID-19. … Case-fatality rates around the world are notoriously tricky because they are based in part on the extent of testing, but a recent study of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, found a case-fatality rate of 0.5 percent among adults from the ages of 30 to 59. The current estimate of fatality rates in the same age range in Louisiana is about four times that.

The article provides data showing that southerners are less healthy than the rest of us. They have higher rates of hypertension and heart disease at earlier ages.  “Southerners are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases than other Americans—even as Americans are more likely to suffer from chronic disease than citizens of other countries with comparable wealth,” the article says. And a lot of that is because of poverty. And there’s this — the gray states hadn’t expanded Medicaid as of 2019.

If you look at the New York Times map of where people have traveled the most over the past couple of months and then the Medicaid map, you see a close correlation. It’s not a perfect correlation, but close. That probably says something.

And then there’s the economic fallout. There’s an interview of Paul Krugman in Business Insider that’s useful. Among other things, he says that our government so far has produced the weakest economic response of all the G7 countries. And because the states are breaking their budgets to buy gray-market medical supplies now — not to mention losing tax revenue — there is likely to be a mass layoff of state employees next year, which will hurt the economy massively.

So this is not going to end soon, and it probably will haunt the country for a long time. And it didn’t have to be this bad.