The press has a natural affinity for catastrophes, which make compelling viewing and good copy. The pandemic is indeed a once-in-a-generation story. So the media is naturally loath to shift gears and acknowledge that the coronavirus has begun to loosen its grip.
Meanwhile, progressives and many journalists have developed a near-theological commitment to the lockdowns, such that any information that undermines them is considered unwelcome, even threatening. This accounts for the widespread sense that no one should say things have gotten better … or people are going to die.
Usually when it is thought the public can’t handle the truth, it is a truth about some threat that could spark panic. In this case, the truth is information that might make people think it’s safe to go outside again.
Almost all the discussion about reopening is framed by worries that we will reopen too soon, not that we might reopen too late—that is literally unthinkable.
None of this is to minimize the seriousness of this pandemic. New York and its surrounding suburbs have been through hell. What’s happened in the country’s nursing homes is a tragedy. We want to be cautious about reopening—as even the most forward-leaning governors have been—and vigilant about new outbreaks.
But we have entered a new phase. As Nate Silver pointed out on Tuesday, the seven-day rolling average for deaths is 1,362, down from 1,761 the week prior and a peak of 2,070 on April 21. That’s still too much too high, but the trend is favorable.
Testing capacity, such a concern for so long, has really begun to expand after hitting a plateau for weeks. Testing nationally on some days has been in the high 300,000s or (on May 17) over 400,000. The issue in some states now is not capacity but actually finding enough people to test.
Scott Gottlieb of the American Enterprise Institute notes that the positivity rate, or percentage of people testing positive, has continued to fall throughout May. In New York City, the country’s epicenter, the positivity rate was below 5 percent as of the middle of the week.
The reopenings could certainly still go awry, but so far there is no clear indication of it. Cases are still falling in Austria, Denmark and Norway, despite those countries being relatively far along on reopening. Denmark has been mystified why it is almost five weeks into reopening and hasn’t yet seen increases in infections.
On Tuesday, Georgia, so widely criticized for its reopening, had its lowest number of Covid-19 patients in the hospital since April 8, when such data began being reported. The number has dropped 12 percent since the week before, and 34 percent since May 1.
The press has often, out of sloppiness or willfulness, tried to create negative news around the reopenings. CNN tweeted last weekend, “Texas is seeing the highest number of new coronavirus cases and deaths just two weeks after it officially re-opened.” As Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics pointed out, the seven-day rolling average of new cases had indeed been trending up, but the seven-day rolling average of the number of tests had gone up, too—which would naturally turn up more cases.
The key indicator is the positivity rate, and it was down in Texas.
A North Carolina TV station tweeted, “Breaking News: NC sees largest spike in coronavirus cases since pandemic began.” That referred to 800 new cases over the past 24 hours on May 16. But tests had been going sharply up and the positivity rate trending down. Hospitalizations were basically flat.
The other day, headlines noted that Florida recorded 500 new cases on one day. It generated fewer headlines, and perhaps none, when Gov. Ron DeSantis pointed out that the state had received a dump of 75,000 test results, yielding the 500 new cases, for a minuscule positivity rate of 0.64 percent.
It’s not as though we haven’t had a cataract of unassailably legitimate bad news over the past few months. We’ve been experiencing a wrenching public health crisis and a steep recession on top of it. There shouldn’t be a need to obscure favorable trends. We can handle the truth.