STATE OF AMERICA

US accounts for almost 25% of global coronavirus deaths, new school year up in the air

By An Wentzel 3 August 2020

Wile former US Vice President Joe Biden, left, seems set to take swing states, President Donald Trump, right, is seeing his poll numbers falling. (Photos: Daniel Acker / Bloomberg via Getty Images | EPA-EFE / Oliver Conteras / Pool)

The start of the American school year is a month away with no sign of the country getting a grip on the spread of Covid-19. People who lost their jobs may soon also lose their homes. And President Donald Trump keeps changing his mind.

On Sunday 2 August, US coronavirus confirmed cases topped 4.8 million with close to 160,000 deaths, which is just about 10,000 short of a quarter of global coronavirus deaths (just over 687,000). This while many Americans are still refusing to wear masks, or to keep the six foot physical distance.

This was also evident at schools in Jefferson, Georgia, where schools opened on Friday 31 August. CNN reported that “high school students greeted each other with hugs” and “at the high school many of the students were wearing masks, but just as many if not more were not wearing face coverings”.

President Donald Trump has been consistent in calling for schools to open, while the private school his youngest son attends will stay closed until at least 1 October, under county orders to “stay closed for in-person instruction”. Fourteen-year-old Barron Trump is about to start ninth grade at a private school in Montgomery County, where schools were originally meant to start the school year on 8 September.

While the numbers of new cases have stopped rising in about 30 states, the rates at which people are testing positive (out of all the tests done in a state, the number that tests positive “should remain at 5% or lower for at least 14 days”) is still cause for concern. Currently 34 states have higher than recommended positivity. This is also alarming health experts as these rates are staying high, while the numbers of tests being conducted is falling.

Despite US President Donald Trump saying in March that America would have a short, hard time, “this is gonna be a very bad two and maybe even three weeks, this is gonna be three weeks like we haven’t seen before…” things have gone from bad to as proverbially worse as could be. The American people are struggling. Lost jobs, lost income and coronavirus deaths and hospitalisations on the one hand, nationwide BlackLivesMatter public protests and police brutality against African-Americans on the other.

Financial distress is pushing everyone to the brink – predictions that 20% of the 110 million people who rent, will be evicted by the end of the year for defaulting on rent payments. People of colour are hardest hit – the United States Census Bureau (www.census.gov) says 40% of black people say they won’t be able to pay rent in August, compared with 22% of whites.

On Sunday, Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, said Americans needed to social-distance and wear masks, even in their homes, as the virus had entered a new phase and was more widespread. She said it was now present in both rural and urban areas. Birx has been roundly criticised for famously not giving a medical or scientific response when she was in the same media briefing room with Trump in April when he proposed using disinfectant and ultraviolet light to fight the coronavirus.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also on Sunday, said she had no confidence in Birx as, “I think the president has been spreading disinformation about the virus and she is his appointee so, I don’t have confidence there, no.” Birx was however correct when she said that America was “moving” and people needed to take care when traveling to or through hotspots. In July it was reported that hotels around the country’s top holiday destinations were sold out as people wanted to enjoy the summer vacation season while they still had the chance..

But internal or national travel is basically all that Americans can do at the moment. With their coronavirus numbers, their passports – once one of the most coveted due to it opening visa free travel to most of the world – are no longer welcome in all but 22 countries. Not the UK, not the EU. The places they can go include Rwanda, Aruba, Egypt and Turkey, see the list here: where can Americans travel right now.

While Donald Trump’s polling numbers are falling, possibly faster than the US economy, Joe Biden is looking set to take the swing states and widen the gap. Older Americans, or what in Africa would be called Trump’s age mates at 65 and up, are swinging away from him.

With something like 95 days to go to election day – 3 November 2020 – Trump is starting to feel the cold breeze of rejection as voters tire of broken promises and give him a decidedly cold shoulder.

Can he woo them back in three months and a few days, or are they just no longer that into him?

While Trump has also been making noises about delaying the elections and banning TikTok, neither will happen. The elections will go ahead on 3 November as planned – US presidential elections always take place on the first Tuesday after 1 November. Which this year is 3 Tuesday November.

Microsoft has just announced that it will move forward quickly to seal a TikTok deal, following talks with Trump. Which, if nothing else, serves as a reminder that Donald Trump is really good at changing his mind: coronavirus. But if the best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour, then there is still much presidential flip flopping to come: 20 times Donald Trump has changed his mind since june. DM

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