Losing the Fight Against the Coronavirus

By Steve Chapman

June 28, 2020 5 min read

In the category of "famous last words," my favorite has always been what Union Army Gen. John Sedgwick said when urged to take cover from Confederate sharpshooters. "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance," he replied, and then fell dead from a rifle shot.

Mike Pence is guilty of a similar miscalculation. Writing in The Wall Street Journal on June 16, he boasted of the administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic: "We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy."

He spiked the football short of the goal line. On Thursday, the United States had 39,327 new cases of the virus, a record. The Wall Street Journal reported that 33 states "had a seven-day average of new cases on Tuesday that was higher than their 14-day average" — compared with 21 states at the beginning of June.

"All 50 states have begun to reopen in a safe and responsible manner," Pence claimed. Not quite. Seven states — Arizona, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas — set new daily records for hospitalizations on Tuesday, according to The Washington Post.

Some of these states, notably Texas and Arizona, have been aggressive in reopening. But faced with this surge, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would roll back some of his reopening. It was as if the defenders of the Alamo had decided to pack up and flee.

The home of Walt Disney World — "The Most Magical Place on Earth" — is finding that magic doesn't kill the virus. Florida, which has been in a hurry to return to normal, set a record Wednesday with 5,508 new cases — only to report a staggering 8,942 Friday. But it is charging ahead with its reopening.

What has Donald Trump done lately? He said he was not worried about holding an indoor rally in Tulsa during the pandemic. "It's dying out," he claimed. Thousands of supporters showed up, most without masks, even as Oklahoma was reporting record numbers of new cases. He said he told his aides to "slow the testing down" so the number of new cases would be lower.

He did another rally in Phoenix, where 3,000 attendees largely ignored the local mandate that they wear masks. "It's going away," Trump assured them.

Not in Arizona, though. On Thursday, the state broke records for new cases, hospitalizations and use of ventilators. "Arizona has lost control of the epidemic," reported PolicyLab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Florida, PolicyLab had said earlier, "has all the makings of the next large epicenter" of the pandemic. Seeing a forest fire, Trump fetches a can of gasoline. The president insisted on moving the August Republican National Convention to Jacksonville so he can accept the nomination before cheering delegates packed into a big venue.

The administration is also ending federal funding of some community-based testing sites, a decision that even GOP Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas criticized.

He spurned Charlotte, the original site, because of North Carolina's restrictions. "We can't do social distancing," he informed Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel insists that in holding the convention, the party will "put the safety of convention-goers first and foremost."

No, it won't. If that were the case, it would tell them to stay home rather than risk contracting a dangerous disease to satisfy the president's vanity.

History will record that under Trump's watch, the United States became the leader of the world — in COVID-19 infections. As of June 24, the U.S., which has 330 million people, has been averaging nearly eight times as many new cases as the European Union, whose population is 445 million.

Trump has always been on the side of governors who favor fewer restrictions rather than more. When armed protesters rallied in Lansing against Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order, he sided with the protesters. She held firm, and since then, Michigan has seen a big drop in new cases.

But Trump and his followers have no patience with the inconveniences required to limit the pandemic. They are determined to move on and return to life as it used to be.

You can't blame anyone for yearning to escape all the aggravations and deprivations of our current predicament. But here's the thing about the virus: It doesn't sleep. It never runs out of patience. And it won't stop killing.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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