Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell
Credit: The White House/Flickr

There are some pretty shocking worst-case estimates of what the coronavirus can do in America. The New York Times reports that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected a nightmare scenario in which 217 million people in this country are infected and 1.7 million die. But that was predicated, in part, based on people doing essentially nothing to stop the spread of the disease.

Other specialists have produced predictions based on what they think is most likely to happen.

Dr. [James] Lawler [an infectious diseases specialist and public health expert at the University of Nebraska Medical Center] recently presented his own “best guess” projections to American hospital and health system executives at a private webinar convened by the American Hospital Association. He estimated that some 96 million people in the U.S. would be infected. Five out of every hundred would need hospitalization, which would mean close to five million hospital admissions, nearly two million of those patients requiring intensive care and about half of those needing the support of ventilators.

Dr. Lawler’s calculations suggested 480,000 deaths, which he said was conservative.

If that’s the conservative estimate, we’re in pretty big trouble. So, why is President Trump refusing to declare a national emergency? After all, he declared one “last February to divert billions that had been appropriated for the military to fund construction of his wall along the southern border.”

Why is Trump refusing to allow Medicaid to expand what they’re willing to cover?

Despite mounting pleas from California and other states, the Trump administration isn’t allowing states to use Medicaid more freely to respond to the coronavirus crisis by expanding medical services.

In previous emergencies, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the H1N1 flu outbreak, both Republican and Democratic administrations loosened Medicaid rules to empower states to meet surging needs.

But months into the current global disease outbreak, the White House and senior federal health officials haven’t taken the necessary steps to give states simple pathways to fully leverage the mammoth safety net program to prevent a wider epidemic.

Why is Senate Majority Leader lying about what is in the House’s emergency coronavirus bill and refusing to support it?

The answer appears to be that ego and ideological rigidity are blinding the Republicans in charge of our country. Trump doesn’t want to admit that he blundered badly by not taking the crisis seriously, and McConnell just opposes things like unemployment insurance, paid time off, and Medicaid because he always takes the side of employers and never of employees.

In this case, however,  they’re simply getting people killed unnecessarily. If folks don’t take off work when they’re sick, they’ll spread the virus around. To give an example of what this can mean, the person referred to as Patient 31 in South Korea singlehandedly infected thousands of people. How much cheaper is it to pay sick people not to leave their house?

Little things can have enormous consequences at a time like this, which is precisely why it’s such a disaster to have Trump and McConnell crafting the policy. In truth, neither of them are offering anything constructive. They’re just standing in the way of the folks who are trying to protect the public.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at