President Donald Trump
Credit: North Charleston/Flickr

The news coming out of the president’s Monday press conference on the coronavirus is truly alarming.

President Trump, under growing pressure to rescue an economy in free fall, said Monday that he may soon loosen federal guidelines for social distancing and encourage shuttered businesses to reopen—defying public health experts, who have warned that doing so risks accelerating the spread of the novel coronavirus or even allowing it to rebound.

“America will again and soon be open for business—very soon,” Trump said at the daily White House news conference. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”…

The consensus among experts—including infectious disease expert Anthony S. Fauci and other senior officials on Trump’s coronavirus task force—is that restaurants, bars, schools, offices and other gathering places should remain closed for many more weeks to mitigate the outbreak, the worst effects of which are yet to be felt in the United States.

But Trump has been chafing against that notion and impatient to get American life back to normal.

“If it were up to the doctors, they’d say let’s keep it shut down, let’s shut down the entire world . . . and let’s keep it shut for a couple of years,” Trump said Monday. “We can’t do that.”

Of course, Trump is incapable of telling the truth. No one is suggesting that we need to shut down for a couple of years. But he has to exaggerate to make a point.

During the press conference, John Karl asked the president whether he was worried that if he lifted restrictions too soon, the virus would start spreading. The correct response would be to remind Karl that the virus hasn’t been contained. It is still spreading. Instead, Trump suggested that he would lift restrictions based on what he is hearing about the mortality rate.

At the beginning, “nobody knew anything about this particular virus”, and Trump said he heard numbers that the mortality rate for the virus might be as high as 5%, compared with “.001 or 2 or 3” percent for the normal flu.

“The mortality rate, to me that is a very big factor,” Trump said.

“We’re under 1% now,” Trump said. “It’s still terrible. The whole concept of death is terrible, but there’s a tremendous difference between something under 1% and 4 or 5 or even 3%.”

Once again, the president isn’t telling the truth. Here is what the World Health Organization said about the coronavirus mortality rate earlier this month.

Mortality for COVID-19 appears higher than for influenza, especially seasonal influenza. While the true mortality of COVID-19 will take some time to fully understand, the data we have so far indicate that the crude mortality ratio (the number of reported deaths divided by the reported cases) is between 3-4%, the infection mortality rate (the number of reported deaths divided by the number of infections) will be lower. For seasonal influenza, mortality is usually well below 0.1%.

While it is difficult to discuss these issues when we are referring to people’s lives, the estimates from WHO of 3-4 percent were based on the number of reported cases rather than the number of infections. Experts have calculated an infection mortality rate of 1.4 percent in the city of Wuhan, China, where the virus is believed to have originated. But given that mortality rates vary, here is a summary of what we currently know.

The chance of someone with symptomatic Covid-19 dying varied by age, confirming other studies. For those aged 15 to 44, the fatality rate was 0.5%, though it might have been as low as 0.1% or as high as 1.3%. For people 45 to 64, the fatality rate was also 0.5%, with a possible low of 0.2% and a possible high of 1.1%. For those over 64, it was 2.7%, with a low and high estimate of 1.5% and 4.7%.

Nevertheless, on Monday night, Trump tweeted this from Ann Coulter.

It is probably safe to say that Trump loved that number, but didn’t bother reading the linked article. If he had, he would have learned that the author, while having worked on pandemics, is an engineer, not a health professional.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s go with his figures. The population of the United States is currently about 327 million. Estimates are that somewhere between 20-60 percent of the population will be infected with the coronavirus. If the mortality rate was 0.45 percent, that would mean the death of between 294,000 and 883,000 Americans. We are currently at about 600. Those are the lives this president is willing to sacrifice on the altar of the economy.

Here is how Governor Cuomo reacted to the president’s plan.

Those joining the president in choosing the economy over life include Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.

Of course, Trump’s economic advisors and some business leaders are joining that chorus. But what about those who, on religious grounds, claim to be “pro-life?” The publication “First Things,” which touts itself as “America’s most influential journal of religion and public life,” published an article about this by R.R. Reno.

Undoubtedly “shelter in place” will slow the spread of disease, but at what cost to the body politic? Beware public health officials who advise burning the village in order to get rid of the pestilence.

And beware those who pronounce that we should save lives “at any cost.” That’s a dangerous falsehood, one that leads to barbarism and slavery. There are many things more important than physical survival—love, honor, beauty, and faith. Anyone who believes that our earthly existence is worth preserving “at any cost” will accept slavery. As St. Paul teaches, he is already a slave, spiritually speaking.

All of a sudden, when we are talking about the economy instead of women’s bodies, asking people to “shelter in place” is the road to slavery. Risking a minimum of 300,000 lives is small potatoes to Reno.

I am reminded of something David Simon said about the message he was sending with his series The Wire.

I didn’t start out as a cynic, but at every given moment where this country has had a choice – its governments, institutions, corporations, its social framework – to exalt the value of individuals over the value of the shared price, we have chosen raw unencumbered capitalism. Capitalism has become our god. You are not looking at a marxist up here, but you are looking at somebody who doesn’t believe that capitalism can work absent a social framework that accepts that it is relatively easy to marginalize more and more people in this economy. Capitalism has to be attended to. And that has to be a conscious calculation on the part of society, if that is going to succeed…A t some point, either more of us are going to find our conscience or we’re not.

It is clear that Donald Trump and his enablers are devoid of a conscience. In the coming weeks, as hundreds of thousands of lives are on the line, we’ll find out about the rest of us.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.