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a man standing next to a train: New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) tries out a spraying device that is part of a three-step disinfecting process for a New York City subway car in Queens on Saturday.© Kevin P. Coughlin/AP New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) tries out a spraying device that is part of a three-step disinfecting process for a New York City subway car in Queens on Saturday.How many times have we heard President Trump say he just has a “feeling” or that his “gut feeling” is superior to expert, evidenced-based data? A lot. That “feeling” — whether it’s about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s intentions or the economy or the 2018 midterms — has often been wrong. During the coronavirus epidemic, however, his preference for emotion and feelings can cost lives.

It does not have to be that way. New York’s Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) did not mention Trump by name at his news conference on Monday. He did, however, implicitly set up a contrast between Trump (and his minions) and himself when it comes to gradually reopening the economy, schools and public places. Cuomo insisted you have to act with “the best information you have, learning from the lessons you have … which means, don’t act emotionally.” He continued on: “Don’t act because ‘I feel this, I feel that.’ … Forget the anecdotal, forget the atmospheric, forget the environmental, forget the emotional. Look at the data. Look at the measurements. Look at the science. Follow the facts.”

That is as good a model of government decision-making as you will hear, and a complete repudiation of the unscientific (or anti-scientific), impulsive style of political theater now in vogue with many Republicans. “Feelings,” in their mind, take the place of facts. Are facts missing to show the virus was created in a laboratory? Well, he’s got a feeling. No facts to suggest this is all going to “disappear”? Trump has a feeling. Indeed, almost without fail, when he says he has a feeling about something, you can bet there is no evidence for it or that the evidence points in the opposite direction.

Thousands of lives hang in the balance depending upon how elected leaders make their decisions. Trump operates without data (Liberate Michigan!). New York, Cuomo explained, does the opposite: “The rate of transmission goes up, stop the reopening, close the valve, close the valve right away. So, reopen businesses, do it in phases and watch that rate of transmission. It gets over 1.1, stop everything immediately.” Methodical, fact-driven and emotion-free decision-making is called for when the problem — a virus — is a natural phenomenon incapable of being spun, bullied or ignored.

It is not good enough to say, “We have enough tests for everyone!” First, it is not true. Second, it gives no guidance to states as to how they can responsibly reopen. Cuomo explained, “You have to be prepared to do 30 tests for every 1,000 residents. New York is doing more tests than any country in the state by far.” While as a state New York is doing more than any state per capita, “it doesn’t matter what we’re doing statewide. To open a region, that region has to have a testing capacity of 30 per 1,000.” Likewise, on contact tracing, there must be 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents before a region can reopen.

If we are going to reopen the business and return to something approaching normal, we have to be prepared to put facts first. Measure the data. Act on the data. Readjust on the data. Such a rational approach to governance is entirely beyond Trump’s capabilities, which is one reason he is uniquely unfit to govern during a health emergency.


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