Trump's Swedish Gambit Against Virus Checkmate
At his coronavirus press conference on Saturday, April 4, President Donald Trump emphasized again that “we have to” restart business. But Allergy and Infectious Disease director Dr. Anthony Fauci has subtly if indirectly demurred on the possibility of such a restart. That puts Trump closer to virus checkmate than he realizes. He has moves, but they come from the misunderstood and misreported program of Swedish Voluntary Mitigation.
Dr. Fauci remarkably states that America can restart as soon as there are no more deaths or even positive infections. The problem is that may never happen. The “social separation” of the CDC/NIH reduces immediate hospitalizations, but also limits community immunity. So as soon as social separation ends, the second wave of infections begins. Under the CDC/NIH plan, the population over 60 will remain in continuing peril for years, unless a vaccine becomes available. And that also may never happen, as it did not for AIDs.
That is the virus checkmate: Social separation prevents community immunity, so attempts to restart the economy may also restart the virus. For a third of the population, quarantine never ends. Dr. Fauci understands the implications of his policy. Trump and his team need to move out of virus checkmate now.
Sweden’s misunderstood virus policy was aimed at the second wave. Health Authority epidemiologist Anders Tegnell recommended to the government a form of voluntary self-isolation, largely of the older population. Trump has dismissed this policy (as first proposed for the UK), as “just ride it out… do nothing,” but that is inaccurate. Sweden sought to develop the 80% “herd immunity” that causes the virus to die out, while protecting the elderly and infirm. This was the answer to the second-wave problem now facing Dr. Fauci. As for immediate consequences, Dr. Tegnell was blunt: “There is no evidence at this point that doing more at this stage would make any difference.”
That is a close call, since Swedish infection, hospitalization and death rates are higher than neighboring Norway, which went into full lockdown. On the other hand, the Swedish population appears to be self-isolating without an economy shutdown. Although the cafés of Stockholm are open, they are mostly frequented by the young, and traffic congestion this past week in Stockholm has actually been noticeably lower than in Oslo, Norway’s capital.
Within days President Trump will establish a “back to normal” task force. That is when the U.S. must confront the fact that our Social Isolation policy leaves us open to the second wave. That task force will inevitably -– even if not explicitly -– propose a variant to the Swedish plan. All New Yorkers who know Donald Trump know that he will resist.
Outside New York, Donald Trump is known for his flamboyant projects and even more flamboyant personal life. In New York, he is also known as our #1 germaphobe. Twenty-five years ago, a real-estate colleague invited me to a lunch with Trump, but cautioned, as lunch ended, “don’t try to shake his hand. He is a total germaphobe.” Sure enough, even though pleasant and eager to chat, Trump’s hand remained at his side, and I quickly withdrew mine! As Trump wrote in his third book, “One of the curses of American society is the simple act of shaking hands.” Trump is profoundly appalled at the coronavirus, and at each death. How will he react when Dr. Fauci tells him the plan of the reopen business task force may mean more deaths?
In Sweden, the left-wing government of Prime Minister Stefan Løvfen has thus far withstood critics like Prof Cecilia Söderberg-Nauclér, a virus researcher at the Karolinska Institute. “They are leading us to catastrophe.” What will President Trump do when Fauci warns him of catastrophe?Hopefully Trump’s instincts will guide him to escape virus checkmate by focusing not on a hypothetical vaccine, but on therapeutics to diminish risk to those developing severe cases while the Community develops immunity. There is already much discussion of Hydroxychloroquine used for malaria, Ivermectin used for animal parasites, and many others. Trump would have to overrule Fauci, which he is loath to do. But as businesses shut forever in the coming weeks, tenants balk on rent, and landlords balk on mortgages, the death of business will compete with the death of patients. This past week mall owner Taubman warned tenants of elite malls like Short Hills, NJ and Stamford town center, CT that rent must paid. But how will fashion retailers, who have no customers and a useless season of inventory, respond? The snowball is about to begin.
President Trump has said that the "Next two weeks are going to be very, very deadly…. We are really coming up into a time that's going to be very horrendous.” That is equally true for American business. Can Trump accept the Swedish escape from virus checkmate? We’ll know soon enough.