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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

In a moment of looming crisis, there are two reactions that should be avoided. The first is panic. The second is complacency. Faced with the coronavirus epidemic, the president, many other officials and the general public are avoiding the first mistake by falling into the second.

A look elsewhere shows the folly of relying on hope as a strategy. On Jan. 31, Italy had two confirmed cases of COVID-19. By Tuesday, it had more than 10,000. South Korea has gone from one on Jan. 20 to more than 7,700. The disease, once it emerges, spreads rapidly, even in the face of efforts to contain it. And the efforts to contain it in this country have been tardy and feeble.

The Trump administration dallied for weeks before putting someone (Vice President Mike Pence) in charge of the federal response. Time after time, President Donald Trump has minimized the risk and claimed everything was under control, cultivating a false sense of security.

On Feb. 27, Trump tweeted, “Only a very small number (of cases) in U.S., and China numbers look to be going down.” The next day, he blurted: “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”

The virus hasn’t disappeared, and the number of cases was small then because there was so little testing. Since then, the number has risen more than tenfold. Even that figure is a gross undercount because testing has been so sparse. Fewer than 8,500 people have been tested in this country — while South Korea has been testing 15,000 per day.

The numbers in China, where the virus was first detected, have indeed fallen, but only after the government took draconian measures: locking down 50 million people in Hubei province and canceling sports events, closing theaters and extending school breaks throughout the country. In contrast, life in the U.S. has gone pretty much as though we enjoy an inborn immunity.

One obvious remedial step is banning large gatherings. But plenty of them — rock concerts, church services, festivals — are still taking place.

Some big conventions, notably South by Southwest in Austin, have been called off. Boston and Chicago have canceled their St. Patrick’s Day parades, but as of Wednesday, New York has not. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden took the responsible step of scrubbing rallies Tuesday. But on Tuesday, Trump’s campaign announced one in Milwaukee next week. [Editor’s note: The Milwaukee Trump rally was later postponed.]

Across America, theaters, concerts and other events are mostly proceeding as usual. NBA and NCAA basketball games are being played before crowds of fans. Likewise with the NHL and Major League Baseball’s spring training.

In Italy, by contrast, the great majority of soccer matches are taking place without spectators. Similar policies are in effect in Spain, Portugal and France. One U.S. exception: A high-level professional tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California, was canceled.

No one wants to see restrictions that prevent Americans from enjoying experiences that involve big crowds. In reality, though, the epidemic is likely to make restrictions unavoidable at some point. The earlier such policies are adopted, the better the disease can be contained and the sooner we can all return to normal.

The natural human tendency is to put off unpleasant actions in the hope that they won’t be needed. The prospect that strong steps would push the economy into a recession also gives pause to policymakers.

But there is no reason to believe the U.S. can escape the full force of this outbreak. Dragging our feet allows it to grow more rapidly and do more damage — in sickness and death for people, in costs to health care providers, governments and individuals, and in the disruption of everyday life.

Scott Gottlieb, who was commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under Trump, offered a stiff dose of reality Sunday on CBS News’ Face the Nation: “I think no state and no city wants to be the first to basically shut down their economy. But that’s what’s going to need to happen. States and cities are going to have to act in the interest of the national interest right now to prevent a broader epidemic. Close businesses, close large gatherings, close theaters, cancel events.” This is a necessity that most Americans have yet to grasp or accept.

It’s easy, confronted with a danger of uncertain impact, to mock those calling for such steps as alarmists. But at the moment, if you’re not alarmed by the coronavirus, you’re not paying attention.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

If Boss Trump is headed for defeat, he's getting his revenge early. His revenge upon his deluded supporters and the people they love, that is. Trump's re-election campaign now consists mainly of what epidemiologists call "super-spreader" events: large-scale rallies of unmasked, non-socially distanced Trumpists yelling in each other's faces while the Big Man emits a non-stop barrage of falsehoods, exaggerations, and barefaced lies.

Let me put it this way: If, say, the Rolling Stones decided to put on free concerts at airports around the country, they'd likely end up being taken into custody and deported as undesirable aliens. Of course, they'd also draw far bigger crowds than Trump, but that's not the point. The point is that Trump's actions are reckless and immoral; the peacetime equivalent of war crimes.

"Covid, covid, covid, covid, covid," he hollers. Trump claims that the United States is "turning the corner" on the pandemic, and that the accursed news media will quit reporting Covid-19 fatalities come November 4. He claims that health officials are motivated by greed because "doctors get more money and hospitals get more money" if they report that the virus was the cause of death.

Surveys have shown that more than a thousand physicians and nurses have died fighting the disease nationwide.

As ever, what he accuses others of doing is an excellent guide to the question: What would Trump do? Answer: he'd steal the silver dollars off a Covid victim's eyes and demand an investigation of Joe Biden

According to the Washington Post, the Trump campaign organization signed an agreement with officials in Duluth, Minnesota to limit attendance at a September 30 fly-in rally, in accordance with public health guidelines. Hours before the event, it became clear that no effort was being made to honor the agreement; some 2500 Trump supporters bunched up without masks on the tarmac, ten times the agreed limit.

Health Department officials' protests were simply ignored. Three days later, Trump himself was taken to Walter Reed Hospital by helicopter. Three weeks after that, the following headline appeared in the Duluth News-Tribune: "St. Louis County sees another record-breaking week of COVID-19 cases."

Any questions?

The Trump Circus subsequently performed in Janesville and Waukesha, Wisconsin in the midst of a record-setting pandemic outbreak there. "It took us 7 and a half months to reach our first 100,000 cases, & only 36 days to reach our second," the Wisconsin Department of Health tweeted. "In just two short months, the 7-day average of new confirmed cases has risen 405%."

But the show must go on. Trump regaled his Janesville audience with a veritable torrent of lies. The New York Times did a thorough fact-check of his October 17 speech. Reporters documented 130 false statements during Trump's 87 minutes onstage. Nearly three-quarters of his factual claims were untrue. The most egregious concerned Covid-19, probably because the disease represents his single greatest failure and most damaging political liability.

Another question: Does Trump count upon his supporters' invincible ignorance or simply share it? I fear it's a little of both. In Janesville, Trump made this absurd claim two minutes into his harangue: "When you look at our numbers compared to what's going on in Europe and other places," he said "we're doing well."

Any regular newspaper reader knows that this is simply nonsense. As the Times reports, "America has more cases and deaths per capita than any major country in Europe but Spain and Belgium. The United States has just 4 percent of the world's population but accounts for almost a quarter of the global deaths from Covid-19."

Germany, to choose the most striking comparison, has suffered only 122 deaths per million of its population, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States has recorded more than five times as many: 686 per million. Neighboring Canada, meanwhile, is at 264 per million. Several Asian countries, have handled the pandemic even better.

It's a matter of capable leadership and public cooperation.

No wonder Trump appears to have succumbed to a case of dictator envy. "COVID, COVID, COVID is being used by [the 'Fake News' media] in total coordination" he tweeted the other day "in order to change our great early election numbers. Should be an election law violation!"

Yeah, well they all report the same World Series scores too. Furthermore, if Trump had good election numbers, he wouldn't whine so much. Has there ever been a bigger crybaby in the White House?

(In related news, Vladimir Putin has issued a mandatory mask mandate after a surge in Russian Covid infections. Go figure.)

Meanwhile, the rallies go on; a bizarre spectacle people treat as if it's normal. Trump has become Covid-19's Typhoid Mary, an Irish cook who unwittingly infected 53 people back in 1906.

But unlike Mary, he should know better. If anybody should be locked up, as his rapt admirers chant, it's the Super-Spreader in Chief.