Angry crowds have gathered in cities nationwide to demand justice after the death of George Floyd following his arrest Monday over a counterfeit bill. The outrage grew after a video emerged showing a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck during the arrest. He was unarmed and handcuffed, and cried that he couldn’t breathe before he died later.
In Minneapolis, buildings were burned, stores looted and a police precinct set ablaze Thursday night. Smoke and orange flames filled the night sky as people gathered nearby and shot video on their phones.
The Minneapolis Police Department has fired the four officers involved in Floyd’s arrest.
The incident is being investigated by local, state and federal authorities, and prosecutors urged residents to be patient.
“We need to wade through all of that evidence and come to a meaningful decision and we are doing that to the best of our ability,” Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman said.
Federal prosecutor Erica MacDonald told reporters that the priority is ensuring justice is served.
“We are going to investigate it as expeditiously, as thoroughly as justice demands,” Freeman said. “That video is graphic, horrific and terrible. And no person should do that. I am pleading with individuals to remain calm and let us conduct this investigation.”
All four officers involved in the death have invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination, Freeman told CNN following the news conference.
“I am absolutely sorry for the pain, devastation and trauma Mr. Floyd’s death has left on his family, his loved ones, Minneapolis and the world,” Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said.
“I know there is currently a deficit of hope in our city … and I know our department has contributed to that deficit as a whole.”
In Minneapolis, protests transitioned to rioting and looting south of downtown, with people smashing their way into stores and setting businesses and other buildings ablaze. There was more looting Thursday in St. Paul, the state capital, next door.
“I want everybody to be peaceful right now, but people are torn and hurt, because they’re tired of seeing black men die,” said Philonise Floyd, the victim’s brother.
Protesters have gathered in other cities too, including Denver and New York.
CNN’s Sara Sidner and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.
“A high school swim party that I’m sure everybody thought was harmless. They’re young, they’re swimming, they’re just having activity and positive cases resulted from that,” Hutchinson said.
The governor declined to provide further details on the swim party but noted the incident was “just an encouragement for us to be disciplined in our activities.”
“During this Memorial (Day) weekend, we want to be out and we want to enjoy ourselves, we want to remember this holiday and those that have served our country and given their lives in service of our country. But let’s be safe and let’s be disciplined at the same time,” Hutchinson said.
The case described by the governor highlights the threats of community spread in the United States as cities and states continue relaxing social distancing measures and businesses reopen.
On Saturday, Hutchinson said Arkansas is seeing an increase of Covid-19 cases in what the governor calls a second peak.
He pointed to his actions in declaring a public emergency when Arkansas had its first confirmed case of coronavirus, closing the state’s schools and increasing testing.
MADRID — On April 28, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez stood alone on the stage of a bright but empty briefing room. As a CNN reporter asked a question via video link, the prime minister looked deep in concentration, scribbling notes and pausing to look at the monitor only once. As he launched into his answer, he looked directly into the camera to boast about Spain’s Covid-19 testing volume.
“We are one of the countries with the highest number of tests carried out,” Sánchez said.
Initially, the prime minister cited data from a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranking that had placed Spain eighth in Covid-19 testing among its members.
“Today,” he added, “we have found out about another study, from the Johns Hopkins University, that […] ranks us fifth in the world in total tests carried out.”
There were just two problems: The OECD data had been wrong. And while some sources had ranked Spain fifth in total testing volume, Johns Hopkins was not one of them; the study Sánchez cited does not exist.
Yet two weeks later, the Spanish government is standing by the substance of its prime minister’s claim. Instead of citing Johns Hopkins, Spanish officials are now pointing to testing rankings from a data aggregation website called Worldometer — one of the sources behind the university’s widely cited coronavirus dashboard — and prompting questions about why some governments and respected institutions have chosen to trust a source about which little is known.
Before the pandemic, Worldometer was best known for its “counters,” which provided live estimates of numbers like the world’s population or the number of cars produced this year. Its website indicates that revenue comes from advertising and licensing its counters. The Covid-19 crisis has undoubtedly boosted the website’s popularity. It’s one of the top-ranking Google search results for coronavirus stats. In the past six months, Worldometer’s pages have been shared about 2.5 million times — up from just 65 shares in the first six months of 2019, according to statistics provided by BuzzSumo, a company that tracks social media engagement and provides insights into content.
Questioning the reliability of this coronavirus statistics site 03:36
The website claims to be “run by an international team of developers, researchers, and volunteers” and “published by a small and independent digital media company based in the United States.”
But public records show little evidence of a company that employs a multilingual team of analysts and researchers. It’s not clear whether the company has paid staff vetting its data for accuracy or whether it relies solely on automation and crowdsourcing. The site does have at least one job posting, from October, seeking a volunteer web developer.
Once known as Worldometers, the website was originally created in 2004 by Andrey Alimetov, then a 20-year-old recent immigrant from Russia who had just gotten his first IT job in New York.
“It’s a super simple website, there is nothing crazy about it,” he recently told CNN.
Within about a year, Alimetov said, the site was getting 20,000 or 30,000 visits every day but costing him too much money in web-hosting fees.
“There was no immediate fast way to cash out,” he said, so he listed the site on eBay and sold it for $2,000 sometime in 2005 or 2006.
When Reddit’s homepage featured his old site in 2013, Alimetov emailed the buyer, a man named Dario, to congratulate him.
In his reply, Dario said he bought the site to drive traffic to his other websites.
As those businesses “started to decline, I decided to invest on Worldometers, bringing in resources and people until eventually it took a course of its own,” Dario wrote.
Worldometer no longer bears its trailing “s” except in its URL. Beyond that, not much has changed.
Today, the Worldometer website is owned by a company called Dadax LLC.
Representatives for Worldometer and Dadax did not respond to CNN’s requests for interviews, but state business filings show Dadax was first formed in Delaware, in 2002. The filing lists a PO box as the company’s address. From 2003 to 2015, business filings in Connecticut and New Jersey listed Dadax’s president as Dario Pasqualino. Addresses on the filings tied the company and Pasqualino to homes in Princeton, New Jersey, and Greenwich, Connecticut. The company is still actively registered in Delaware and has been in good standing since 2010.
The company shares the Dadax name with a Shanghai-based software firm. In March, both companies issued statements denying a connection. The Chinese Dadax said it issued its statement after receiving “many calls and emails” about the stats site. Worldometer, in a tweet, said it’s never had “any type of affiliation with any entity based in China.”
IDs in the source code for Worldometer and the US Dadax’s websites link them to at least two dozen other websites that appear to share ownership. Some appear to be defunct. Others, such as usalivestats.com, italiaora.org and stopthehunger.com, share the same premise: live stats counters. Most of the sites have a rudimentary aesthetic, reminiscent of a 1990s or early 2000s internet. Some seem quite random. One Italian site displays Christmas poems and gift suggestions, like a bonsai plant (for her), or a plot of land on the moon (for him). Another site is dedicated to Sicilian puppet shows.
A person with Pasqualino’s name and birthday is also registered as a sole proprietor in Italy. That business manages and sells “advertising space,” according to an Italian registration document filed last year. Its address leads to a tidy, three-story apartment building on a leafy street in an upscale neighborhood in Bologna.
CNN was unable to reach Pasqualino through contact information listed on Worldometer and in public records.
According to Worldometer’s website, its Covid-19 data comes from a multilingual team that “monitors press briefings’ live streams throughout the day” and through crowdsourcing.
Visitors can report new Covid-19 numbers and data sources to the website – no name or email address required. A “team of analysts and researchers” validate the data, the website says. It may, at first, sound like the Wikipedia of the data world, but some Wikipedia editors have decided to avoid Worldometer as a source for Covid-19 data.
“Several updates lack a source, do not match their cited source or contain errors,” one editor, posting under the username MarioGom, wrote on a discussion page for Wikipedia editors working on Covid-19-related content last month. “Some errors are small and temporary, but some are relatively big and never corrected.”
The editor, whose real name is Mario Gómez, told CNN in an email, “Instead of trying to use a consistent criteria, [Worldometer] seems to be going for the highest figure. They have a system for users to report higher figures, but so far I failed to use it to report that some figure is erroneous and should be lower.”
Edouard Mathieu, the data manager for Our World in Data (OWID), an independent statistics website headquartered at Oxford University, has seen a similar trend.
“Their main focus seems to be having the latest number wherever it comes from, whether it’s reliable or not, whether it’s well-sourced or not,” he said. “We think people should be wary, especially media, policy-makers and decision-makers. This data is not as accurate as they think it is.”
Virginia Pitzer, a Yale University epidemiologist focused on modeling Covid-19’s spread in the United States, said she’d never heard of Worldometer. CNN asked her to assess the website’s reliability.
“I think the Worldometer site is legitimate,” she wrote via email, explaining that many of its sources appear to be credible government websites. But she also found flaws, inconsistencies and an apparent lack of expert curation. “The interpretation of the data is lacking,” she wrote, explaining that she found the data on active cases “particularly problematic” because data on recoveries is not consistently reported.
Pitzer also found few detailed explanations of data reporting issues or discrepancies. For Spain, it’s a single sentence. For many other countries, there are no explanations at all.
She also found errors. In the Spanish data, for instance, Worldometer reports more than 18,000 recoveries on April 24. The Spanish government reported 3,105 recoveries that day.
When Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez boasted of Spain’s high rankings, he didn’t pull his numbers out of thin air. On April 27, the OECD wrongly ranked Spain eighth in testing per capita. Initially, the OECD had used data from OWID to compile its statistics. But it sourced the Spanish numbers independently because OWID’s data was incomplete. The mixed sourcing skewed Spain’s position in the ranking because it counted a broader category of tests than the other countries’ numbers. The organization corrected itself the next day, two hours before Sánchez’s press conference, bumping Spain to 17th place.
In its statement, the OECD said “we regret the confusion created on a sensitive issue by any debate on methodological issues” and stressed that increasing the availability of testing in general is more important than knowing where any particular country ranks.
Sánchez’s later reference to a Johns Hopkins study, in which he said Spain ranked fifth for testing worldwide, appears to have been a case of mixed-up attribution by the prime minister. JHU has not published international testing figures. Jill Rosen, a spokeswoman for the school, told CNN the university couldn’t identify a report that matched Sánchez’s description.
At a press conference on May 9, Sánchez evaded a CNN question pressing him on the JHU study’s existence and listed the government’s numbers on testing totals instead. In comments made to a Spanish reporter the next day, health minister Salvador Illa continued to insist the testing data had been released by JHU, though he pointed to Worldometer as the underlying source. Since Johns Hopkins gets its data from Worldometer, he argued, it’s just as good.
“It is data given by the John Hopkins University […] taken from as a fundamental source of information, the website Worldometer,” Illa said. “You can check it.”
It is true that on April 28, Worldometer’s data had ranked Spain fifth when it came to total testing volume. At the time, OWID data also ranked Spain fifth, but as more countries began reporting larger testing volumes, it became clear how Worldometer’s data is flawed. Its Spain figure includes both polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which show if patients are currently infected, and antibody tests, which indicate if patients were ever infected. For most countries besides Spain, Worldometer’s data appears to only count PCR tests.
Because so few countries report antibodies testing data and to ensure an apples-to-apples comparison, OWID says it only tracks PCR tests. By that measure, as of May 17, Spain ranks sixth, behind the US, Russia, Germany, Italy and India. Worldometer ranked Spain fourth.
But relying on the ranking by the raw number of tests performed is still misleading because it doesn’t account for population differences between countries.
OWID’s data manager, Edouard Mathieu, says a much fairer way to compare testing data is to account for population size. As of May 10, OWID placed Spain 19th in testing per 1,000 people. Worldometer placed Spain 15th by a similar measure.
Tale of two rankings
Worldometer’s data does rank Spain fifth in terms of total testing volume. But relying on raw numbers is misleading because it doesn’t account for differences between countries. When adjusted for population, Spain’s ranking falls to 16th. Experts say this data, from Worldometer, is further flawed beacuse its Spain figure counts a broader category of tests than most other countries’.
Roberto Rodríguez Aramayo, a research professor at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)’s Institute of Philosophy and a former president of a Spanish ethics association, said Spain is reporting data from both the most and least reliable types of tests.
“Unfortunately, there seems to be certain [political] interests in the readings that are given of these data, when they are shown,” he said.
What does Worldometer have to do with Johns Hopkins University?
Johns Hopkins has not published international data on Covid-19 testing, but it does list Worldometer as one of several sources for its widely-cited coronavirus dashboard.
The university has declined to say what specific data points it relies on Worldometer for, but issues with the counter site’s data have caused at least one notable error.
On April 8, JHU’s global tally of confirmed Covid-19 cases briefly crossed 1.5 million before dropping by more than 30,000. Johns Hopkins later posted an explanation for the incident on its GitHub page. At the time, JHU told CNN the error appeared to come from a double counting of French nursing home cases. But French officials told CNN there had been no revision, not even to nursing home data. Johns Hopkins’ data appeared to come directly from Worldometer. The website listed no source for its figure.
One Wikipedia editor, James Heilman, a clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of British Columbia, said Wikipedia volunteers have noticed persistent errors with Worldometer, but also with “a more reputable name with a longer history of accuracy,” referring to Johns Hopkins. “We hope they also double check the numbers.”
In an article published in February, JHU said it began manually tracking Covid-19 data for its dashboard in January. When that became unsustainable, the university began scraping data from primary sources and aggregation websites. Laura Gardner, the associate engineering professor who runs the university’s Covid-19 dashboard, told CNN in a statement that the university uses a “two-stage anomaly detection system” to catch potential data problems. “Moderate” changes are automatically added to the dashboard but flagged so staff can double-check them in real time. Changes beyond a certain threshold require “a human to manually check and approve the values before publication to the dashboard,” Gardner said.
The university’s reliance on Worldometer has surprised some academics.
Phil Beaver, a data scientist at the University of Denver, seemed at a loss for words when he was asked what he thought of JHU citing Worldometer.
“I am not sure, that is a great question, I kind of got the impression that Worldometer was relying on [Johns] Hopkins,” he told CNN after a lengthy pause.
Mathieu also seemed taken aback.
“I think JHU has been under a lot of pressure to update their numbers,” he said. “Because of this pressure they have been forced to or incentivized to get data from places that they shouldn’t have, but in general I would expect JHU to be a fairly reliable source.”
In the university’s response to CNN, Gardner said Worldometer was one of “dozens” of sources and that “before incorporating any new source, we validate their data by comparing it against other references.”
“We try not to use a single source for any of our data,” Gardner added. “We use reporting from public health agencies and sources of aggregation to cross-validate numbers.”
The Spanish government and Johns Hopkins are not alone in citing Worldometer. The website has been cited by Financial Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News and CNN.
The British government cited Worldometer data on Covid-19 deaths during its daily press conferences for much of April, before switching to Johns Hopkins data.
“Both Worldometers and John Hopkins provided comprehensive and well-respected data. As the situation developed, we transferred from Worldometers to John Hopkins as John Hopkins relies more on official sources,” read a statement from a UK government spokesperson.
‘Contaminating public opinion’
In Spain, Sánchez’s apparent Johns Hopkins misattribution has become a major controversy. In parliament on Wednesday, center-right People’s Party MP Cayetana Alvarez de Toledo called the government the party “of the lies to CNN and the Spanish people.”
On May 10, a spokeswoman for Spain’s embassy in London complained to CNN about its coverage of the matter.
“Back in April Mr. Sánchez mentioned analysis of statistical data carried out by Johns Hopkins University that are based upon data published by Worldometer,” the spokeswoman wrote in an email sent to the network’s diplomatic editor just after 4 a.m.
“Even if Mr. Sánchez did not mention Worldometer as a primary source in his remarks, [CNN] could have known that most of the comparisons and analysis on Covid-19 in the world use [Worldometer’s] tables.”
In remarks to CNN, a spokesperson for the prime minister’s office acknowledged that Worldometer counts PCR tests and antibodies tests together and rejected critics’ call to adjust testing numbers for population, calling it a “trap that the OECD and the Spanish press […] has fallen into” and arguing that Spain should not be compared with small countries like Malta, Luxembourg or Bahrain.
It’s not clear, though, why the Spanish government continues to insist that the testing data published by Worldometer was put out by Johns Hopkins University.
Its refusal to acknowledge its attribution error comes just a month after Spain’s Justice Minister Juan Carlos Campo said the government was considering changes to the law, seeking to crack down on those peddling misinformation.
“I believe, it is more than justified — with the calm, tranquility needed for any legal changes — that we review what our legal instruments are to stop those contaminating public opinion in a serious and unjustified way,” Campo said.
At the time, Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth told CNN in an email, “If the justice minister is suggesting penalizing speech that contaminates public opinion, that would be very dangerous.”
“Turning the government into a censor would undermine that public accountability precisely at the moment when it is most needed,” Roth warned.
In her letter to CNN, the embassy spokeswoman was emphatic that Spain was — and still is — fifth in the world in Covid-19 testing, attaching screenshots of Worldometer tables as proof.
“Figures speak louder than words,” she wrote. “And not willing to acknowledge the truth of reality […] is very worrying, to say the least.”
The video shows 10 people coming into the restaurant, with one singled out as the “infected” person. Each participant goes about the buffet as they normally would, not considering a potential contamination.
At the end of the video, the participants are cast under black lights illuminating where the “infection” has spread.
The substance, used to signify the germs, can be seen on food, serving utensils and platters, and even on the faces of some of the participants.
Here’s what the experts have to say
“What the video demonstrated, is that it will spread to surfaces and to people very efficiently,” Nicholls told CNN, “and I think it really highlights the need of what people have been saying about hand hygiene to stop the spread of disease.”
However, Nicholls said that the situation is “artificial” because so much emphasis is placed on the touching alone.
Kentaro Iwata, an infectious disease specialist at Kobe University, agreed.
“The experiment just described the possibility of the spread by contact, and that is not proof of what happened, so the distinction has to be clearly made between what could happen and what did happen,” Iwata told CNN.
But both experts said the experiment is a good way to show the importance of hand washing.
For the sake of science, Nicholls said it would be even more effective to see the experiment done after the “infected” person washes their hands for five and then ten seconds.
“So the general public gets some concept of the mechanism of how much the use of hand washing can actually reduce the transmission of potentially infectious material,” Nicholls said.
CNN’s Bex Wright contributed to this report.
The US — usually at the head of the table helping to coordinate in global crises — has declined to take a seat at virtual international meetings convened by the World Health Organization and the European Union to coordinate work on potentially lifesaving vaccines.
On Friday the US blocked a vote on a UN Security Council resolution that called for a global ceasefire aimed at collectively assisting a planet devastated by the outbreak. The US did not want any reference to the WHO in the text and rejected a compromise version that didn’t directly mention the organization — and instead cited the UN’s “specialized health agencies,” according to two diplomats familiar with the process.
The US has similarly blocked expressions of global unity at G7 and G20 meetings due to anger about China and the WHO.
Incredulity and sadness
And where US presidents have in the past offered a steadying voice, observers from the Asia Pacific to Europe expressed incredulity, amusement and sadness at President Donald Trump’s briefings on the virus, saying they are deeply damaging to the US image abroad.
US officials push back, touting both funding to fight Covid-19 as well as work Trump is doing through the Group of Seven and bilaterally — leading more than 50 calls with world leaders. But experts say funding without full global coordination can slow overall progress.
At a time when nearly 4 million people worldwide have been infected with the virus, diplomats say many countries are yearning for the firm US leadership they’ve seen at historic moments and in prior epidemics, citing President Barack Obama’s response to Ebola and President George W. Bush’s work on HIV/AIDS.
“They want the US to lean in more,” said one European diplomat. “We know they’re doing a great deal with countries, including developing countries, bilaterally … but a lot of countries hanker after the decisive US effort that we saw when the Berlin Wall came down. A lot of countries believe this is one of those pivotal moments in history and the US has always led at those times.”
Critics say the Trump administration’s approach to the coronavirus hasn’t just hampered the fight against the pandemic, it has increased uncertainty, eroded respect for the US and deepened concern that the international system no longer functions effectively.
“The world is looking for global leadership. It’s a global problem — it affects literally everyone on the planet. This is a time when you expect the leaders of superpowers in a very constructive way to help coordinate and structure the response,” said Robert Yates, director of the Global Health Program at Chatham House, a British think tank. “One would expect the US to have a leading role in trying to coordinate global efforts. That’s been completely lacking.”
Global health officials found Trump’s move to cut funding for the WHO in the middle of a pandemic “absolutely breathtaking,” Yates added. “It’s worse than a lack of coordination, it almost seems destructive.”
A senior State Department official told reporters Tuesday that the President “has concerns” about the WHO, which Trump has accused of being biased in China’s favor. The official repeatedly stressed that the US “is the single largest health and humanitarian donor in the world” and said the US “and President Trump are leading the global effort to combat this pandemic,” in part through the US presidency of the G7.
But the machinery of a US-led international response isn’t kicking into gear this time, said Gayle Smith, president and CEO of the nonprofit ONE Campaign.
“Everybody in the world is looking for the same goods. How do we make sure that the global economy stays where it needs to be?” asked Smith, a former administrator of the US Agency for International Development. And while she notes the G7 and G20 have held virtual meetings, “I would very much like to see the United States taking the kind of extra effort to mobilize the world at multiple levels.”
US officials say Trump has convened regular virtual meetings with G7 ministers to coordinate assistance to other countries, but the White House has skipped international meetings to coordinate on the hunt for a vaccine, leaving experts disconcerted. One meeting was organized by WHO, while another meeting Monday of more than 40 countries and several organizations raised $8 billion in pledges and yielded a commitment that whoever produces an effective vaccine first will share it with the rest of the world.
The US absence was “really, really unfortunate” said Smith, not just “because the US has historically been a leader,” but because the US has a national interest in being part of the group “that is trying to accelerate the development of vaccines and therapeutics, because obviously we’re going to need a vaccine here. … I think it would be wise, and in our interest, to be involved on the ground floor.”
Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “It’s a very crazy and disturbing thing that [the US] would be going its own way and sitting this out. It’s the country with the greatest financing capacity, biggest foundational interest, greatest R&D capacity.”
He noted that the Trump administration has started its own “warp speed” effort toward developing a vaccine, pointing to the complicated web of interests that’s required to develop one, including manufacturing and testing issues. “I don’t know that it’s conceivable to have a go-it-alone effort,” he said.
Questioned repeatedly on Tuesday about the US absence from the vaccine meetings, the State Department official stressed how much funding the US is giving to the Covid fight. A day later, the State Department issued a statement stressing the US funding and its work with organizations such as the Global Alliance on Vaccines and said the US saw the vaccine conferences as “complementary to our ongoing efforts.”
It added that “as we make progress in this global fight against Covid-19, we count on our Allies and partners joining the United States to ask the hard questions that are needed of China, as well as the WHO.”
“I am afraid everything is political,” said a German diplomat discussing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s insistence that intelligence indicates the virus originated in a Chinese lab, though he has not provided evidence. “It is just pretty obvious that it is part of the campaign.”
‘Stranger than fiction’
A French diplomat said bluntly that “we cannot turn our back on China. It is a big partner. Nobody can. We need to keep partnership.”
The European diplomat said that a number of countries feel that “at the moment, the priority has to be getting on top of the pandemic globally that requires a lot of cooperation. … China needs to be a part of that and the WHO has to be involved. … Anything that might detract from that effort at the moment makes people a little nervous.”
The US President’s behavior has also made many international observers a little nervous.
Thomas Gomart, director of the Paris-based French Institute of International Relations, said that Europe was watching Trump’s response to the pandemic in amazement, calling his behavior “stranger than fiction.”
“He provides for us a very mixed balance of amusement and a sadness, which is just not what is expected from a US president,” Gomart said, an assessment that Spain’s Javier del Pino, a leading journalist, shared.
“The way we look at Trump, it was a lot of fun at first,” del Pino said. “It’s not funny anymore.”
Trump’s comments, at the memorial in Washington to a president assassinated after emancipating the slaves during the Civil War, are likely to further polarize the raging politics of a current crisis that is stretching national unity.
“I am greeted with a hostile press the likes of which no president has ever seen,” Trump said at the Fox News town hall Sunday night.
“The closest would be that gentleman right up there,” Trump said, pointing to the 16th President’s statue. “They always said nobody got treated worse than Lincoln. I believe I am treated worse.”
His statement was classic Trump, not just in his audacity of comparing himself to the man many historians rate as the greatest president, but in his tendency to make every issue — even in the midst of a national tragedy in which tens of thousands of Americans have died — about himself.
It was also striking that the President who has consciously torn at the nation’s political fault lines should make such a partisan argument under the marbled gaze of the man who warned “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
“I used to say 65,000 and now I’m saying 80 or 90 and it goes up and it goes up rapidly,” the President said at the memorial, a glorious and spectacular backdrop for the Fox News show that an image-making campaign manager could not have bettered.
New stage in pandemic battle
The President was making his best case at the start of a critical new period in the battle with Covid-19 that will play out in millions of lives in the six months until Election Day.
With Trump agitating for a spark to the nation’s economic engine, some governors are taking a gamble that in many cases contradicts the best advice of epidemiologists, but if it works, could alleviate some of the crippling unemployment triggered by the pandemic.
The next three weeks or so could show whether a new wave of infections caused by an easing of tough restrictions on daily lives will swarm state hospital systems, significantly increase the death toll and require a return of lockdowns.
In a worrying sign that points to the scale of the coming risks, few, if any, states that are opening have satisfied White House reopening guidelines of a 14-day dip in infections.
But if states like South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Texas that are opening can provide a blueprint for the “new normal” that will be American life until a vaccine is found, they could point the way to a broader recovery and speed economic rebounds.
The reopening — albeit with many restaurants and businesses at reduced capacity — will also provide a new challenge for the White House, which insisted again Sunday, despite considerable contrary evidence, that it has built sufficient national testing to give states everything they need to safely ease restrictions.
States like New York and Maryland — which have plateaued at fairly high levels from Covid-19 — are warning that easing restrictions too quickly could be disastrous.
“I think everybody has a right to protest and express their feelings. A couple of dozen people did so yesterday. And they have every right to do that,” Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”
“We sadly, we had far more people die yesterday in Maryland than we had protesters,” he said, warning that some states appeared to be moving toward opening in an unsafe manner.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, also registered concern that gains made against the pandemic by grueling stay-at-home orders could be squandered as the lure of summer drains resolve.
“My gut says the weather is going to warm, people are bored, people want this over. They see the numbers going down. They can take false comfort,” Cuomo said on Sunday.
“We never said it was over. We said the numbers are going down,” he added. “Roughly a thousand new people a day walk into the hospitals.”
Three key states — all run by Republicans
Three states, Mississippi, Ohio and Florida — all run by Republican governors — are likely to reflect the intricate adjustments needed in the days ahead as the Covid-19 picture varies state by state and city by city.
“Even though our hospitalization and infection and fatality rates are much lower than many of these other big states, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest, we did not necessarily — quote — ‘shut everything down,'” DeSantis said on Fox News on Sunday.
“So, we’re starting, I think, a little ahead of where some other states are,” he added.
The quickening push to reopen came after disaster experts told CNN on Friday that states should not begin to open until coronavirus restrictions had been falling for 10 days to two weeks and there were sufficient tests available to assess how many people are really infected.
“You’re making a big mistake. It’s going to cost lives,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician and disaster preparedness specialist at Columbia University Medical Center.
In a sign of the balancing act governors face, Republican Tate Reeves of Mississippi had planned to announce an easing of restrictions on Friday but changed plans at the last minute due to a spike in infections.
“We are trying to be very cautious and so we said, let’s analyze the data over the weekend,” Reeves said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“What we have found is that it was really a data dump.”
“So it was a one-day blip, but we wanted to make sure we investigate that data before we make a final decision, so we delayed it.”
The new stage of the fight is likely to defy the triumphant comeback narratives of the President. But it may be grayer than the predictions of scientific models and political leaders still stuck in the darkest days of the pandemic may suggest.
Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine warned Sunday “we’re going to watch numbers every single day.”
DeWine has extended his state’s stay-at-home order until May 29 but expects to announce some easing of restrictions to allow some businesses to reopen in the coming days.
“What I hope is as people see those numbers, if they do go up and if they go up dramatically, that the people of the state will react to that,” DeWine said on ABC News’ “This Week.”
Tension between the White House and some Democratic governors boiled over in a new confrontation involving Gretchen Whitmer, who leads Michigan, a key 2020 battleground state.
Speaking on “State of the Union,” Whitmer rejected a claim by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner that the problem with testing was not supplies nor capacity but in the ability of states to collect sufficient samples.
“That’s not true in Michigan,” Whitmer said, adding that many governors “are still looking to get swabs and reagents and additional test kits. And so we have never been able to get to full capacity because we are missing things in the supply chain.”
“(The Federal Emergency Management Agency) and (Department of Health and Human Services) have outlined a pathway to fully supply their request,” Kushner said.
“We are rooting for Governor Whitmer to achieve the ambitious goal she has set and will work with her to get there.”
Looking ahead to his reelection battle, the White House is already appearing to shift more toward an economic message than a science-based fight against the virus.
Trump, consistent with his long-term strategy of encouraging political fervor that could boost his base, has given encouragement to protests — sometimes with armed demonstrators ignoring social-distancing guidelines and refusing to wear face masks — against stay-at-home orders.
Some signs of hope?
Trump top economic advisor Larry Kudlow signaled on CNN’s “State of the Union” that a fresh stimulus and support package for business and cash-strapped states may be on a “pause” while the success of state economic openings is assessed.
More broadly, after weeks of grim news and death — US deaths from Covid-19 are racing toward 70,000 — there are a few glimmers of hope. More and more nations are, like the US entering, a new phase, with the promise of at least alleviating some of the economic horror caused by shutdown economies.
There was even encouraging talk on Sunday by a UK-based team trying to develop a vaccine, while Trump presides over “Operation Warp Speed” with the same ultimate goal.
Trump, however, still spent much of his weekend fixating on Deep State conspiracy theories and scratched his golf itch by finding time to tout his Turnberry resort on Scotland’s West Coast.