Health Letter, June 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.
Only three months after the first reported coronavirus-related death in the U.S. on Feb. 29, the confirmed COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. a few days ago surpassed 100,000, far exceeding the number of confirmed deaths in any other country.
Since the onset of the pandemic, President Donald Trump’s chaotic and incompetent response has fueled the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S. and beyond, causing tens of thousands of preventable deaths. Indeed, researchers at Columbia University estimate that approximately 36,000 (55%) of the confirmed 65,000 COVID-19 deaths as of May 3 could have been prevented if the country had implemented social distancing guidelines just one week earlier than it did in mid-March. And tens of thousands more deaths could have been avoided if these measures had been employed just two weeks sooner.
Here are 12 things Trump did to speed the pandemic and push the death count higher:
(1) He didn’t prepare. For the first three years of his administration, he failed to take steps to prepare for a long-expected pandemic by expanding the inventory of critical medical supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile, strengthening the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and bolstering other critical components of our national public health system.
(2) He ignored warnings. For several weeks starting in early January, he ignored early warnings about the grave threat posed by the coronavirus outbreak, squandering precious time needed to implement proven measures that would have limited active community spread of the virus.
(3) He falsely assured the public. After the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the U.S., he repeatedly provided false assurances to the public that the coronavirus was contained and soon would disappear.
(4)He failed to mobilize manufacturers. Trump failed to broadly and rapidly invoke his authority under the Defense Production Act to ramp up the manufacturing of:
(a) Disposable masks, gowns, face shields and other personal protective equipment needed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to health care workers, first responders, transportation workers and people employed in other essential occupations;
(b) Coronavirus test kits and supplies that are essential to detecting infected individuals and performing contact tracing; and
(c) Mechanical ventilators and other medical supplies for treating COVID-19 patients.
(5) He dragged his feet on curbing the spread of the virus. He delayed the development and implementation of federal social distancing and stay-at-home guidelines until widespread community transmission of COVID-19 was well underway.
(6) He failed on testing. He failed to order the development and implementation of a federally funded and coordinated plan for massively scaled-up testing, community tracing and quarantining of all infected individuals and their potentially infected contacts.
(7) He muzzled the experts. He sidelined and muzzled CDC staff who are public health experts in the management and containment of infectious disease outbreaks.
(8) He blocked reopening guidance. For several weeks, Trump blocked the release of detailed CDC guidance for how to safely reopen businesses.
(9) He spewed lies. At daily White House briefings for several weeks, he spewed false and misleading information as well as rosy projections about the spread of the pandemic that confused the public and undermined the efforts of state officials who have been forced to take the lead in responding to the pandemic without adequate federal support and resources.
(10) He touted dangerous, unproven drugs and remedies. He repeatedly touted the use of the antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as “game-changing” treatments for COVID-19 despite the risk of potentially fatal adverse effects and the lack of any sound scientific evidence supporting such use. He even suggested crackpot ideas like injecting disinfectants to treat COVID-19.
(11) He rushed reopening. Almost immediately after his own task force issued guidelines for a gradual, stepwise approach for reopening businesses and relaxing stay-at-home restrictions, he encouraged governors to reopen businesses and roll back restrictions well before their states met the minimal criteria outlined in the guidelines or had adequate programs for testing and contact tracing. In states that ignored his overtures, he encouraged people to engage in mass protests of stay-at-home orders and restrictions on businesses.
(12) He discouraged the use of face masks. By refusing to wear a mask at public events, Trump has set a dangerous example for the rest of the country. The CDC recommends wearing a face mask in public places where social distancing is difficult. Trump and other administration officials appear regularly without a mask, standing close to others.
Sadly, the country can expect to see many more preventable COVID-19 deaths because of Trump’s inept and reckless response to the pandemic.