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Thomas Friedman: Words Even Donald Trump Can Grasp About COVID-19

March 26, 2020

Though many of my progressive friends might disagree, I know Thomas Friedman to be intelligent, insightful, and a powerful and needed voice in our journalistic community.  Today he proved all of that in a smashing column that was an open letter to Donald Trump which has verve, timing, and fact.

In part, Friedman wrote the following.

In all honesty, though, sir, you immediately and crudely jumped into that discussion with a tweet last Sunday night — “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF” — that polarized and caricatured the whole debate. Your critics accused you of only caring about the stock market, not human lives. Meanwhile, your supporters accused your critics of moral preening and ignoring how many people would die from a deep and prolonged economic depression.

We must do better. To be sure, we need an immediate all-out push by states and the federal government to get hospitals the equipment they need to deal with a surge of coronavirus patients, an effort that is at long last underway. But beyond that, you need to articulate the three-step plan that is out there and is yours for the taking.

Step 1: First, you need to call for a 50-state sheltering-in-place/social-distancing program. While the experts differ on how long that national lockdown should be — two weeks, four weeks, eight weeks, whatever the C.D.C. recommends, I say — they virtually all agree that it is needed to manifestly slow the spread of the coronavirus, to prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed and to buy us the critical time we need to collect the data required to inform all future decision-making.

As the public health expert Ezekiel Emanuel, vice provost for global initiatives and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in this newspaper on Monday, you need to “immediately order the closing of all schools and nonessential businesses and impose a shelter-in-place policy for the entire country. The majority of the population is already experiencing some version of this protocol or feeling the effects economically; we need to standardize these protocols for the full public health impact.”

We cannot have Florida and Nebraska more open while New York and New Orleans are more closed, but with undiagnosed infected people still moving between the two. You have to use your bully pulpit to stop that. The more you slow the spread everywhere, the more time for needed hospital equipment to arrive and new treatments to emerge.

If you have not seen them, check out the widely referenced graphs in an analysis on titled “Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance” by the engineer-entrepreneur Thomas Pueyo.

“Strong coronavirus measures today should only last a few weeks, there shouldn’t be a big peak of infections afterwards, and it can all be done for a reasonable cost to society, saving millions of lives along the way,” Pueyo wrote. “If we don’t take these measures, tens of millions will be infected, many will die, along with anybody else that requires intensive care, because the health care system will have collapsed. … Every single day we delay the coronavirus, we can get better prepared.”

I realize, Mr. President, that some of your Republican “red state” governors and rural mayors are telling you not to ask them to shelter in place, because their less densely populated states have not been that affected. But they are doing you and their citizens no favors.

As my Minnesota friend Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, pointed out to me, this virus hits large metro areas first, because of their density and global connections — and many of those are in “blue states.”

“But this virus will find everyone,” he told me. “It may start in the cities, but I can tell you that it is going to hit central Minnesota. Don’t be on the wrong side of this. This is all of us against the virus, not red states versus blue states. And if we all don’t act now, one day it will just be one big fire” of infection.

Step 2: We use this period of lockdown to gather as much data as possible about who has the coronavirus, where they live, what their ages and degrees of illness are, what the mortality rate is at what ages, and what other ailments or immune deficiencies they may have.

Your presidency and our immediate future are inextricably intertwined. You need to rise above what sustained you during your first three years — dividing, misleading and impugning experts and the deep state — and give the country what it so desperately needs and craves now: a science-based plan.

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