From the start of the COVID epidemic we’ve been talking about “reopening”, when it would happen, whether it is safe. The President started demanding it about two weeks into the crisis – the churches needed to be full on Easter, the 12th of April. Now we talk about which states have reopened and which haven’t. It’a all wrong. From the start this metaphor has saddled us with distorting language and a distorted concept which has enabled and driven bad policy. It suggests a binary choice when one doesn’t exist. The impact goes beyond semantics.
There is no opening or closing and there won’t be until we have a vaccine or a very effective cure for COVID. There are various mitigation strategies. Does the state push or mandate widespread masking? Does it permit indoor dining? Are bars open? Has it scaled sufficient testing capacity and a robust contact tracing program? The devil and the death toll are all in this particulars. The ‘reopening’ metaphor obscures all of this.
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It now seems likely that President Trump will lose his bid for reelection in November and perhaps by a margin large enough to head off any effort to contest the results and unconstitutionally hold on to power. But even if this doesn’t happen in November it will happen one day. Now is the time to plan for accountability for and recovery from the catastrophe of Trumpism.
One of the most abiding criticisms of the Obama administration is that no one was held accountable for the actions that led to the 2008 financial crisis. Relatedly, but addressing a different set of equities, others criticized Obama for ‘turning the page’ on the manipulated intelligence scandals that led to the Iraq War. These are complicated questions that are beyond the scope of this discussion. But there are at least potent reasons to avoid the cycle which has plagued so many countries in which losing power means vulnerability to political prosecutions and the necessity of exile.
But we often get this part of the civic accountability calculus wrong. Prosecution and criminal punishment play an important role in combating public wrongdoing. But they are not the most important tool. Indeed it often operates at cross purposes to the far more important goal of public exposure.
Here is a new source of COVID data I want to share with you: outbreak.info. There are a lot of these sites and I try to dig into just who is running them and what standards they’re using for their data. This one appears to be the work of a team headed up by Andrew Su at the Scripps Research Center Institute in La Jolla. A lot of the data is what you find at other great sites like The COVID Tracking Project, the Johns Hopkins data site, etc. But this is a team specializing in bioinformatics. So they’ve worked on creating uniform formats for COVID data so the data can be efficiently and accurately meshed together – so the data can talk to each other.
Yesterday I discussed how shifting age demographics could mean fewer deaths from the current COVID outbreaks than the ones mostly in the North in March and April. Here’s a much more granular discussion of this issue at the COVID Tracking website. Highly recommend if you’re interested in going deeper on this question.
We should remember that until quite recently — just about a year ago — Harriet Tubman was scheduled to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. It wasn’t just an idea. Much of the work and preparation had already been done. But the plan was canceled because it made President Trump mad.
One of the most persistent mysteries of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. is why cases have largely plateaued (until the last couple weeks) while mortality figures have fallen substantially. As we’ve discussed, there’s been an ongoing debate about disentangling the evolving case counts from the ongoing rise in the number of tests being conducted every day. But particularly as cases started to rise in June it is clear that cases are growing well in excess of what can be explained by more testing. So why have the daily mortality numbers dropped? Why the disjuncture between the two numbers, even taking into account a two- or three-week lag between spikes in new cases and people succumbing to the disease?
As we noted this morning, we still don’t know what was so urgent or important that Bill Barr tried to force the ouster of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York on Friday evening, even going so far as to lie in a series of press releases and letters about what US Attorney Geoff Berman had done (resigned; he hadn’t) or what President Trump had done (fired Berman; he denied it). But another critical question is why Barr thought he could trust the US Attorney from the District of New Jersey to handle whatever it was he couldn’t leave in the hands of Geoff Berman or his deputy Audrey Strauss, who would normally succeed him.