An especially long, hard letter

Dear President Trump,

I read the following three WP articles today in this order (and please note, I’m almost certain that earlier today the first one actually had the word “Government” in place of “Draft” in the headline).

“Draft Report Predicts Covid-19 Cases Will Reach 200,000 A Day By June 1”
“The Coronavirus Pandemic is Pushing America Into a Mental Health Crisis”
“Trump Cheers On Governors Even as They Ignore White House Coronavirus Guidelines
in Race to Reopen”

There are other scary and sad articles that could be thrown into the mix, but these three are staggeringly awful and together make up a grim triad of multi-pronged sickness as we end the day with nearly 70,000 covid-19 related US deaths and well over 1.2 million US cases (source: worldometer). I’m going to briefly summarize each, but mostly want to draw out how they’re tangled up with one another and together signal a catastrophic fallout that will go far beyond the covid-attributed death toll and that will haunt us for at least a generation.

The White House and CDC both disavow the report referenced in the first article even though somehow the CDC, HHS, and Department of Homeland Security logos all appear on the slides. Hmm. The report itself forecasts that the number of cases per day will surge to 200,000 by June 1 (for reference there were 24,713 new cases reported today) and that the number of deaths will go up to 3,000 per day (there were 1,324 new deaths reported today). It’s not clear who released the report to the media, but the Johns Hopkins professor who did the modeling said he hadn’t ok’d the release as it’s a work in progress, but he did indicate that the politics of all this will dictate what the numbers look like and that 100,000 cases per day by month’s end are well within the realm of possibility (even though the report apparently said there will be 200,000 per day by June 1, he says this is an upper limit in his model).

There are several other models referenced in this same article, including the UW’s IHME model, which is now forecasting 135,000 deaths by August 1 (up from 60,300) because of states relaxing their physical distancing and people generally starting to ignore the mandates even in states that haven’t lifted their shelter-in-place orders. The one you all are purportedly using to justify pushing for states to reopen, the “cubic model” is sort of tossed in there without much context. This evening the article only references the model briefly, but this morning it included that it is (was?) projecting that the number of deaths would drop to 0 by May 15th. I’m still seeing references to this date and the 0 deaths when I Google “cubic model May 15, 2020” so I know I didn’t make this up.

While no one with half an ounce of sense would buy the “cubic model” projections, it’s still likely to be profoundly confusing to a lot of people that their POTUS is using such a rosy model while other parts of his administration look like they are expecting a horrifyingly sharp increase in the numbers of cases and deaths in the very near term. This sort of uncertainty and sense that we’re being lied to about such huge-scale life and death matters has got to be adding to the excess mental health burden associated with the covid-19 crisis.

This brings us to the second article in the list of headlines above, which focuses on how strained the mental health system already is, how bad it’s likely to get as the death toll rises, and how little of the covid-19 relief money is being allocated to shoring up this system. Those are critically important issues that definitely need urgent attention, but today I want to highlight the sorts of things we (as in the scientific community of which I am a part) know put people at risk for lasting mental health problems following trauma exposure: 1) lack of supportive social interactions after trauma (e.g., people who are present, understanding, caring); 2) presence of negative social interactions (e.g., people who minimize, ignore, disbelieve); 3) moral distress (e.g., being in untenable situations where one must do things that aren’t in keeping with one’s values), and 4) harm perpetrated by another human or that occurs in the context of betrayal, lies, and willful negligence and disregard.

Can you see the problem here? Not only do we have staggering numbers of deaths affecting vast numbers of us piling on very quickly, but we largely can’t be with one another to say goodbye, grieve, or get support and we have a POTUS who is minimizing, neglecting, and putting many in morally untenable situations.

Part of what is so scary here is that we’re not likely going to be able to use the tools we’ve developed to help people deal with trauma because who in life would have thought that we’d be getting deathly ill or our loved ones would be dying by the tens of thousands because our government failed at its most fundamental duty and then gaslighted us about it? I think the only remedy is going to be a wholesale reset of the “never again” sort, which will require massive, structural and attitudinal overhauls of our safeguards and corruption checks. Sadly, it’s incredibly uncertain that such a reset will happen and even if it does, millions will still suffer and many of us will be lost.

All of this is set against the backdrop relayed in the third article, which is that you and your GOP cronies are pumped about the economy opening back up even though states have not met even the nominal benchmarks your own task force issued. This, of course, means that millions of people are at grave risk of becoming covid statistics by month’s end and their surviving family and friends will have to deal with the complicated fallout much of the rest of their lives.

May we be safe from our POTUS.
May we be willing to bear witness and never forget.
May we be present and strong for one another in whatever ways we can be.
May we accept that our unwillingness to treasure each one is what got us to this bleak place.

Tracy Simpson

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