The coronavirus is going to hit America hard, because of economic fear or plain old stupidity the risks have been downplayed to the public.
“It’s just the flu”.
“The mortality rate is only 2%.”
“The only people dying are the old and people already sick”
This is the former Prime Minister of Italy on TV telling other countries not to waste time, to close down public events and spaces now to slow the spread of the virus.
Here’s what Trump was doing two days before this interview:
Everybody else outside the oval office knows this isn’t the flu, every country that has failed to prepare has been hit hard.
How prepared is the US?
Let's take a look at why it hits so hard:
The main risk of the coronavirus was never that you were going to get sick and die. It’s that so many people are going to get sick so quickly that our healthcare services and infrastructure are going to be completely overwhelmed.
Can you guess how many people a year require hospitalisation for the flu in the US?
The number of people who need critical care in an ICU for COVID-19 is 10x the number of people needing hospitalisation with the flu.
Journalists were right in that COVID-19 is a very survivable disease if the infected can get medical treatment.
If not, it becomes very serious.
The mortality rate nationwide in China was 2.1%, but that doesn’t tell the full story.
· Mortality rate in Wuhan was 4.9% 1
· Mortality rate in the Hubei Province was 3.1% 1
· Mortality rate in other provinces was 0.16%. 1
When asked why Wuhan was so much higher than the national level, the Chinese official replied that it was for lack of resources, citing as an example that there were only 110 critical care beds in the three designated hospitals where most of the cases were sent. 1
If hospital capacity is exceeded the death rate jumps, as can be seen in Italy and it’s not just because of the Virus itself.
In Italy surgeries can no longer take place because the operating theatres have been converted into care facilities because all of the ICU beds are occupied.
There are no respirators left.
A comment that was left under my last article by Robert Munro read:
I helped respond the West African Ebola outbreak. 10 people died for every 1 Ebola case, due to people with other treatable conditions avoiding healthcare facilities because of the fear they would contract Ebola there.
Let's have a look at the two biggest ways this outbreak has crippled Trump’s re-election chances:
Trump was basing his campaign on a strong economy and the stock market being at all-time highs. He's been setting himself up for an economy based campaign for months.
Right now, global markets are crashing.
China took extensive measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, including shutting down manufacturing, severely impacting supply chains all over the world. Oil prices have crashed because of transport slowdowns, multiple US companies including Apple are warning investors of lower than expected profits and multiple financial analysts are warning that the US could go into recession if things get worse.
COVID-19 has a foothold in multiple countries. In Europe where tourism is around 10% of the GDP of France, Spain, Italy and the UK things could get pretty bad.
The interconnectedness of global economies means that the slowdown of Chinese manufacturing and an EU recession might have been enough on its own to cause a US recession even without considering the quarantine and distancing measures that the US is going to have to implement to prevent its healthcare system being overwhelmed.
It’s a safe bet that if the outbreak gets worse in the US, the economy won’t be on Trumps side by the time the election rolls around.
Why does this matter?
There’s a wealth of research, nearly 2000 studies proving that the economy and the performance of the incumbent are linked.
In this study by Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt University, an analysis done between 2007–2011 showed that each percentage point of extra GDP growth in the four quarters following the election was associated with a 1% rise in the incumbent party’s vote share regardless of ideology.
Not only is Trump less likely to win if the economy tanks, but he has also explicitly tried to position himself as the jobs, economy, stock market president. If the economy goes into recession because of a virus outbreak that he downplayed and denied it’s going to be a very painful election for him.
Stock market gains since the start of Trump’s presidency have now been wiped out. In response the fed just injected $1.5 Trillion into the market. It didn’t work.
Take a look at this graphic from Pew Research about 2016 voters.
Trump's core support was people 65 and over. As you get older the chance of you being a Trump voter increases.
Who does the virus hit hardest?
That’s right, old people.
Trump's voter base.
This is bad news for Trump but it gets worse.
Remember how we previously discussed how the mortality rate rises drastically only when healthcare systems are overwhelmed?
Well, if you’re in a big city, with huge hospitals that have well equipped critical care wards, you’re going to be ok.
If you live out in a small town or in a rural area, where there’s only one hospital for miles and miles around, no critical care facilities and a single doctor for the entire population, you’re in trouble.
Take a look at trumps popularity broken down by geographic location from 538:
No, you’re not reading that incorrectly. Trump's entire voting base is people that live in small towns and in rural areas.
Combine this with the age data and you find that Trump's base is small town/rural people over the age of 65, the exact demographic that is most at risk of dying from COVID-19.
Why does this matter?
In 2016 trump won by 80,000 votes total.
Trump won by 10,000, 46,000 and 22,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Any decrease in his voter base would hurt trump really badly.
It’s ok though because the US isn’t going to be hit that badly by COVID-19 though right? The administration has it contained.
In The Atlantic, Marc Lipsitch, a leading epidemiologist at Harvard reported that “that within the coming year, some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19”. This is the generally accepted position among epidemiologists.
That’s the entire world though right?
A first-world country probably won't get that bad will it?
Well, the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel gave a press conference this morning (Wednesday 11th) saying she expects between 60–70% of Germany to get infected.
She told reporters that the virus is no longer containable but if they take drastic measures now, they can slow infection so that the German healthcare system doesn’t get overwhelmed by too many people and minimise casualties.
The same day, Trump is tweeting that the US can manufacture a red, white and blue vaccine and PREVAIL! Over the virus.
Steps that the admin could take in combatting the virus, like declaring a national emergency so that Medicaid can be used by states to respond to the outbreak are being blocked by the administration.
It seems like every week the media will portray Trump as a liar, as misunderstanding basic facts or being incompetent.
Trump’s base don’t listen because they don’t trust the news.
They listen to Fox.
They listen to Hannity and Limbaugh, who tell them the coronavirus is just a flu.
The Fox line is that the mainstream media and the democrats are making a panic out of nothing to make Trump look bad.
This is just a guess, but I honestly think that Fox News first started reporting that COVID-19 was just a flu to not panic the stock market, Trump watches Fox, starts tweeting and then Fox and others start using Trump as a source.
It’s the kind of circular referencing that has become typical of the polarised US media these past four years. It’s a misinformation campaign where each actor references the others with nobody actually checking what’s true.
It’s a little song and dance has been performed countless times during this administration.
But there’s a big difference this time.
Misinformation like this only works when you don’t have direct experience or when cause and effect are a little bit too abstracted from one another.
If you’re a Trump voter, when CNN calls Trump racist you can ignore it because CNN always lies.
When the news tells you that Trump is corrupt you can ignore it because you’ve never seen it and besides, all politicians are corrupt.
When the news tells you that Trump’s tariffs on China have hurt American farmers you can ignore it because cause and effect are a little bit too separated from one another.
You can’t ignore that you were sharing coronavirus memes from your “President Trump” facebook page and now your entire state is locked down.
You can’t ignore that you believed the president when he tweeted that the flu was worse and now your rural hospitals are filled to capacity.
You can’t ignore that you saw the president on TV saying it was under control and now your elderly parents are dying because they can’t get access to respirators.
Like a great fog, the trump illusion will lift.
If he was wrong about coronavirus could he be wrong about everything else?
The true depths of this administration’s incompetence can be realised if you consider what Trump's core issues are: Immigration, Trade and Manufacturing.
This outbreak could have been the golden ticket for him:
Secure all US borders.
Start testing anybody entering from an infected country immediately.
Push American companies to restart manufacturing critical medical equipment and drugs in the US.
As the rest of the world struggles to deal with the outbreak and their economies slide into recession because of their industry closing down, Trump could have been at the head of a relatively stable economy, pointing to his immigration and manufacturing policies as they very thing which saved them.
I think the coronavirus will be the end of a lot of things.
China has banned its food markets, so it’s the end of people eating bats and pangolins.
A little more unrealistically it might be the end of the 9–5, if companies realise that employees working from home isn’t that bad.
One thing I’m sure of:
If it hits the US as hard as the data predicts, the way that Katrina was the end of Bush, coronavirus will be the end of Trump.
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