By Maggie Connolly ’21
COVID-19 is not Donald Trump’s fault. He did not create the disease, he did not spread the disease across America himself. What Trump did do was not respond in a timely or effective manner to the threat of what has now become a pandemic; a pandemic that is most prominent in the country that he presides over.
The issue, as a Vox article lays out plainly, is not just in the response. It is also in his early decision making as president. He chose to dismantle efforts that were already set in place in order to prevent a situation like this. He fired the leadership of the pandemic response team and eventually disbanded the group as well as cut the budget for the CDC and other public health agencies.
As of right now, it seems clear that Trump was warned earlier in the year. Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade advisor, wrote a memo that was marked January 29 warning the president of the possibility of a pandemic and urging him to create a travel ban against China, the epicenter of the outbreak at the time. Navarro also wrote a second memo addressed to the president directly dated February 23rd. This memo stated: “There is an increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1-2 million souls,” (POLITICO).
Trump claims he never saw these memos, nor did he seek them out. While this may be true, it seems unlikely that information of this caliber was circulating the White House and Donald Trump had simply no idea. If that is in fact the case, then Trump was incredibly irresponsible in not seeking out any and all possible information about the virus.
At a rally in February after both of these memos had been written, Trump referred to the virus as a “hoax” fabricated by liberals similar to that of his impeachment trials. In the rally in South Carolina, he said: “One of my people came up to me and said ‘Mr. President they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn’t work out too well.’ They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax that was on a perfect conversation,” (CNBC).
Keep in mind, Donald Trump was, in fact, impeached. No hoax detected there, but nice try nameless Trump supporter.
The coronavirus task force essentially warned Donald Trump that they might need to mitigate the virus inside the United States after discovering that the virus can spread through seemingly healthy, asymptomatic individuals. They expressed a concern that the virus had already been spreading in the United States and that social distancing and quarantine were becoming increasingly necessary. The move to begin these efforts was sidetracked by a dismissive Donald Trump. He pushed back meetings despite the group insisting and decided to wait until his return from India. Public health officials couldn’t wait for Air Force One to land.
Dr. Nany Messonier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases publicly stated that there may need to be larger, more restrictive measures in place than just travel bans in the United States.
Trump was angry and irrational, responding to her comments by reducing the responsibilities of Alex M. Azar, the then leader of the White House Task Force and cancelling a news conference where he was going to advocate for social distancing. Instead, he announced Mike Pence was going to be in charge of the coronavirus response.
Being from Indiana, Mike Pence’s home state where he single-handedly destroyed my public high school, please take it from me: Mr. Pence should not be in charge of anything. Like, ever. So at this point, every statement from health officials was to go through Pence’s office, meaning there were to be no more “alarmist messages,” (The New York Times).
There’s also that small moment where Donald Trump screwed up in an Oval Office address where he decided to ban all travel from Europe to the U.S. without warning European officials or U.S. officials abroad (The Daily Beast). The White House had to clarify his slip-up’s, stating that this ban did not apply to American citizens. Too late. Airports across Europe and the U.S. were already flooded with people desperate to make it home, probably furthering the spread of the disease by hundreds, if not thousands, of cases.
Last, but not least, are the testing measures, or lack thereof! Back in January, Dr. Helen Y. Chu, an infectious disease expert located in Seattle, already had the means to monitor the coronavirus outbreak. She had been a part of a research project studying the flu, they had been collecting nasal swabs from symptomatic residents of the Puget Sound region. She wanted to repurpose these tests to monitor the recent case and the possible spread of the coronavirus in the United States, but they needed the federal government’s approval to do so. They were not given it (The New York Times).
They began testing without the approval, and they found a teenager who had no recent travel history, proving that the virus was already at large in the United States. The public could not be informed, according to federal and state officials, due to ethical concerns that there was no permission from the research subjects. Dr. Chu insisted that there should be special permission granted in an emergency situation. Still, the answer was no and they were told to stop testing altogether shortly after (The New York Times).
The Center for Disease Control (C.D.C.) delivered what turned out to be a faulty test, after denying the Seattle Flu Study and the Washington State Department of Health the ability to use their test as a screening tool without a very slow F.D.A approval. This essentially led to doling out the responsibility of creating a test to local and state officials, but again, the F.D.A. was too slow for the virus. Dr. Chu admits that the ethics and regulations set in place were important but: “The frustration […] was how long it took to cut through red tape to try to save lives in an outbreak that had the potential to explode in Washington State and spread in many other regions,” (The New York Times).
Mass testing is essential in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Look at countries like South Korea and Germany, developed countries who have been able to test significantly more people than the United States, the country that prides itself on being one of the most ‘developed nations’ in the world. The virus is spreading primarily because people don’t know they have it. They’re asymptomatic, so they don’t ever bother getting tested, and continue to live their lives, even socially distant ones, without the necessary precautions.
While the primary issues of testing are not directly at the hands of Donald Trump, his removal of certain officers and the measures put in place in the White House to prevent a pandemic like the coronavirus has led to an inability to respond to the crisis in a way that is effective and timely.
Donald Trump did not create the coronavirus, but he certainly did not prevent it. And now, he is certainly still placing the economy above the lives of the American citizens he claims to care so much about. He was ready to open up the country at Easter because he “thought it was a beautiful time. A beautiful timeline,” (CNN). Obviously, that didn’t work out so well… He’s now putting the burden on states to make their own regulations, leaving it to places like Florida, who left their beaches open for ignorant spring breakers, to decide whether or not they want to risk it. Trump’s conservative approach here is an incredible failure. His self-interested need for the economy to open and prevent a crash and political allegiance to small, less-involved government need to be set aside for the lives of the American people. Trump is failing, Americans are dying, to put it plainly.