The Month The Virus “Goes Away”

by Daryl Slusher

April was supposed to be the month that the coronavirus went away, at least according to President Donald Trump,. The president for instance said on February 10,  “A lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat — as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April. We’re in great shape though.” 

Let’s see what happened.

April 1. The Independent’s first timeline ran through April 1, a day on which Trump announced that the Justice Department and the military were teaming up to stop international drug cartels from taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis to smuggle more drugs into the country. Little more was heard of that effort during April.  216,762 confirmed cases in US. 5,148 deaths.

April 2. The US announces that 6.9 million Americans filed for unemployment during the week ending March 28. That doubled the then record shattering number of 3.3 million the week before. The actual number of newly unemployed is clearly higher than the reported figures as stories abound of people trying all day to get through by phone or online to file, but unable to do so because of the volume and because of ancient technology. 245,636 US cases. 6,066 deaths.

April 3. This was the day Trump passed 18,000 in the Washington Post’s count of his “false and misleading” statements while in office. (The tally wasn’t actually announced until April 14). He’s had a bunch of press briefings since breaking the 18,000 mark. 278,492 US cases. 7,166 deaths.

Also, the White House orders that anyone coming into “close proximity” to Trump or Vice-President Mike Pence has to be tested for the coronavirus.

At his daily press briefing Trump announces the administration is now recommending that Americans wear cloth masks in public. He quickly points out  that it is “voluntary,” adding, “I’m choosing not to do it, but some people may want to do it, and that’s okay.  It may be good.  Probably will.  They’re making a recommendation.  It’s only a recommendation.  It’s voluntary.” One reason the president won’t wear a mask: “wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know.  Somehow, I don’t see it for myself.  I just — I just don’t.  Maybe I’ll change my mind, but this will pass and hopefully it’ll pass very quickly.”

So the responsibility will be on others. 

April 7. Trump criticizes the World Health Organization (WHO): “The WHO really blew it. For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China-centric. We will be giving that a good look. Fortunately, I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?” 399,934 US cases. 12,928 deaths.

April 8. “Please don’t politicize this virus,” says WHO head Adhanom Ghebreyesus.  435,595 US cases. 14,833 deaths.

 April 9. US government announces another 6.6 million Americans managed to file for unemployment in the previous week. That brings the official number of new filings over three weeks to almost 17 million. The actual number is still higher because many are still having difficulty filing. 470,021 US cases. 16,716 deaths.

April 12. The US passes Italy to become the world leader in the number of coronavirus deaths. 562,195 US cases. 22,158 deaths.

Monday April 13 (listing day of the week to help illustrate how the week played out after the Monday press briefing). It’s a really big day for the president and one that sets the tone and debate for the rest of the week.

Trump emerges for the daily press briefing angry about articles over the weekend in major publications documenting how he failed to heed warnings about the seriousness of the virus. He presents a slide show centered around his China travel ban on January 30. 

In the following question and answer session, reporter Paula Reid of CBS asks “what did you do with that time that you bought (with the travel ban)?”

Trump keeps talking about the January travel ban. 

Reid: “But what did you do with that time that you bought?  The argument is that you bought yourself some time, and you didn’t use it to prepare hospitals, you didn’t use it to ramp up testing.” 

“You’re so disgraceful,” says Trump

Undeterred, Reid continues as they talk simultaneously, “Right now nearly 20 million people are unemployed,”

Trump: “It’s so disgraceful the way you say that,”

Reid, continuing to not let Trump drown her out, “Tens of thousands of Americans are dead. How is this sizzle reel or this rant supposed to make people feel confident in an unprecedented crisis?”

Trump starts talking about the January travel ban again.

Reid interjects, “Your video has a complete gap: the month of February.”

Trump talks more about January.

Reid interrupts, “But, what did you do with the time you bought, the month of February?”

“On January 30,” Trump tries to continue.

Reid, however, persists: 

“What did your administration do in February with the time your travel ban bought you?”

Trump: “A lot. And, in fact we’ll give you a list — what we did.  In fact, part of it was up there.  We did a lot.”

Reid:    It wasn’t in the video.  The video had a gap.

Trump:  Look.  Look, you know you’re a fake.  You know that.  Your whole network — the way you cover it — is fake.  And most of you — and not all of you — but the people are wise to you.  That’s why you have a lower — a lower approval rating than you’ve ever had before, times probably three.

Reid: Twenty million people now are unemployed.

Trump:  And when you ask me that questions —

Reid: Tens of thousands of people are dead, Mr. President. . .”

[A good clip of this exchange, with some edits, is provided in an April 15 “A Closer Look” with Seth Meyers. The Meyers version helpfully provides subtitles so the viewer can be sure to understand what Reid is saying as Trump tries to talk over her. I recommend the whole Meyers segment, but if one wants to just see the Reid-Trump exchanges it is at about 8:13 in. Also, transcribes the full exchange.]

Total Power

Later in the same April 13 briefing Trump discusses his interpretation of his powers when it comes to states and governors. 

Trump: “When somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total, and that’s the way it’s got to be.”

Reporter: “It’s total?  Your authority is total?”

Trump: “It’s total.  It’s total.”

Reporter: “Your authority is total?”

Trump:  “And the governors know that.”

Trump then fails to answer a question about whether he can rescind a governor’s order, but instead summarizes, “But the authority of the President of the United States, having to do with the subject we’re talking about, is total.”

Shortly, another reporter inquires: “A quick question about something you just said.  You said, ‘When someone is President of the United States, their authority is total.’  That is not true.  Who — who told you that?

Trump:  Okay.  So you know what we’re going to do?  We’re going to write up papers on this [the second list or get back to you he’s had today.].  It’s not going to be necessary, because the governors need us one way or the other, because ultimately it comes with the federal government.  That being said, we’re getting along very well with the governors, and I feel very certain that there won’t be a problem.

Reporter: Has any governor agreed that you have the authority to decide when their state opens back up?

Trump:  I haven’t asked anybody because I don’t — you know why?

Reporter: Because no one has — no one has said that.

Trump:  Because I don’t have to.

Reporter:  But who told you the President has the total authority?

Trump:  Enough.  Please. 588,435 US cases. 23,702 deaths.

April 14. After massive rejection of his claims of “total” power by Democratic governors, constitutional scholars, and a tiny smattering of Republicans, Trump tries to have it both ways. Not quite dropping the total power claim, he announces: “”I will be speaking to all 50 governors very shortly,” and “I will then be authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening, and a very powerful reopening plan of their state in a time in a manner which is most appropriate.”

Trump also announces that he is indeed taking steps to stop US funding of the WHO. 615,302 US cases. 26,114 deaths.

Thursday April 16. According to the Washington Post Trump told governors on a conference call that day “You’re going to call your own shots.” 

Later that day Trump begins his daily press briefing by maintaining, “Our nation is engaged in a historic battle against the invisible enemy.  To win this fight, we have undertaken the greatest national mobilization since World War Two.  And that’s exactly what it’s been.”

Shortly afterward he and Doctor Deborah Birx lay out the guidelines for reopening states. (A wide array of medical experts governors,  media, and even Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham soon point out that testing must be much more widely available to safely “reopen.”) 

At the briefing, however, Trump doubles down that the federal government has no responsibility for testing: “They’re (states) going to be doing the testing. It has got to be a localized thing. It has been since I’ve been involved. Because I came in and the federal government is supposed to do testing in a parking lot of a certain state that’s 2,000 miles away. It’s ridiculous.” (Seeming, among other things, not to realize that the federal government does not operate just in Washington D.C.)

Also April 16. Another 5.2 million Americans file for unemployment, bringing the total number in the last four weeks to more than 22 million; an amount, reports the Washington Post, that “erased virtually all of the 22.8 million jobs gained since 2010 as the nation rebounded from the Great Recession.” The Post adds, “The United States has not seen this level of job loss since the Great Depression.”

677,918 US cases. 30,867 deaths. Just for a marker, 7,165 Americans died from coronavirus between Monday April 13, when Trump claimed total power over when states would “reopen” and on Thursday April 16 when he left it up to governors. 

Friday April 17. New York Times reports that “at least 7,000” people have died from coronavirus in American nursing homes; adding that the number “is almost certainly still higher since many facilities, counties and states have not provided detailed information.”

[Editor’s Note: The Times is a little unclear on whether the number is just nursing homes or a broader array of elderly facilities. Later in the article, they refer to the broader array of elderly care facilities: “The number of cases at these facilities, which include nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, memory care facilities, retirement and senior communities and long-term rehabilitation facilities, is almost certainly still higher since many facilities, counties and states have not provided detailed information.”]

“Overall, about a fifth of deaths from the virus in the United States have been tied to nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, the Times review of cases shows.” 

Also April 17. A day after Trump tells governors that when to reopen their states is up to them, he posts three almost identical tweets, in all caps, apparently intended to egg on protestors against stay at home orders and business closings.

“LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” then “LIBERATE MINNESOTA.” The tweets, according to the New York Times, came two minutes after Fox News reported on protestors in those states. Trump then added another for Virginia: “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” 713,452 US cases. 37,266 deaths.

Saturday April 18. Protestors answer the call of right wing groups and Trump and turn out for more protests around the country. That includes a protest in Austin that attracts people from around the state to the Capitol grounds. 742,067 cases. 39,295 deaths.

Sunday April 19. Vice President Mike Pence maintains on Meet the Press that “there is a sufficient capacity of testing across the country today for any state in America” to begin the steps in Trump’s reopening plan.

Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia, a Democrat and also a Doctor, calls Pence’s claim, “delusional.” Several governors point out that they don’t have near enough swabs and reagents needed for testing. 

Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland said, It’s not accurate to say theres plenty of testing. . . That’s just not being straightforward.”

Later in the day, at his daily briefing, Trump said he would invoke the Defense Production Act to require a particular US company to produce millions of swabs. “You’ll have so many swabs you won’t know what to do with them,” said the President. 772,079 US Cases. 41,187 Deaths.

April 20. As governors continue to scramble for testing equipment, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announces that his South Korean – American wife, Yumi Hogan, brokered a deal that brought half a million testing kits to Maryland from South Korea. Larry Hogan explained, “The Administration said over and over again that they want the states to take the lead, and we have to go out and do it ourselves. And, that’s exactly what we did.”

Democratic Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer says of the protests, “This action (stay at home order) isn’t about our individual right to gather. It’s about our parents’ right to live.

800,970 US Cases. 42,970 Deaths.

Worldwide: 2,49,393 Cases. 170,857 Deaths.

  • So during April — up to April 20 — at least 38,883 Americans died of the coronavirus.
  • The 42,970 estimated total deaths through April 20 is moving closer to the number of American deaths in the Vietnam War, 58,220

Coronavirus case and death totals come from the University of Virginia COVID-19 Surveillance Dashboard

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