Faced with a disease that threatens millions of lives around the globe, it is obviously counterproductive to blame any one person or waste time and energy on divisive polarization. But there is one person we cannot avoid talking about: the president.
Many are hailing Trump’s recent pivot on COVID-19. His administration has recognized the threat of the pandemic, declared a national emergency, encouraged social distancing and enacted measures to aid the economy and those who are financially vulnerable. CNN’s Dana Bash went so far as to call Trump “the kind of leader that people need.”
These recent efforts should be praised. It is high time to treat this virus like the threat it is. But giving Trump a “forgive and forget” card would be a big mistake: he is directly culpable for the severity of the crisis in this country. As the soon-to-be pandemic grew for months in countries like China and South Korea, his administration seemingly did little to prepare. Indeed, it is clear that they did not regard the virus a significant threat until a few weeks ago. China announced that it had isolated the virus on Jan. 7, and released the sequenced genome on Jan. 12. When Trump first publicly acknowledged the threat on Jan 22., he said “we have it totally under control.”
Weeks after the United States saw its first case on January 21st, Trump continued spreading misinformation. He demanded on holding his February 27th campaign rally, where he insisted that the virus would “miraculously (go) away.” He continued shaking the hands of world leaders. Over and over, he downplayed the predicted severity and duration of the crisis, spurring his followers to not take it seriously.
In this crisis, individual action is really important — those who are at the least risk from the disease and show no or mild symptoms are among the most likely to spread it. This means that it is hard to overstate the importance of disseminating accurate information about the severity of the threat and how every person can do their part in preventing its spread.
The Trump administration’s failure to facilitate widespread testing may have even worse consequences than its continued broadcasting of misinformation. The first COVID-19 test was created in mid-January, and multiple countries have created their own successful tests. The World Health Organization dispatched kits to 56 countries on Feb. 14 — but the Trump administration refused to accept their kits and committed to making its own. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s first batch of kits were subsequently found to be faulty, delaying the process of domestically-produced kits even further. Successful tests have now been around for two months, yet the United States still lags far behind countries like South Korea.
Widespread, effective testing is absolutely crucial to combating this outbreak. Health care officials need to know who has the virus — and where — to establish an effective response. They need to be able to track how it is spreading and act accordingly — and they simply cannot do that adequately if only celebrities and those with the most severe symptoms get tested.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said of the CDC’s system of testing: “It is a failing. Let’s admit it.”
Better testing is coming, but time is of the essence. Indeed, one report says that COVID-19 has an epidemic doubling time of “about a week.” We needed these tests weeks ago when they could have helped stem the initial outbreak in the US. While the Trump administration spread misinformation and hampered effective testing, people were dying. It has become clear that it was only the beginning.
I know that this is no time for polarization or partisanship. And Trump has not been the only one muddying the waters — China hid the growing outbreak for weeks. But the two most precious resources we have right now are time and data — and Trump has actively hindered both. We had weeks of warning that COVID-19 was coming. His administration squandered it.
Right now, every human being has a common enemy, one that threatens millions of our lives — and every human being has an important role in fighting it. For now, let’s focus on that. Let’s focus on being with friends and family and adapting to these trying times. Let’s focus on coming together to fight our common foe. When all this is over, though, there will be a reckoning. And for every person that could have been saved if not for the Trump administration’s botched, laggard response? Well, the buck stops with him.