Donald Trump’s neglect has fueled the coronavirus pandemic
New York César Chelala
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage throughout the world, a general assessment of the Trump administration’s handling the pandemic shows the responsibility of Donald Trump as head of state. Trump’s policies resulted in hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths, crimes against public health for which he is responsible.
Except for its resolve to speed up the development of a vaccine against the coronavirus, the Trump administration’s decisions on the pandemic have been flawed, with dire consequences not only for the U.S. but also for the rest of the world. Countries that better controlled the spread of the virus like Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea, did so based on continuous testing, isolation of the infected, quarantining the contacts and massive use of masks. The Trump administration neglected these basic measures.
A report issued by the House Select Subcommittee investigating the nation’s Covid response found that the Trump White House repeatedly overruled public health guidance by the nation’s top infectious disease experts, silencing officials to promote then-President Donald Trump’s political agenda.
Referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci as a “disaster” and dismissing as “idiots” members of his own commission to deal with the pandemic, the Trump administration blocked Dr. Fauci from testifying before the Democrat-led House of Representatives appropriations committee. Dr. Fauci could have provided valuable testimony on how better to improve pandemic policies.
From the onset of the pandemic, Trump made misleading predictions about the course of the pandemic. “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle –it will disappear,” he infamously said on February 27, 2020. Despite Trump’s assertions, in the U.S. alone, the number of infected people until January 9, 2022, was 61,131,817 with 859,271 deaths. This is unacceptable for any country, much less for the most powerful country in the world.
Donald Trump also spread misinformation and promoted false cures that complicated efforts to curb it. He promoted the use of Hydroxychloroquine to prevent or treat COVID-19, in flagrant defiance of the World Health Organization (WHO) concerns that this substance “provokes a higher risk of death” compared to patients who didn’t receive the drug. At a press briefing with his coronavirus task force held on March 19, 2020, Trump falsely affirmed that the FDA had approved the use of that drug to treat COVID-19.
Throughout his mandate Trump disregarded the peril posed by holding public events. He continued to hold gatherings even on the White House grounds, creating enormous possibilities for widespread contagion. That he survived the infection didn’t give him an increased awareness of its dangers. Instead, he became even more reckless.
Trump officials pressured the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to change its widely respected Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports to align them with the White House’s optimistic messages about the course of the pandemic. Trump also prohibited CDC officials from conducting media appearances after CDC expert Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases from 2016 to 2021, warned in early 2020 that the spread of the disease was inevitable. Despite repeated requests from that agency, the CDC held no news briefings between early March and the end of May 2020.
Trump complained publicly that statistics on the pandemic look bad because the many tests being conducted revealed an even higher number of cases. Dr. Deborah Birx, who served as the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator under President Donald Trump from 2020 to 2021, accused Dr. Scott Atlas, a White House adviser on the pandemic, of cutting access to COVID-19 tests. Dr. Birx also believed that the COVID-19 death toll could have been cut by 40 percent if better decisions would have been taken by the White House.
In November 2020, two Harvard economists, David Cutler, the Otto Eckstein Professor of Applied Economics and former U.S. Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers, estimated in $16 trillion the cost of the pandemic in the U.S. economy even if it ended by the fall of 2021. According to their analysis, the pandemic “is the greatest threat to posterity and well-being the U.S. has encountered since the Great Depression.” Even a fraction of that amount, used wisely, could have led to fewer deaths and morbidity than the ones caused by the pandemic so far in the U.S.
Instead, the Trump administration’s critical failures to confront the coronavirus pandemic have been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths that could have been avoided with timely and appropriate measures. There are obvious constraints to suing a former US president for his neglect in handling the pandemic. Yet, Trump has committed serious crimes against public health for all Americans, for which he should be held accountable.
César Chelala is an international public health consultant, and an award-winning writer on human rights issues.