America is giving up on the pandemic
JUNE 8, 2020
The Atlantic Daily
Senior associate editor
Neither the pandemic nor the protests appear to be abating. Today, we’re examining where they intersect.
The town square has come roaring back to life.
The anti-racism movement, set off by the death of George Floyd, is enormous in scale. This past Saturday, more than 400 protests took place in America alone, with dozens more overseas. Streets once silenced by the coronavirus outbreak are filled with the cacophony of collective action.
In tandem, the pandemic rages on, with some states reporting their highest numbers yet. “There’s no point in denying the obvious,” Alexis C. Madrigal and Robinson Meyer, who helped build the COVID Tracking Project, write: Protesting raises the risk of transmission. That risk itself is further “complicated by, and intertwined with, the urgent moral stakes.”
Below, our writers contemplate the intersection of these two major news stories:
Police tactics threaten to worsen the spread.
Curfews and arrests are risky. “Limiting the time and space available to protesters—and the rest of the public—puts everyone in more danger,” James Hamblin writes.
Protesters deserve a neutral accounting of risk.
Conor Friedersdorf argues: “Protesters objecting to police killings deserve warnings as blunt as what protesters objecting to shutdowns got, not politeness that leaves them less prepared to stay safe.”
America, meanwhile, is giving up on the pandemic.
Alexis and Rob write: “Businesses are reopening. Protests are erupting nationwide. But the virus isn’t done with us.”
One question, answered: Coronavirus cases are up in Arizona, California, and other states. Is it just because we’re testing more?
No, unfortunately. The evidence suggests that those states truly are deteriorating—and that the pandemic may be intensifying in the Sunbelt and the West more generally. We know this, first, by looking at cases and hospitalizations together. If cases are rising simply because the health-care system is testing more people, we’d expect most of the newly diagnosed people to have relatively mild infections, because someone with a more serious illness would have likely gone to a hospital in May. If cases are rising and more people are going to the hospital with COVID-19, we’d expect that more people are getting seriously sick. And in Arizona, alas, cases and hospitalizations are both at all-time highs. Cases and hospitalizations are also rising in Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Second, we can ask a question of the data: How many people do you need to test to find a positive case? This metric—the number of tests per positive result—was first proposed by Tong Wang, a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania. In Arizona, through most of May, about one in 16 coronavirus tests came back positive. Today, Arizona is testing more people, but about 1 in 10 tests is coming back positive. This is also true across the South, the Southwest, and the West: Finding a positive coronavirus case is easier than it used to be. These two signs make us worry that the pandemic is about to get worse in some parts of the U.S.
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