Just over two weeks ago The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by Vice President Mike Pence titled “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave.’” The article was supposed to reassure the nation.
What it provided, instead, was a clear illustration of the delusions and magical thinking that have marked every step of the Trump administration’s response to Covid-19, producing an epic policy disaster.
Put it this way: By now, according to Trump officials and sycophants, we were supposed to be seeing a fading pandemic and a roaring recovery. Instead, we have a fading recovery and a roaring pandemic.
About the pandemic: The Pence article cheerily declared that “cases have stabilized,” with the daily average number of new cases only 20,000. Even that figure, as it happens, was five times the number in the European Union, which has a third more people than America does. Since then, however, new cases have soared, hitting more than 50,000 by some counts on Wednesday.
Indeed, at this point Arizona, with seven million people, is reporting around as many new cases each day as the whole E.U., with 446 million people.
Paul Krugman’s Newsletter: Get a better understanding of the economy — and an even deeper look at what’s on Paul’s mind.Sign Up
Some Trump supporters are still trying to dismiss the upswing in cases as an illusion created by more testing. But it isn’t. Cases have grown far more than testing has. Hospitalizations have shot up in Arizona and Texas, which are at the leading edge of the new surge; in both states, hospitals are in crisis mode. (Florida, which is probably in the same situation, hasn’t been releasing hospitalization data.)
The one piece of slightly good news is that deaths from the coronavirus are still falling, in part because the new wave of infections is hitting people younger than the first wave did, in part perhaps because doctors have gotten better at treating the disease. But Covid-19 can be debilitating and cause long-term damage, even when it doesn’t kill.
Also, deaths are a lagging indicator. In Arizona, where the jump in cases began about two weeks before the rest of the Sunbelt, deaths are rising.
The thing is, Covid-19’s resurgence was utterly predictable — and predicted. When Donald Trump declared that we would “transition to greatness” — which is to say, rush to reopen the economy despite a still-rampant pandemic — epidemiologists warned that this could set off a new wave of infections. They were right.
And economists warned that while relaxing social distancing would lead to a brief period of job growth, these gains would be short-lived, that premature reopening would be self-defeating even in economic terms. They were also right.
Don’t be fooled by the big jobs number in Thursday’s employment report — a number that still left us down almost 15 million jobsfrom February. The report was a snapshot of the economy during the “reference period,” basically the second week of June. So it’s telling us what was happening before the Covid-19 surge became apparent.
We don’t have official data for what has happened since then, but a variety of real-time indicators suggest that the recovery has stalled or even gone backward. Indeed, things started falling apart even before states began reversing some of their previous moves to reopen. Fear of infection will do that: Many people will avoid going out whatever their governors may say.
As a result, unemployment, still in double digits, probably won’t get much better for a long time.