INDIANAPOLIS — EDITORIAL FROM HOWEY POLITICS
Last March 29, President Trump said at one of his coronavirus task force "shows" that "Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won."
But that is exactly what Trump and coronavirus task force chair Mike Pence are saying and doing in their stewarding the United States through the COVID-19 pandemic that has infected more than 1 million people, killing 118,000 since March.
On Tuesday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Pence insisted, "In recent days, the media has taken to sounding the alarm bells over a 'second wave' of coronavirus infections. Such panic is overblown.Thanks to the leadership of President Trump and the courage and compassion of the American people, our public health system is far stronger than it was four months ago, and we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy. That’s a cause for celebration, not the media’s fear-mongering."
Indiana is in stage 4 of its five step reopening and has stabilized what would have been a major health system overload by shutting down in March. The final stage 5 in Gov. Eric Holcomb's reopening plan was supposed to be July 4, coinciding with the NASCAR race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But it will be run without fans in the stands, and dozens of county fairs, fireworks and festivals, along with the Indiana State Fair have been cancelled.
Trump and Pence can "celebrate" their "victory," but the population remains guarded after this pandemic has claimed 2,265 Hoosier lives, with the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicting 2,800 Indiana deaths by Aug. 1 and 3,407 by Oct. 1.
Indiana is the lone state to conduct a comprehensive study in a collaboration between the Indiana State Department of Health and IU's Fairbanks School of Public Health. The state’s active infection rate was 0.6%, a sharp decrease from the 1.7% observed in Phase 1. Dr. Nir Menachemi, lead scientist on the study, observed, "This was an example of Hoosiers successfully hunkering down during the initial outbreak."
The Fairbanks study revealed that 43% of those infected were asymptomatic, prompting Indiana Health Commissioner Kris Box to credit social distancing and widespread use of face masks. "But we still have active transmission, and we must continue to take steps to protect our most vulnerable Hoosier," she said.
This is good news, but we are not out of the woods.
There have been spikes in Elkhart and LaGrange counties in recent weeks, prompting health officials and county commissioners to require the public wearing of face masks. "Anecdotal hospital capacity information, and this is from a phone call around to the hospitals yesterday: You've got Lutheran and Parkview in Fort Wayne, very full, quite busy," Goshen General Health President Randy Christofel told the Goshen City Council. "We still have capacity, but at this rate, we will run out. If this continues, we will be tight on capacity here within the next week or two at the most."
About a dozen states, including Oklahoma where Trump and Pence will appear before 19,000 people in Tulsa at a MAGA rally on Saturday, and Florida where the Republican National Convention was moved to Jacksonville in late August, are experiencing the most infections since the pandemic began. Those attending the Tulsa rally had to sign a legal waiver protecting Trump Inc., and holding the arena harmless should anyone contract COVID-19.
"COVID’s not taking a summer vacation," Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert and professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told CNN.
Trump and Pence aren't wearing face masks in public, and that is having an impact with their supporters. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined the highest risk events for transmission of the coronavirus this way: "Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least six feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area."
The Wall Street Journal called them "superspreading events." It reported: A study published by the National Academy of Sciences last week found that one minute of loud speech was enough to produce thousands of droplets that remain airborne for about 12 minutes, potentially able to infect anyone in the area.
Indiana had one such event on March 6 at Lawrence Central HS for a sectional basketball game. It was the scene where five Hoosiers caught the coronavirus and eventually died, including North Central HS Athletic Director Paul Loggan, and another dozen folks were infected.
Recent polling suggests that nearly a third of Hoosier parents are "very likely" to not have their children return to school in August, according to a letter four Democratic lawmakers sent to the governor last week. Dr. Box put the number between 25% and 30% on Wednesday, calling it "incredibly discouraging."
Ultimately, it will be the people who determine when they feel safe. While the 30 to 40% of Trump supporters are willing to show up to MAGA rallies without face masks, some 60% of the population are still reluctant to travel, dine out, go to sporting events or attend school in person.
President Trump told Sean Hannity on Fox News Wednesday that COVID was "fading away." The cold hard reality is that unless an effective vaccine emerges, such a "win" still seems to be a long way off.
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.