- - Thursday, July 16, 2020

The ability to catch up to a fastball is the ticket to the minors, but reaching the big league takes the cunning to swat the curveball. Like a hitter flummoxed by a ball that won’t stay still, Americans have spent months befuddled by the gyrations of COVID-19. Statistics on new cases of coronavirus infections and tallies of pandemic fatalities have spiraled and wobbled, leaving a bewildered public unconvinced that managers in government, medicine and media understand how to knock out the shifty contagion. As the nation ponders the pathway to normal life, the smart play is to focus on the death curve when gauging when to get back in the game.

Coronavirus fatalities surged early in the outbreak, leaving citizens in hot spots like New York City with a foreboding sense of inhaling death with each breath. Virus victims totaled 52 for the week ending March 14, and then the body count skyrocketed to 16,895 a month later, according to the most recent records from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The “newspaper of record” New York Times, which has constructed its own method of tabulating virus cases and deaths directly from state and local health agencies and hospitals, reported 41 deaths for the same week in March. A month later, its seven-day count soared to 15,491.

For a shocked public, all the various numbers added up to an appalling loss of human life unexperienced except in times of war. “Flatten the curve” became the rallying cry of the Trump administration, and an all-hands-on-deck, all-American effort ably snuffed the pandemic’s momentum.

From its zenith, the weekly death toll has nosedived, thankfully. The CDC reported 469 COVID-19 victims for the entire week ending July 4, and then the figure bottomed out at 137 during the succeeding week. The disease center adjusts its numbers when tardy jurisdictions report revised figures, but the most recent provisional data represent an astonishing reduction in coronavirus fatalities of more than 99% from the April peak.

The New York Times, claiming the U.S. has “undercounted deaths during the coronavirus outbreak because of limited testing availability,” reports a much higher death count for the same period: 4,902. If accurate, the figure is still a welcome decrease of 68%.

Americans bewildered over wide discrepancies between government and media pandemic statistics may choose to split the difference and reckon a percentage drop of fatalities in the mid-80s. Once in the right ballpark, working families would be better prepared to chart an effective course between the heartfelt wish to protect their communities from reckless deaths and the urgent need to rescue their livelihoods from certain collapse.

Meanwhile, there is little disagreement that new coronavirus cases have swerved in recent weeks from a gentle decline into a steep climb toward a second, summer peak more lofty than the original one of spring. From a low on June 8 of 18,199 new cases, infections turned sharply skyward, hitting 68,241 on July 10, according to The Times.

Whether the subsequent death count has fallen precipitously or just commendably, the spike in new infections has sent policymakers once again into a tailspin. In the Northeast, the early epicenter of the Chinese disease, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on visitors from 22 states, with a fine of up to $2,000 for noncompliance.

In the South, Miami-Dade County has halted indoor dining and imposed face mask and social distancing rules in an attempt to fight Florida’s disturbing flare-up. And in the West, California has gone deep into left field, shuttering all indoor businesses a second time.

By reimposing lockdowns on commerce, public officials have cast doubt on a safe reopening of the nation’s more than 133,000 public schools. Los Angeles, San Diego and Atlanta have already pulled the plug on their fall classes, flashing a signal for other jurisdictions to follow suit. This, despite the fact that of the 130,000 virus fatalities logged by the CDC as of July 4, only 179 were younger than 25.

Every form of sickness means suffering, but Americans should keep their eye on the ball and recognize that COVID-19 is losing its deadly grip. It is past time to step up to the plate and, with proper protection, let it rip.

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