This post first appeared on BillMoyers.com on July 1, 2020.
On July 1, the European Union reopened its borders to 15 non-EU countries that have brought COVID-19 under control. The United States was not among them. This population-adjusted graph of new infections shows why:
The ban means that the EU’s 27 member countries remain off limits to Americans: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain.
But citizens of the following nations can enter because their leaders have successfully controlled the pandemic: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, and Uruguay. The list also includes China, provided it allows EU travelers. UK citizens and family members will be treated as EU nationals until the end of the Brexit transition period on Dec. 31, 2020.
The US isn’t close to making the cut. The benchmark is the EU’s average number of new infections per 100,000 people over the prior 14 days. In mid-June, the average among the 27 EU members was 16. In the US, it was 107.
Pence Blows Smoke
On June 23, The New York Times broke the story of the EU’s likely ban. Three days later, Vice President Mike Pence held the first White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing in almost two months. Throughout the session, Pence made wildly false claims about the administration’s supposed success in dealing with COVID-19.
Pence: “We have made truly remarkable progress in moving our nation forward.”
Fact: The US is far behind the rest of the world in COVID-19 mortality rates. With only about 4% of the world’s population, America accounts for more than 25% of worldwide COVID-19 infections and deaths.
Pence: “All 50 states and territories across this country are opening up safely and responsibly.”
Fact: At the time, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas had already paused or reversed reopening plans. Within days, the number of states pausing or rolling back plans had risen to 17.
Pence: “We slowed the spread. We flattened the curve. We saved lives.”
Fact: The COVID-19 infection curve is shooting upward:
In some states — Alabama, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas — the new infection curve is “tipping toward exponential growth,” according to Trump’s former FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb.
Pence: “Thirty-four states across the country are experiencing a measure of stability.”
Fact: Cases were rising in more than 29 states. The day after Pence spoke, that number increased to 36. Only two states were showing declines.
Pence: “More testing is generating more cases.…The volume of new cases coming in is a reflection of a great success in expanding testing across the country.”
Fact: Hospitalization and positivity rates (the percentage of tests confirming COVID-19 infections) are increasing in many states. Two days after Pence spoke, former CDC Director Tom Frieden told Fox News, “As a doctor, a scientist, an epidemiologist, I can tell you with 100% certainty that in most states where you’re seeing an increase, it is a real increase. It is not more tests; it is more spread of the virus.”
Pence: “We’re in a much better place” than we were two months ago.
Fact: The day before Pence spoke to the American people, the US hit a new single day record in new COVID-19 cases — almost 40,000 — surpassing the April 24 record of 36,291. The day after he spoke, the number of new cases exceeded 45,000.
Fact: Arizona’s ICU bed occupancy is near 90 percent. Some Texas communities are exploring overflow facilities because hospitals are filling so rapidly with COVID-19 patients.
Fact: CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said that because the US has not done sufficient testing, for every reported case there are at least 10 more infections out there.
Fact: As of this writing, the US ranks seventh in most global deaths per million of population. And we’re giving France — ranked sixth but with a dramatically declining death rate — a run for its money.
Trump’s Medical Experts Sound the Alarm
In stark contrast to Pence’s upbeat dishonesty, medical experts on the task force were somber. Dr. Redfield and Dr. Deborah Birx implored Americans to practice social distancing and wear facemasks — something that Pence refused to do even during the briefing, although everyone else did. Dr. Anthony Fauci wondered aloud when it had become socially acceptable to protect only yourself.
“A risk for you is not just isolated to you,” he urged. “[I]f you get infected, you will infect someone else who, clearly, will infect someone else….And then, ultimately, you will infect someone who is vulnerable. Now, that may be somebody’s grandmother, grandfather, the uncle who is on chemotherapy, aunt who is on radiation or chemotherapy, or a child who has leukemia…[Y]ou have an individual responsibility to yourself. But you have a societal responsibility.”
A reporter called out Pence on the administration’s failure to follow CDC recommendations.
“It really sounds, though, like you’re saying, ‘Do as we say, not as we do,’” she said. “You’re telling people to listen to local officials, but in Tulsa, you defied local officials to have an event…dozens of Secret Service agents, dozens of campaign staffers are now quarantined after positive tests. And then in Arizona, one of the hardest-hit states, you packed a church with young people who weren’t wearing masks. So how can you say the campaign is not part of the problem that Dr. Fauci laid out?”
Pence responded with doubletalk about the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Then he abruptly ended the briefing.
Two days later, Pence went to Dallas for a “Celebrate Freedom Rally” at an indoor megachurch where more than 2,000 people attended — many without facemasks and most without social distancing. A 100-person choir performed without masks. Then Pence met with Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), who days earlier had halted reopening the state because of its exploding COVID-19 crisis.
A Nine-Iron in the Fire
The propaganda coming from Trump and Pence might be working for core supporters. But even Trump doesn’t believe what he and Pence are selling. Shortly after Pence’s June 26 briefing, CNN reported that the White House has “scaled up dramatically” measures to protect Trump from COVID-19, including frequent testing of those in regular contact with him.
Later that evening, EU officials confirmed that US citizens would be banned from entering the European Union.
For the next two days, Trump played golf.