Six months in, here are 3 takes on the pandemic from those who cover the politics of health: optimistic, realistic and pessimistic

By Dan Diamond and Adan Cancryn
Politico Pulse

It’s been nearly six months since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first announced that a mystery pneumonia had spread in a Chinese market, and the nation has been transformed.

Lockdowns have been applied and lifted. Millions are out of work. More than 125,000 Americans are already dead, and weeks of declining cases have abruptly reversed, including record surges in Southern states.

The optimistic take: We’re far better prepared to handle this upswing. There are many more supplies and tests than when covid-19 first walloped America in March; hospital staff increasingly have the protective equipment that they initially lacked; and researchers are beginning to identify medications to treat coronavirus.

Those are also the messages amplified by the White House, including in its first coronavirus task force briefing since the end of April, Politico’s Alice Miranda Ollstein and David Lim report.

“We have made truly remarkable progress in moving our nation forward,” Vice President Mike Pence said Friday. “We slowed the spread. We flattened the curve. We saved lives.”

Meanwhile, the fatality rate has fallen, and the surge of new cases is being driven by young Americans, who appear at far less risk of complications or death.

The realistic take: We’re in serious trouble. The soaring number of cases can’t be explained solely by more testing, and health officials like infectious-disease expert Tony Fauci have warned that young Americans are bound to spread the virus to more vulnerable populations.

“The window is closing,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on NBC‘s “Meet the Press:” “We have to act, and people as individuals have to act responsibly. We need to social-distance. We need to wear our face-coverings if we’re in settings where we can’t social-distance, particularly in these hot zones.”

Even once-confident Republican governors have changed their tune. The outbreak “has taken a very swift and very dangerous turn in Texas over just the past few weeks,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said on Sunday. He has also acknowledged his regrets about re-opening bars, given that they became hotbeds of infection.

The pessimistic take: This is setting up to be a reprise of February and March, with cases soaring now, hospitalizations and deaths likely to soon follow and President Donald Trump again dismissing basic realities about the virus, such as the protective power of masks, while instead stoking a culture war over their use.

Even senior Republicans are beginning to plead with Trump: Set an example for your skeptical followers. “There are times when he could wear a mask or the vice president could wear a mask,” Sen. Lamar Alexander said on CNN on Sunday. “I think it would be a sign of strength.”

On the other side of the aisle, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other progressives have escalated their criticism of the White House’s recent lack of action. Prominent MSNBC host Chris Hayes on Friday, for the first time, called on Trump to resign for his handling of the outbreak.

How Scott Gottleib sees it: The former Trump appointee and Food and Drug Administration commissioner sounded a serious note on CBS‘s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

“Deaths are actually coming down, but that’s not likely to stay that way,” Gottlieb said. “This spread is likely to seep into more vulnerable communities and we’re likely to see total daily deaths start to go back up again.”

He added, “We have a hard six months ahead of us.”