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Inaction That Cost Lives – The New York Times

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By the final days of February, many public health experts were sounding the alarm about the coronavirus, and some people were listening.

President Trump did not.

On Feb. 26, he said — incorrectly — that the number of cases was “going very substantially down, not up.” As late as March 10, he promised: “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”

Some local leaders also continued to urge business as usual. In early March, Mayor Bill de Blasio told New Yorkers to “get out on the town despite coronavirus.”

If the U.S. had enacted social-distancing measures a week earlier than it did — in early March rather than mid-March — about 36,000 fewer Americans would have died, the study found. That’s more than one third of the current death toll, which is about 100,000.

If the measures had been in place two weeks earlier, on March 1, the death toll would be 54,000 lower.

These are hypothetical estimates, of course, and they’re unavoidably imprecise. But they are consistent with real-world evidence from places that responded to the virus more quickly, including San Francisco, Washington State, South Korea and Vietnam — where per capita deaths have been much lower than the U.S. average.

Jeffrey Shaman, the leader of the Columbia research team, told The Times: “It’s a big, big difference. That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths.”

Related: Trump and some top White House officials are arguing that the reported virus death toll is overstated, The Times reports. Public health experts overwhelmingly reject this view.

A simple way to understand why experts believe the official count is actually understated: The number of Americans who have died in recent weeks is much higher than normal.

In other virus developments:


The evacuations complicate the state’s social-distancing efforts. “It’s hard to believe that we’re in the middle of a 100-year crisis, a global pandemic, and we’re also dealing with a flooding event that looks to be the worst in 500 years,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said.

NBC News reported this week that the Pompeos had used taxpayer money to pay for lavish dinners that included Fox News hosts, a NASCAR driver and the chairman of Chick-fil-A.

When the coronavirus began spreading from Wuhan, China, across the rest of the country, it seemed to weaken the Communist Party’s authority. Ordinary citizens were becoming bolder about their criticism of Xi Jinping’s regime, on social media and elsewhere.

“Mr. Xi, shaped by his years of adversity as a young man, has seized on the pandemic as an opportunity in disguise — a chance to redeem the party after early mistakes let infections slip out of control, and to rally national pride in the face of international ire over those mistakes,” The Times’s Steven Lee Myers and Chris Buckley write. “So far, Mr. Xi has largely succeeded in rewriting the narrative in China.”

Sheri Fink is an investigative journalist with a medical degree who’s won Pulitzer Prizes for her coverage of Hurricane Katrina and Ebola. She’s recently been covering the virus in New York. And as New York hospitals move past the worst of the epidemic, we asked her if she saw any parallels to her earlier reporting. She replied:

I was reminded of a moment when I was in Liberia in 2014 during the Ebola outbreak. There were so many horrific scenes and so many more sick people than could be cared for. And then, all of a sudden, the numbers started going down. And everyone was scared — were we just not seeing new cases?

But, in fact, it turned out to be real. The curve was bending, and it was due to the painstaking work of people in the communities and work that people did to keep themselves and their families safe. One thing that the drop in new Covid cases tells us is that whatever techniques were put in place have had an effect.

Some picks: Escape your immediate surroundings with Conor Knighton’s account of visiting 59 national parks over a year in “Leave Only Footprints,” or trade real-life horrors for fictional ones with “The Return” by Rachel Harrison, a tale about a reunion of friends gone wrong. If you’re in the mood for a gripping sports read, there’s “The Victory Machine” by Ethan Sherwood Strauss, which tracks the Golden State Warriors’ rise.

Our staff took to Google Docs to share recommendations of what they’re doing and eating and watching right now. (They’ll be updating the documents with new ideas.) Caryn Ganz, the pop music editor, listed all of the memorabilia she’s collected — including a 12-year-old slice of Britney Spears’s birthday cake — and there’s a horror movie guide by the reporter Taylor Lorenz.

A vegetarian manifesto: The writer Jonathan Safran Foer writes in the Opinion section, “If you care about the working poor, about racial justice, and about climate change, you have to stop eating animals.”

You can see today’s print front page here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about a mysterious syndrome affecting children who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Lauren Leatherby, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Jonathan Wolfe and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at themorning@nytimes.com.




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