There's still poop in the pool

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Everyone has the same question right now: Why isn’t this over yet?

Jeremy Konyndyk, who led the U.S. government response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, has the best answer I’ve seen:

The whole thread is worth a read, but here’s the important part:

That is where we are right now: Standing around a poopy pool, arguing about who should go in.

This is a political question, but not in the way a lot of people seem to think. It is not really up to any elected official whether, in the absence of solving the problem, we go back to the way things were before. FiveThirtyEight’s Clare Malone and precariously employed psychologist Kyle Bourassa did a great dive on this a few days ago.

In short, Americans did not wait for instructions from their governors to start self-isolating—including in the overwhelmingly pro-Trump states of the southeast. Instead, people were reacting to what they saw in the news: the suspension of the NBA season, the collapse of the stock market, the World Health Organization’s official declaration of a pandemic, and the lockdown in Italy.

Trump realized what was happening without him and briefly tried to take credit. Then he immediately tried to goad everyone back into the poop-filled pool. (Remember “opened up and just raring to go by Easter?”) Thankfully, most people ignored him.

A clear majority of Americans people are still staying inside and away from others, though patience is waning. A Gallup poll released today showed 58% of Americans completely or mostly staying isolated—right where we were on March 22, before most states’ stay-at-home orders were in place.

The numbers make even more sense when you look another poll from today, on what people are actually willing to do:

Though Trump’s kill-yourselves-for-my-benefit message is working on some of his followers, 64% of Americans as a whole said that “opening the country now is not worth it because it will mean more lives being lost.”

We’re voting with our feet. Airports are open, but most people aren’t willing to fly. Restaurant owners know that, even if they’re allowed to open their dining rooms, that doesn’t mean people will come unless they know it’s safe. (If Dave Portnoy wants to die, I say we let him, as long as he doesn’t come into contact with anyone else, and wills his nonunionized employees his wealth.)

That’s where Konydyk’s analogy kicks in. It’s up to leaders to use our collective power and wealth to massively scale up testing, contact tracing, and procedures to facilitate the isolation of the sick, while developing a vaccine and cure. Congress can use its power to give us money to survive the crisis, escape predatory creditors and landlords, and prepare to stimulate the economy out of a depression.

Finally, it is up to those of us in the media not to give any airtime to Trump’s batshit distractions and conspiracy theories. Let’s keep our eyes on the incredible death toll of the U.S. epidemic, and give people information they need to figure out how to make decisions for themselves. If we need a scandal, focus on the real ones: a president who keeps putting his ego, power, and the enrichment of his cronies ahead of saving lives.

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Jonathan Myerson Katz is a journalist and the author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster. His next book, Gangsters of Capitalism, explores the life of Gen. Smedley Butler and the rise and fall of America’s empire. Follow him on Twitter @KatzOnEarth.

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