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The Memo: COVID-19 uptick spells trouble for Trump

The Memo: COVID-19 uptick spells trouble for Trump
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Cases of COVID-19 are beginning to rise again, and that spells trouble for President TrumpDonald TrumpCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Azar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to 'tarnish' administration's accomplishments Justice Dept. argues Trump should get immunity from rape accuser's lawsuit MORE, who would prefer to fight for reelection on almost any other issue.

The number of coronavirus cases confirmed on a daily basis in the United States “has jumped more than 15 percent in the past 10 days,” The New York Times reported Tuesday. The Times noted this was the biggest increase since late spring and warned that a “surge appears to have begun.”

Public health officials have been predicting for some time that rates of infection would start to rise as children return to school, more adults return to the workplace and colder weather forces people indoors.

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Larry Gostin, a professor and public health expert at Georgetown Law, pushed back against the common metaphor of different “waves” of the pandemic, arguing that COVID-19 has always remained a threat — unlike the flu pandemic of a century ago, which almost disappeared during summer before coming roaring back.

When it comes to the coronavirus in the United States, Gostin said, “We have forest fires. We put one out and another one comes. I certainly see a lot of raging fires in the coming months.”

He added: “We probably still have more days of new infections and deaths in front of us than we do behind us.”

If that proves true, it could be politically ruinous for Trump.

Voters already disapprove of his handling of the coronavirus. A new book by Bob Woodward showed the president publicly playing down the threat from the virus in its early days, despite acknowledging in private that it was a grave danger.

Trump continues to try to put a brave face on the situation.

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At a Monday rally in Swanton, Ohio, Trump segued from remarks noting that young people were more resistant than most to the virus to proclaim, “It affects virtually nobody.”

The following day, deaths from COVID-19 in the United States surpassed 200,000.

“Donald Trump’s lies have cost lives. At the very least it should cost him his job,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom PerezThomas PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE said in a statement Monday.

The political danger for Trump in any new spike in infections is acute. When voters are asked whom they trust more to handle the pandemic, he typically trails his Democratic opponent Joe BidenJoe BidenAzar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to 'tarnish' administration's accomplishments House Democrats introduce measures to oppose Trump's bomb sale to Saudis On The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits MORE by a significant margin.

In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted last week, 51 percent of registered voters said Biden would do better than Trump in dealing with the pandemic, while only 29 percent said the opposite. Twelve percent said neither candidate would deal effectively with the threat, while 6 percent said either person would be equally as good.

Trump allies had also hoped that the pandemic might be supplanted by other issues as Election Day draws closer.

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader Ginsburg, George Floyd among options for 'Remember the Titans' school's new name Bipartisan anger builds over police failure at Capitol Lindsey Graham praises Merrick Garland as 'sound choice' to serve as attorney general MORE has opened up a fight to replace her — one that conservatives think might energize the GOP base.

Trump has also sought to change the topic from the coronavirus by accusing Biden of being beholden to the most left-wing members of his party. He has used some instances of trouble stemming from protests against racial injustice to argue that progressives in general cannot be trusted to maintain order.

But those topics are likely to pale in comparison if coronavirus cases keep increasing. In addition to the public health risk, there is also the danger of the fragile economy suffering another blow if restrictions have to be tightened again.

One of Trump’s closer international allies, United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is facing exactly this scenario. Johnson told the House of Commons on Tuesday that the UK had “reached a perilous turning point” as he imposed a series of new measures. COVID-19-related hospital admissions have doubled in the UK in the past two weeks, the BBC reported.

Any scenario like that could spell doom for Trump, who already lags Biden by 6.6 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics national polling average.

“Every time he tries to wish it away or tell people it is going to disappear, the reality of it confronts him — whether it is the death toll, or the spikes that are taking place, or his continued propensity to try to influence the science around it,” said Democratic strategist Tad Devine. “People aren’t stupid — they see what is going on.”

Trump’s aides and allies are pushing back on those kinds of sentiments, insisting that the president fully grasps the gravity of the situation.

“He has said before that it keeps him up at night thinking of even one life lost,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Tuesday. “This president has taken this incredibly seriously. And what he’s done is, he’s worked harder. Each and every day he works hard, puts his head down, and I think that’s very evident in the administration’s historic response.”

During the same media briefing, Keith Kellogg, national security adviser to Vice President Pence, addressed the death toll from COVID-19, saying: “Do not think for a minute that that has not bothered us. It does.”

There are some slivers of light. Experts say that lessons learned from the initial surge of COVID-19 cases this spring could make treatment more effective and reduce mortality rates if there is a resurgence.

Kavita Patel, a medical expert and nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution, said it could be possible to stem rising infections through targeted measures, such as restrictions on bars and restaurants, rather than the wholesale shuttering of America’s economy that happened in March.

Still, she cautioned that the combination of the return to schools and workplaces, and colder weather forcing people indoors, made some kind of COVID-19 rise largely inevitable.

“The nature of a viral infection is that it will go back up,” she warned.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.