Gavin Newsom, Other Governors and President Trump See Very Different Paths To Recovery

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

The president is talking about reopening the nation and letting people go back to work at the latest by Easter—less than two weeks from now.

 “I want to see the U.S. open for packed churches,” he thundered and to  make sure we got the point, he added,  We are “near the end” of the pandemic. If this is true than the earth may indeed be flat!

He is also darkly predicting “mass suicides” if people do not heed his advice. Apparently propping up his private sector cronies and Wall Street’s numbers takes precedence over saving lives.

Meanwhile, ignoring his sunny forecast, the Senate has finally agreed on a giant 2 trillion dollar economic recovery package which ultimately could go as high 6 as trillion dollars to cover all the costs of this unprecedented event which is impacting every phase of American life.  As is, the relief is weeks overdue. The so-called virus curve is far from flattening and the metrics are by no stretch of the imagination favorable.

The fact is severe covid-19 symptoms—if they occur at all—“could lag 10 to 14 days before people are tested positive,” according to the Center for Disease Controls.

This makes the inconclusive data suspect at best at the same time that more and better testing is imperative.

Trump’s jaw-dropping pronouncement runs entirely counter to the “social distancing” message which was being feverishly promoted by the White House and every medical authority just one week ago!

Fortunately Gov. Newsom and fellow governors see things differently and have moved expeditiously to pick up the slack while the bumbling and confusing policy responses from the president continue.

The nation’s medical experts led by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Trump’s top health advisor and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, are saying that the worst is yet to come.

Though he continues to appear sporadically,  Fauci has been conspicuously absent at recent White House daily press briefings leading to speculation that his days as the president’s health guru may be numbered. The self-appointed Physician-in-Chief seems to be losing patience with him.

His dissatisfaction was underscored the other day when he called upon Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, to take the  podium ahead of Fauci —something not missed by reporters or the public.

Fauci was a key figure in helping California get through the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s and has the respect of health experts throughout the world.

Newsom and Gov. Anthony Cuomo of New York whose two states together can claim a majority of the nation’s infections that have yet to see the peak are legitimately concerned about any talk of returning to normal anytime soon.

“If you ask people to choose between life and economic recovery it is no contest,” said Cuomo.  And he added, “California will be exactly where we are in two weeks.”

While people are still getting sick and dying and hospital personnel are also falling prey to the virus in increasing numbers it is impossible to comprehend how society can get quickly back to work.

The grim reality is that our health comes first and if the magnitude of the crisis must be over-dramatized to take even the minimal precautions required to contain this scourge, so be it.

Californians appear to be heeding Newsom’s state-wide order to stay at home which could be badly compromised if people were told they could go back to work before we even know how many of our residents may or could soon become infected who may show no signs for up to two weeks after exposure.

According to the governor, 56 percent of the state’s population—25.5 million— could be afflicted within the next 8 weeks without the mitigations that could help slow the spread of the COVID-19 curse.

Los Angeles and San Francisco are epicenters of the virus and the Mayors of both cities invoked shelter-in-place directives even before Trump took action.

Millions of Americans are grumbling but are accepting self-isolation as a reasonable trade-off given the options.

Trump and his top advisers appear more bent on protecting the financial markets and big corporations at the expense of individuals most seriously affected by the coronavirus as the infrastructure for the urgent testing has yet to be put in place.

Without accurate data we are flying in the blind about where and how our efforts to contain the crisis can be most effectively targeted and will offer guidance on what areas and age groups need the most attention.

California has 5.3 million residents over 65 said to be most vulnerable. Their risks would be heightened if they were to come into contact with any of the thousands of potentially infected young people who are also proving susceptible.

Wisely Newsom shut down all schools ending education as usual—a drastic measure which could help prevent the spread of the virus and parents are coping as best they can.

Greater testing will help to determine who needs hospitalization or not. Touting aspirational hopes for a quick turnaround are fanciful until much more is known and could amount to criminal negligence if the worst occurs.

Even without more testing looking at the rapid spread of the virus in other countries such as China, Italy, and South Korea to name just a few of the 150 nations where the disease has run rampant we can make reasonable projections on steps that will be vital if it is going to be even moderately curbed.

These countries went into immediate total lock-downs tantamount to martial law and were weeks ahead of the United States in detecting infections.  We have resisted such draconian measures while Trump is suggesting we relax the ones barely in place.

Newsom has sent a clear signal that he will not be following the president’s advice which has been replete with misinformation and outright lies that Fauci and others are constantly forced to correct.

Accurate statistic-gathering is essential but this cannot await the actions that Newsom has properly taken.

New infections have been doubling about every three days while California awaits the hundreds if not thousands of ventilators and respirators it is lacking if hospitals are not going to be soon overwhelmed with patients who may not survive without them.

The so-called PPEs—the Personal Protective Equipment—promised to California where those infected will soon surpass 3,000 and at least 51 deaths have yet to arrive. Nationwide more than 54,000 have contracted the disease at the rate of 20 new cases per day.

The Defense Production Act of 1950 which has yet to be implemented would trigger instant release and delivery of hospital equipment such as ventilators, surgical masks and gowns and gloves and would increase the production of hospital beds which will grow scarce.

The Act is designed to be invoked during wartime solely by the president in which we now find ourselves as he himself has proclaimed.

Even if activated,  the entire stockpile of such equipment could be entirely exhausted before California’s requests can be filled.

Instead, the president is relying on cooperation from companies that are offering assistance but have little inducement to set timetables and will expect payment which is not possible without a massive infusion of federal funds.

Trump’s perfunctory and dilatory actions reflect a questionable (a euphemistic term)  understanding of the urgency of the pandemic for which he has said “I take no responsibility.” Instead he resorts to revisionist history lessons and media insults when challenged.

“We were very prepared. The only thing we weren’t prepared for was the media. The media has not treated it fairly,” Trump said.

Actually game-playing exercises in the event of such a pandemic were rigorously carried out by the Obama Administration when Fauci was serving in a similar capacity.

Detailed contingency plans for just such a moment were apparently put on the shelf when Trump took office, the expert panel was dissolved and   flashing red light reports from U.S. intelligence agencies in January about the global dangers if the pathogen was to spread were ignored.

“We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” Trump exclaimed days ago.

This reaction suggests a glacial indifference to the catastrophe which has traumatized millions of Californians who without the quarantine are now too scared to venture briefly outside their homes even to go shopping.

Trump seems to be accepting the idea that some people—and especially the elderly—may have to die as a tradeoff for a revived economy which is a pipedream until this pandemic is brought under sufficient control.

Remarkably he gets support for his views from some notable authorities who are downplaying the threat.

One is Dr. John P.A. Ioannidis, a Stanford epidemiologist, who has been widely quoted. In a March 17 essay on statnews.com he writes “we do not have a firm grasp of the population-wide population rate of coronavirus…which could be 1 percent or even lower. If that is the true rate, locking down the world with potentially tremendous social and financial consequences may be totally irrational.”

Gov. Newsom, who oversees the world’s 5th largest economy is certainly not insensitive to the need for rapid economic revival but rejects such Darwinian conclusions.

He understands that the health of Californians must take priority over financial recovery.

The markets will eventually come back just as they did after the 2008 major recession which  did not involve a full-blown health disaster. Unemployment may reach record proportions and thousands of jobless workers will also lose the benefits of health insurance.

These are tragic outcomes, though many of the worst consequences might have been avoided if the president had not been tone-deaf to earlier warnings.

However, those on the frontlines such as Newsom and other  leaders do not have the luxury of musing over comforting and untested theories. They are not willing to let millions incur the infection and possibly die on the gamble that we might just get away by doing less.

In the absence of reliable national guidelines or any at all, Newsom is doing exactly what responsible decision makers must be doing.

Maybe the White House is in need itself of some immediate triage and a strong dose of whatever medicine can restore plain common sense.

Listening to Trump’s latest press briefing one wag said this is just another campaign rally without the balloons. .

Another listener indulging admittedly in gallows humor opined, “If I am hearing this correctly, if we can restrict the disease and deaths to Democrats and other non-essential voters, we should be able to open the country again in one week.”

Mr. President, this nasty virus does not care if you are a Democrat or Republican, old or young, rich or poor. It can kill anyone. If the objective is to stay safe and alive, at this point you probably do not need government to tell you what to do.

 (This column has been updated with news of the Senate agreement.)

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