Mike Pence wrong about US coronavirus surge

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence last week praised Trump's leadership and called the panic over increasing cases "overblown." However, the number of new cases nationally still remains at about 20,000 a day.

China.org.cn June 22, 2020
By Mitchell Blatt

A supporter gets his temperature checked prior to attending a campaign rally for Donald Trump in Tulsa of Oklahoma, the United States, June 20, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

Since American states began allowing restaurants to open in the past few weeks, many have seen massive spikes in the number of new coronavirus cases reported.

This was entirely predictable. America had not even got over the first wave of the coronavirus before it started "reopening," with experts warning that it would continue to spread rapidly if people congregated at restaurants and shopping centers. Now that exactly what the experts warned would happen is happening, Vice President Mike Pence is trying to deny and deflect from the reality.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journalon June 16, Pence praised the "leadership of President Trump" and said "panic" about the increase in cases is "overblown."

"[I]n the six states that have reached more than 1,000 new cases a day, increased testing has allowed public health officials to identify most of the outbreaks in particular settings–prisons, nursing homes and meatpacking facilities–and contain them," he wrote.

That passage itself includes quite a startling admission: There are six states with more than 1,000 new cases per day. In all of China, a country of 1.4 billion people, there are fewer than 50 cases per day. Germany, a country of 83 million, recorded 580 new cases on June 17. California is the most populous state in the United States; its population is 39 million.

Arizona, which has a population of just 7 million, recorded not 1,000, but 2,300 new cases on June 16. These are not just resurgences; these are new records in the affected states.

So, there are multiple states with more new cases in a day than entire countries have. And yet, China reacts much more aggressively to a small increase in cases, while the U.S. puts its workers in harm's way with many more cases.

Pence is trying to do a few misleading things in that one sentence. First, he's suggesting that the outbreaks are only occurring within "outgroups" that live in certain locations and that "ordinary Americans" are not impacted. Meatpacking employees, for example, are disproportionately Hispanic, and some are undocumented, while President Trump's base is overwhelmingly white.

Second, he is suggesting that the increase in cases is because of increased testing.

Both assertions are false. There have been a significant amount of cases detected at shops and bars frequented by the general public–so many that restaurants that had reopened are having to shut down again after their workers were exposed.

As for testing, there has been an increase in the rate of positive tests in several key states, including America's three most populous. In California, this rate at the end of May was 4%. Now it is 6%. In Texas, the rate rose from 4.6% to 6.9%. Florida saw its rate double.

It is true that testing has increased across the country, but an increase in testing should mean a decrease in test positivity rates if the number of total cases is staying stable or declining. That would mean that a larger share of the population is being tested, including people with no symptoms and no virus. That the opposite is happening–test positivity rate is increasing as testing is increasing–makes it clear that the number of real cases is going up.

Moreover, the number of hospitalizations in many states is rising. In Texas, the number of daily hospital beds filled increased by 1,000 in the first half of June, to a new record. In North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Arkansas, among other states, there is also a rising trend. You cannot fake hospitalizations. Those whose symptoms are bad enough will be tested first and hospitalized.

Overall, the increase in new cases nationally has stalled and plateaued at about 20,000 a day after a few weeks of steady decline. This is not the time a country or locality should decide to encourage its people to go out into the public in large numbers. Until the number of new cases is close to zero, there will continue to be significant community spread. By the time someone realizes they have symptoms, it is already too late–they might have spread the virus without having displayed symptoms.

Mike Pence's overriding goal is to get his man reelected. He is pursuing that goal even at the expense of the health of American voters. He thinks he and Trump will be able to prevent any backlash by denying the problem. It didn't work in February, when Trump called the coronavirus a "hoax," and it won't work now.

Mitchell Blatt is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


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