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Outrage of the Month: Enough is Enough: Trump, Pence Must Relinquish Leadership of the Federal Pandemic Response to Public Health Experts Now

Health Letter, August 2020

By Michael Carome, M.D.


If you’re not outraged,
you’re not paying attention!

Read what Public Citizen has to say about the biggest blunders and outrageous offenses in the world of public health, published monthly in Health Letter.

Image: faboi/Shutterstock.com

Over the past month, the coronavirus pandemic has raged out of control across much of the country. In just the 15 days from July 8 to July 23, the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. exploded from 3 million to 4 million. By comparison, it took about 100 days to reach the first one million-case milestone, 43 days for the second million, and 28 days for the third million.

And the confirmed case counts significantly underestimate the true numbers, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that the number of people in the U.S. who have been infected with the coronavirus may be 10 times higher than the official confirmed case count.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now stands at more than 150,000, and the number of daily new confirmed deaths has increased since early July. In several states, including California, Florida, Louisiana and Texas, hospitals in many communities are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and have no available intensive care unit beds.

Tragically, it didn’t have to be this way. Indeed, the catastrophic course of the pandemic in the U.S. stands in stark contrast to that seen in nearly every other comparably wealthy nation in the world. For example, in the European Union, which has a population of 446 million, the rolling three-day average of daily confirmed cases peaked at nearly 30,000 on March 28, then fell dramatically and has remained below 8,400 since June 1. In contrast, in the U.S., which has a population of 330 million, the rolling three-day average of daily confirmed cases reached an initial peak of just over 34,000 on April 11, slowly decreased to about 19,000 on May 28, and surged to more than 72,000 on July 18, a level that was more than 10-fold higher than in the European Union.

Other nations, such as those in Europe, succeeded in substantially reducing the rate of new coronavirus cases and keeping them low for months because their leaders consistently implemented the recommendations of public health experts.

In contrast, under the leadership of President Trump and Vice President Pence, the federal response to the pandemic has been inept and incoherent in nearly every respect.

From the beginning, they have contradicted and otherwise undermined critical messaging by their own public health experts. They failed to promptly order the implementation of a federally funded and coordinated plan for massively scaled-up testing, contact tracing and quarantining of all infected individuals and their potentially infected contacts. They recklessly encouraged states to ignore the White House’s coronavirus task force’s guidelines for a gradual, stepwise approach for reopening businesses and relaxing stay-at-home restrictions. They failed to ensure the implementation of a mandatory federal standard to protect workers from exposure to the coronavirus. They failed to take steps to mitigate the significant racial inequities that have caused Black and Latino people to be harmed by the coronavirus at much higher rates. The President promoted the use of unproven, dangerous drugs to treat and prevent COVID-19. For months, they repeatedly disparaged the public health benefits of wearing face masks.

On July 15, Public Citizen and 18 other consumer advocacy, public health and civil society groups sent an open letter to Trump and Pence urging them to immediately relinquish any role in leading or communicating about the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The letter noted that president and vice president’s “callous disregard for human life during the still-raging coronavirus pandemic is appalling and must cease.” The groups demanded Trump and Pence step aside and hand full operating authority of the federal response to the pandemic to senior public health and medical experts within the agencies of the U.S. Public Health Service.

As long as Trump and Pence remain at the helm of the federal pandemic response, millions more Americans will be sickened and tens of thousands more will die unnecessarily during the next several months.