A Pathetic Abdication
By Stephen Tuttle | Oct. 31, 2020
“We're rounding the corner.” — President Donald Trump
“We may need a national mask mandate.” — Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
“We're not going to control the pandemic.” — Mark Meadow's Trump's Chief of Staff
Those three statements were all made within the last two weeks. There seems to be a disconnect somewhere along the line.
The president was simply and intentionally lying. Fauci was taking one last stab at making Americans do the easiest and most effective thing to slow down this bug — wear a face covering when you're around anybody else. (More about that in a bit.) Meadows was finally acknowledging the administration's abject surrender.
Many, including this writer, were willing to give the president a pass for his inaction at the very beginning of the outbreak when the U.S. had a couple dozen cases. But we didn't know what the president knew. Thanks to Bob Woodward's recorded reporting, we can now hear Trump, in his own voice in early February, talking about the severity of the virus. He knew it was highly contagious, he knew the aerosolized droplets we exhale could linger in the air and infect people, he knew it was many times more deadly than seasonal flu, and he knew it was on its way here.
Then he made the conscious decision to lie about it, telling us all it was “totally under control” and would be “over soon.” It was, he told Woodward, an effort to not panic the American public. He's kept telling different version of the same lie ever since. It has become absurd.
It's worth noting that Congress, which had the power to do plenty, did almost nothing to help mitigate this disaster. They watched the ravages from afar, refused to intervene, and then offered some money to the wounded.
By the time this column is published — due to the realities of deadlines it is being submitted the Tuesday prior to publication — some 9,000,000 Americans, 800,000 of whom are 18 or younger, will have been infected. Nearly 230,000 will have died, and at least that many more will survive but experience lingering, debilitating side effects.
If we've turned a corner, it's into an oncoming train. Hospitals are once again near capacity, some intensive care units (ICUs) have more patients than beds, and medical workers are once again clamoring for personal protection equipment (PPE). The latest surge is continental, not regional. Rural areas that believed they were sheltered are now experiencing the highest per-capita increases in new infections.
The medical community has developed more effective treatments, and some therapeutics work for some patients, so we're better at keeping sick patients alive. But the current infection rate is so high that a surge in deaths is certain to follow.
Here in Michigan, after a relatively stable summer, we've had our own spike in cases. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, stripped of her emergency powers by a Michigan Supreme Court decision, can no longer do much to slow it down. Any restrictions have been left to the Department of Health and Human Services, which has its own authority in a health emergency.
That's a shame because as annoying and economically painful as were some of Whitmer's orders, they did help stabilize the infection spread. As those restrictions were eased, a slow rise of cases began and has morphed into a more dramatic increase. Now, like in so many other states, we're on the razor's edge as we near the annual flu season and people head indoors.
President Trump's pandemic response has been, and continues to be, a pathetic abdication of his responsibilities. Given a chance to unify the country during a real crisis, he chose to create a fantasy that was both foolish and dangerous. He should have declared a national emergency and locked down the country for 4 to 6 weeks as soon as he knew how bad this was going to be. It would have been disruptive but definitive. And less economically disastrous than the patchwork quilt of inconsistent rules the states developed.
Even now, he could issue a national face covering mandate that would significantly slow down the current surge. Instead, he tells aides that wearing a mask makes them look weak. He's never quite understood the purpose of the mask isn't to protect the wearer but everybody around them. That's especially important since about 40 percent of people who are infected and contagious are completely asymptomatic. The Center's for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes between 100,000 and 150,000 lives could have been saved by a universal mask mandate.
Since Washington won't provide direction, we can slow the infection rate ourselves simply by wearing a face mask that covers our nose and mouth when in public. It's a lifesaving act that imposes scant burden and infringes on no rights.