The Pandemic Worsens, Dr. Atlas Shrugs and Biden Acts

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Nov. 11, 2020.

The coronavirus did not stop for the election. It intensified. COVID-19 deaths in America now exceed 235,000 and are increasing at the rate of a 9/11 attack every three days. But help is on the horizon.

On November 9, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. named 13 experts to his Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board. He did not include Dr. Scott Atlas. That omission alone could save thousands of lives.

For months, Dr. Atlas — a radiologist with no experience or training in infectious diseases or public health — has been the most influential voice on Trump’s coronavirus task force. Three days before the election, he gave a 28-minute television interview to Russia’s propaganda network. Once again, he pushed Trump’s dangerous falsehoods that placed winning re-election ahead of public health.

RT, formerly known as Russia Today, is an international television and digital news network financed by the Russian government. It was a central player in Russia’s campaign to help Trump win the 2016 election. A registered foreign agent, RT America continues to promote Russian propaganda aimed at influencing US public opinion, policy and laws. Both Facebook and Twitter have labeled RT as controlled by the Russian state.

The RT interviewer’s first question to Dr. Atlas referred to the “Democrat-leaning mainstream media.”

Dr. Atlas and the COVID Hospital Crisis

Oct. 31: As RT interviews Dr. Atlas, COVID-19 hospitalizations are surging. Across the country, including Idaho, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin, medical resources are stretched and strained. An emergency notification system warns Utah residents that hospitals were “nearly overwhelmed.”

Speaking from the White House, Dr. Atlas tells RT: “We have no real problem, although occasionally there’s a hospital that’s overcrowded…We haven’t had a problem like that.”

Nov. 2: Hospital leaders warn that Iowa had entered a COVID-19 “danger zone.”

Nov. 4: Minnesota issues a “red alert” based on the demand for ICU beds.

Dr. Atlas and Face Masks

Sept. 16: CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield tells Congress, “We have clear scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defense. I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.”

Oct. 31: In his RT interview, Dr. Atlas complains that Twitter deleted his tweet challenging the efficacy of face masks. “[The] Constitution is under threat,” he says, defending his tweet.

“If they can delete a senior adviser on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, then that’s obviously quite something,” the interviewer responds with delight.

Nov. 4: At a White House gathering that includes several hundred supporters, no social distancing and few face masks, Trump falsely declares that he won re-election. Among those present is Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows, who routinely shuns face masks and isn’t wearing one.

Nov. 6: Meadows tests positive for COVID-19. Five other White House aides and a campaign adviser have also tested positive in the days before and after the election.

Nov. 9: After experiencing symptoms, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, who also attended Trump November 4 gathering at the White House, tests positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Atlas and “Herd Immunity”

Oct. 31: In his RT interview, Dr. Atlas goes on to say, “The country is off the rails because there’s this hysteria that has been fueled by the faces of public health expertise here that have been not only wrong, but more interested, I believe, in their own public stature than anything else.”

He reiterates his view that the best way to deal with the pandemic aligns with the Great Barrington Declaration, which endorses so-called herd immunity: reopening society while trying to protect high-risk individuals. But even the RT interviewer interjects that the World Health Organization rejects the Great Barrington Declaration.

Dr. Atlas and Trump’s False Talking Points

Oct. 31: Dr. Atlas parrots Trump’s false claim that President Obama’s administration had left the country unprepared for a pandemic. He fails to note that Trump disbanded the pandemic response team. He doesn’t mention that Trump eliminated the position held by an American epidemiologist who was embedded in China’s disease control agency and whose job was to train “Chinese field epidemiologists…deployed to the epicenters of outbreaks to help track, investigate, and contain diseases.” And he ignores the fact that Trump disregarded the pandemic “Playbook” — that was its title — that the Obama administration had created for a COVID-19-type pandemic.

Dr. Atlas also repeats Trump’s absurd claim that America could have done worse, citing a March estimate that more than two million Americans could have died from COVID-19. But he doesn’t mention that the estimate was a warning to governments and individuals of what would happen if they did nothing to control the pandemic.

The RT interviewer asks Dr. Atlas why, for example, South Korea — an advanced democracy that confirmed its first COVID-19 diagnosis on the same day as the US — suffered only about 460 deaths from the coronavirus while the US had more than 230,000. He responds that it was “treacherous ground” to compare countries’ experiences with the coronavirus.

It is treacherous indeed — for Trump. The US accounts for 20 percent of the world’s COVID-19 cases and deaths but has only four percent of the world’s population. In fact, among 150 nations, the US has the world’s eleventh highest death rate. According to the Columbia University National Center for Disaster Preparedness, the US suffered between 130,000 and 210,000 avoidable deaths.

Dr. Atlas and Dr. Fauci

Oct. 31: Later on the same day that RT publishes Dr. Atlas’ interview, the Washington Post publishes an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert whom Trump sidelined. Citing current infection trends, he warns, “We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation.”

Dr. Fauci laments that Dr. Atlas is the only medical person with whom Trump meets personally on a regular basis. “I have real problems with that guy. He’s a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in. He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn’t make any sense.”

Nov. 1: Dr. Atlas apologizes for doing the RT interview. Claiming not to know that RT America is a registered foreign agent of the Russian state, he tweets regret “for allowing himself to be taken advantage of.” But he shows no remorse for statements that epidemiologists and public health experts have condemned as dangerous.

Dr. Atlas and Irony

During his interview, Dr. Atlas railed against those who refuse to accept facts that contradict what they want to believe. He lambasted people unable to admit that they’re wrong. But when asked about Dr. Fauci’s comment that Dr. Atlas is an outlier on epidemiological and public health issues relating to the pandemic, he said, “I’m proud to be an outlier, especially when the ‘in-liers’ are completely wrong…I’m not afraid to be a contrarian because I know I’m right.”

Willing to let others die on his lonely hill of intellectual certainty, Dr. Atlas boasted of his “25 years of medical science experience at the highest levels of academic medicine” — a reference to his position as a professor and neuroradiologist at the Stanford University Medical Center from 1998 to 2012 and current affiliation as a senior fellow at its Hoover Institution. Stanford might want to do something about that.

A large group of Stanford Medical School’s doctors and researchers has already tried. They published an open letter criticizing Dr. Atlas for spreading what they characterize as “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science” relating to the coronavirus.

After the inauguration, President Biden can add government employees, including undoubtedly Dr. Fauci, to what will then become the new White House Coronavirus Task Force. But until then, the nation is at the mercy of Trump and Dr. Atlas. By that time, America could be suffering COVID-19 deaths equivalent to a 9-11 attack every single day.

Pandemic Timeline: America’s Dangerous Doctor

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Oct. 23, 2029.

Dr. Scott Atlas is a radiologist and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He has no expertise in infectious diseases, epidemiology or public health. But Dr. Atlas does say the things that Trump wants to hear. So now he is a leading voice on the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Dr. Atlas and Testing

Widespread testing for COVID-19 is essential to containing the pandemic. That’s because pre-symptomatic individuals can transmit the virus to others and because 40 percent of infected individuals may never experience symptoms but can still be contagious.

June 20 – 22: At his rally in Tulsa, Trump says, “When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people; you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, slow the testing down please.” Immediately the medical community flags his remarks as both absurd and antithetical to any COVID-19 containment strategy. So to limit the damage, his advisers claim that he was, of course, just kidding. Trump responds, “I don’t kid, let me just tell you, let me make it clear.”

July 13: Asked about America’s disproportionately large number of COVID-19 infections, Trump doubles down, “We test more than anybody, by far. And when you test, you create cases. So we’ve created cases.”

Throughout July: Dr. Atlas is informally advising the White House after Trump sees him on Fox echoing Trump’s views on the need to reopen schools and railing against the “frenzy” of mass testing.

Aug. 3:  Appearing on Fox News, Dr. Atlas says, contrary to all evidence, that “people are kidding themselves” about the value of testing individuals who don’t have symptoms. 

Aug. 10: Trump introduces Dr. Atlas as the newest member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Aug. 24: The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control quietly revises its online guidance to reduce COVID-19 testing for individuals with recent exposure to COVID-19 but who do not exhibit symptoms.

Aug. 26: CNN reports that individuals at the top levels of the Trump administration pushed for the CDC’S change in guidance: “It’s coming from the top down.” According to The New York Times, “[T]he shift came as a directive to the Atlanta-based CDC from higher-ups in Washington at the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services.”Likewise, ABC News reports that people in the trenches are horrified by the CDC’s revised testing guidance because it gives the impression that asymptomatic people cannot transmit the disease, whereas the universal view of the scientific community is that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals are driving community spread.

Sept. 9: A group of 78 researchers and doctors from Stanford Medical School publishes an open letter criticizing Dr. Atlas for spreading what they characterize as “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science” relating to the coronavirus.

Sept. 16 – 17: Dr. Atlas’ lawyer — who represented Trump personally in the Russia investigation and other matters — threatens to sue the Stanford researchers and doctors who signed the September 9 letter. In response, more than 100 Stanford doctors, scientists, public health experts and faculty members send a letter to Dr. Atlas’ legal team, saying that such threats will not intimidate or silence them.

Sept. 18: The CDC reverses itself in response to universal backlash from medical and public health organizations, including the American Medical AssociationAssociation of American Medical CollegesInfectious Diseases Society of America, and American Academy of Pediatrics. Revising its guidance again, the CDC urges, “Due to the significance of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission, this guidance further reinforces the need to test asymptomatic persons, including close contacts of a person with documented SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

Dr. Atlas and Face Masks

Face masks are effective in mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

Sept. 16: Testifying before Congress, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield says, “We have clear scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defense. I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.” 

Oct. 17: Dr. Atlas tweets, “Masks work? NO…—” followed by a series of misrepresentations about the science behind the effectiveness of masks in combating the pandemic,” reports CNN.

Oct. 18: Twitter removes Dr. Atlas’ tweet denigrating face masks because it violates the platform’s COVID-19 Misleading Information Policy, which prohibits sharing false or misleading content related to COVID-19 that could lead to harm.

Oct. 18: Appearing on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Dr. Anthony Fauci discusses the use of face masks: “The benefit of masks has been supported by evidence that, under certain conditions, the virus can travel more than the six feet suggested by social distancing guidelines. Tiny, aerosolized droplets can float, like cigarette smoke, across a room. Over time, without good ventilation, they can build up and pose a risk of infection. Research shows a mask can reduce that risk.”

Dr. Atlas and “Herd Immunity”

The “Great Barrington Declaration” calls for allowing the coronavirus to spread naturally to achieve so-called “herd immunity” — the theoretical point at which enough people have been infected to stall transmission in the community. The declaration urges that those who are not vulnerable, such as younger Americans, should resume normal activities, while those who are at high risk protect themselves from infection. But it offers no method for implementation, and it would produce a disastrous surge in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, unknown long-term side effects and perhaps as many as one million American deaths.

Oct. 5: The authors of the Great Barrington Declaration meet with Dr. Atlas and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar. In a subsequent email to The Hill, Dr. Atlas says that he supports the declaration, saying, “Their targeted protection of the vulnerable and opening schools and society policy matches the policy of the President and what I have advised.”

Oct. 15: Eighty doctors, public-health professionals and medical researchers co-sign a public letter warning that the so-called herd-immunity approach is a dangerous fallacy. By Oct. 18, more than 2,000 colleagues add their signatures to the letter as a show of support.

Also on Oct. 15: Appearing on Fox, Dr. Atlas touts the Great Barrington Declaration, saying, “We just had a declaration written and the thrust of the declaration is exactly aligned with the president, that is opening schools, opening society, and protecting the high-risk people, the seniors.”

Also on Oct. 15: Dr. Fauci condemns the strategy of herd immunity: “If you let infections rip as it were and say, ‘Let everybody get infected that’s going to be able to get infected and then we’ll have herd immunity.’ Quite frankly that is nonsense, and anybody who knows anything about epidemiology will tell you that that is nonsense and very dangerous.” 

He goes on to explain that the Great Barrington Declaration “assumes people who are vulnerable to serious illnesses live in facilities like nursing homes where they can be protected, but “that doesn’t work.” Dr. Fauci notes that “roughly one-third of the population is prone to developing serious side effects from COVID-19,” including the elderly, the obese and those with underlying health conditions, and not all of those people live in institutional facilities. “By the time you get to herd immunity, you will have killed a lot of people that would’ve been avoidable,” he said.

Dr. Fauci adds that Dr. Redfield and Dr. Deborah Birx, the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force coordinator, share his view. “All three of us are very clearly against that,” he says.

Also on Oct. 15: Appearing on CNN, the head of the World Health Organization’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit confirms, “Herd immunity as an approach by letting the virus circulate is dangerous, it leads to unnecessary cases and it leads to unnecessary deaths.”

Oct. 19: On a phone call with his re-election campaign staff that also includes reporters, Trump blasts Dr. Fauci. “People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots — these people, these people that have gotten it wrong,” Trump says. “If I listened to him, we’d have 500,000 deaths,” and then adds seconds later, “If we listened to him, we’d have 700-800,000 deaths right now…And yet, we keep him…Every time he goes on television, there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him.” Then Trump issues two tweets attacking Dr. Fauci, one of which refers to his errant first pitch at the Washington Nationals’ opening day baseball game.

Trump’s earlier attacks are the reason that, since April, Dr. Fauci has needed an armed security detail as protection from Trump supporters who are threatening him and his family.

The Trump-Atlas Strategy

Dr. Atlas has aided and abetted Trump efforts to confuse the public and discredit the nation’s leading infectious disease and public health experts. Minimal testing, no face masks and an ethically dubious and impractical effort to achieve herd immunity is not a strategy for combatting COVID-19. It’s a plan for unconditional surrender.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

Trump’s COVID-19 Coverup and The Cleveland Clinic

The Cleveland Clinic boasted that co-hosting the first presidential debate along with Case Western Reserve University was an honor for both institutions and the city. As the health security adviser to the Commission on Presidential Debates, it publicized protocols to protect everyone at their site on the Health Education Campus and at subsequent debates. It knew those protocols would also protect members of the public with whom all attendees would later come into contact.

Then the Cleveland Clinic failed to follow its own rules, and Donald Trump’s COVID-19 cover up began.

The Rules

The Clinic required all attendees to obtain a negative COVID-19 PCR test — the most reliable diagnostic tool — within 72 hours of the debate on September 29. It also required all audience members to wear masks. Neither rule should have been controversial.

After all, on July 14, Trump called himself “probably the most tested person in the world.” On July 21, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that he was tested for COVID-19 “multiple times a day.” Likewise, for months the nation’s top medical and scientific experts have urged the public to use face masks, especially in large indoor gatherings.

The Trump Outbreak Timeline

The typical incubation period between exposure to the coronavirus and the onset of COVID-19 symptoms is five to six days. During the six days prior to Trump’s first symptoms on October 1, all of the individuals in bold had close contact with him and subsequently tested positive for the disease on or before October 7.

Sept. 25: Trump and Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, mingled with the RNC leadership team at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC. McDaniel returned to her home in Michigan and, a few days later, became ill. 

Sept. 25: Trump traveled aboard Air Force One with Hope Hicks and others to a rally in Newport News, Virginia, where the audience did not wear face masks or maintain social distancing.

Sept. 26: Trump held what Dr. Anthony Fauci later called a “super-spreader event in the White House” for his new US Supreme Court nominee. There were few facemasks in the crowd, which did not maintain social distancing at either the private indoor reception or the larger outdoor gathering in the Rose Garden. Among the participants later testing positive for COVID-19 were Trump’s wife MelaniaSen. Thom Tillis (R-NC)Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), former Gov. Chris Christie(R-NJ), University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins, KayleighMcEnany, three of McEnany’s aides (Chad GilmartinKaroline Leavitt and Jalen Drummond), former counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, megachurch pastor Greg Laurie and New York Times photojournalist Al Drago.

Also on Sept. 26: TrumpHicksMcEnany and others took Air Force One to a rally in Middletown, Pennsylvania. Few in the audience wore face masks and there was no social distancing.

Sept. 27TrumpMelaniaMcEnany and US Coast Guard Admiral Charles Ray attended a reception for Gold Star families in the White House. Most attendees did not wear face masks or maintain social distancing.

Sept. 27 – 29: For several hours, Trump and his advisers met in the White House in preparation for the first presidential debate. At various times, participants who later tested positive for COVID-19 were HicksConwayStephen Miller, Christie and campaign manager Bill Stepien. No one wore face masks and participants did not maintain social distancing.

The Debate Debacle

Sept. 29: Trump, Melania, HicksMiller and Stepien flew with others aboard Air Force One to Cleveland. But the entourage arrived too late for COVID-19 testing that the Cleveland Clinic required. So the Clinic relied on assurances from the campaign that Trump and others had satisfied the requirement. Debate moderator Chris Wallace later said, “There was an honor system when it came to the people that came into the hall from the two campaigns.”

After entering the debate hall, Trump family members and chief of staff Mark Meadows then removed their face masks. A Cleveland Clinic doctor wearing a white lab coat approached Trump’s group to ask that they put them on, but she was waved off. When the doctor walked off the floor, a debate hall staffer told her, “That’s all you can do.”

The Coverup

Sept. 30: McDaniel tested positive for COVID-19. That evening, Hicks began to feel ill after attending a Trump fundraiser and rally in Minnesota.

Oct. 1: Hicks tested positive for COVID-19, but the White House kept her diagnosis quiet. Trump continued on to a fundraiser at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he held an indoor roundtable for about 20 big donors and an outdoor event including 200 people.

That evening, Bloomberg broke the story that Hicks had tested positive for COVID-19. Two hours later, Trump confirmed her diagnosis on Fox News without mentioning that he too had already tested positive. Nor did anyone inform former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign.

As the virus spread throughout the White House, Trump asked an adviser not to disclose the results of their own positive test. “Don’t tell anyone,” he said. By October 7, at least 34 White House staff members and other individuals who had been in close contact with Trump between September 25 and October 1 tested positive for COVID-19.

Oct. 5: Reporters asked Trump’s physician, Dr. Sean Conley, when Trump had last tested negative for COVID-19.

“I don’t want to go backwards,” he said, ignoring the medical importance of that information for tracing Trump’s contacts prior to the onset of his symptoms. 

Also on Oct. 5: The New York Times reported that the White House was not using the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control to perform contact tracing for the Trump outbreak. Instead, the White House medical unit was in charge and “limited its efforts to notifying people who came in close contact with Mr. Trump in the two days before his Covid diagnosis Thursday evening [October 1].” That meant excluding two Trump rallies, the super-spreader event in the White House Rose Garden and, depending how precisely the White House calculated the “two days before his COVID diagnosis,” possibly the presidential debate itself. {Emphasis added]

Oct. 9: White House deputy press secretary Brian Morgenstern refused repeatedly to answer when Trump had last tested negative for COVID-19:

The Clinic’s Continuing Failure

The Cleveland Clinic’s initial response to Trump’s positive test scandal was to minimize the problem.

Oct. 2: “As health advisor to the Commission on Presidential Debates and the host site, we had requirements to maintain a safe environment that align with CDC guidelines – including social distancing, hand sanitizing, temperature checks and masking. Most importantly, everyone permitted inside the debate hall tested negative for COVID-19 prior to entry. Individuals traveling with both candidates, including the candidates themselves, had been tested and tested negative by their respective campaigns. Based on what we know about the virus and the safety measures we had in place, we believe there is low risk of exposure to our guests. Out of an abundance of caution, we are reaching out to our guests to address any questions and concerns.”

Oct. 2 – 6: As the White House outbreak grew and Trump refused to reveal when he had last tested negative for COVID-19 prior to the debate, scrutiny of the Clinic’s actions intensified. 

Oct. 6: The Cleveland Clinic issued a statement trying to shift the blame: “Prior to the first debate, we worked closely with the CPD to create health and safety requirements. These are the same requirements that we have recommended be implemented at each of the other host sites. They include testing, social distancing, hand sanitizing, temperature checks and masking. Any questions regarding the recommendations and requirements, including their implementation and enforcement, should be directed to the CPD.” (Emphasis added)

The Cleveland Clinic is one of the premier medical institutions in the world. But it accepted the word of a serial liar, wilted as he defied rules that applied to everyone else and compromised the health of the public. In the process, it facilitated a Trump coverup that endures to this day.

After four years of Trump’s mendacity, bullying and victims, the Cleveland Clinic has only itself to blame for the resulting stain on its reputation.

Trump’s Newest Pre-Existing Condition: COVID-19

[This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on October 6, 2020.]

In 2018, health care was the major issue that swept Democrats into control of the House of Representatives. Still foremost among voters’ concerns today is protection for those with pre-existing medical conditions. Almost three-fourths of Americans favor preserving those protections, which the Affordable Care Act does.

So for four years, Donald Trump has lied about his commitment to keeping those protections in place. The truth is that at every turn, his administration has sought to eliminate them altogether. In fact, in a case set for oral argument before the US Supreme Court on November 10, the Trump administration is urging the Court to invalidate the entire ACA, including protections for pre-existing conditions.

Trump himself has a new pre-existing condition: COVID-19. So do several people who were in close proximity to him prior to his diagnosis, including (so far) his wife Melania, adviser Hope Hicks, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and three of her assistants, former Gov. Chris Christie, campaign manager Bill Stepien, former counselor Kellyanne Conway, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), personal assistant Nicholas Luna, Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, and University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins.

COVID-19: The Newest Pre-Existing Condition

Under the ACA, Americans with confirmed health problems “cannot be denied coverage, be charged significantly higher premiums, be subjected to an extended waiting period, or have their benefits curtailed by insurance companies,” according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

Even before the pandemic, as many as 133 million Americans under age 65 had at least one pre-existing medical condition. Today more than half of all Americans say that they or someone they know has one. Those conditions include but are not limited to cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, obesity, pregnancy, depression and other diagnosed mental and physical disorders.

But that was before February. Since then, an additional seven-and-a-half million Americans — including the president of the United States — have developed what is now a new pre-existing medical condition: COVID-19. And every day, 40,000 more are testing positive for the virus. To achieve “herd immunity” — which some members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force have pushed — 65 to 70 percent of a population has to become infected, according to the chief scientist for the World Health Organization.

That’s more than 200 million Americans.

The Cost of COVID: Calculating Health Care Premiums

It’s too early for experts to know the full scope of the pandemic’s damage to human health, but what they do know is profoundly disturbing. The list of prolonged problems is already significant, as is the increasing number of people who have them. Myocarditis, lung scarring, breathing problems, weakness, fatigue and blood clots have continued to cause trouble, even after minor cases of the disease have resolved. “Long haulers” are still suffering weeks or months after tests no longer detect the virus in them.

Many COVID-19 survivors, including some who are quite young, will require ongoing and wide-ranging types of medical care. Without the ACA, insurance companies will be free to resume using worst-case cost projections when setting premiums for anyone with a COVID-19 diagnosis. They will price millions of people out of the market.

Pre-Existing Opinions: The ACA and the New Supreme Court Justice

On September 24, two days before Trump announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination publicly at a Rose Garden super-spreader event that featured no social distancing and few masks, he issued a legally meaningless Executive Order. It proclaimed that he supported affordable health care for those with pre-existing conditions. But by then, he had already offered Judge Barrett the US Supreme Court position, she had accepted and her hostility to the ACA was a matter of public record.

Judge Barrett’s overarching judicial philosophy follows that of her mentor, Justice Antonin Scalia, who co-authored a vigorous dissent in the seminal ACA case in which Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the liberal justices in a 5-4 decision upholding the law. In a January 2017 book review, Judge Barrett expressed her opposition to that decision: “Chief Justice Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.”

Make no mistake: If Trump’s legal position prevails in the courts, the ACA and its protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions will disappear. Period. Because in the last four years, Trump and his fellow Republicans — including Sens. Lee and Tillis, who attended the Rose Garden super-spreader event and received a positive COVID-19 test result six days later — have failed to enact anything to take their place.

Save Your Health Care: Vote the Remedy

We, the people, who overwhelmingly favor health care for all Americans, have recourse. But the only thing that will preserve access to coverage is a pre-emptive strike by voters across the entire electoral field.

A Democratically controlled Congress, including the Senate, could send President Biden legislation to undo the damage that a Supreme Court ruling could inflict on Americans’ health care for years to come. The mission would be far easier for Biden to achieve than it was for President Obama because a vast majority of the public supports its key provisions, especially protection for those with pre-existing conditions.

US Supreme Court decisions have momentous implications for everyday lives. Few are as far reaching and personal as health care. But voters can still have the last word — provided they speak first in November.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

Crime Scenes: Trump’s Super-Spreader Rallies

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Sept. 30, 2020.

On February 7, Donald Trump confessed to knowing the truth about the coronavirus.

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flusThis is deadly stuff,” he admitted to journalist Bob Woodward. (Emphasis supplied) Here’s the tape:

Then he lied to the public for months because the truth didn’t fit his re-election campaign message that all would soon be well. The result: America has only about four percent of the world’s population but more than 20 percent of worldwide deaths from COVID-19.

Trump is now holding super-spreader campaign rallies that ignore social distancing and face masks — the nation’s most formidable weapons in fighting the virus. To Trump, those public health measures are a nuisance because they remind people that the pandemic is still ravaging the country. To the coronavirus, Trump’s rallies are gifts that keeps on giving.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

June 13-20: In the days preceding Trump’s first pandemic-era rally, COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in Oklahoma, especially Tulsa, are soaring. In fact, six White House staffers in the state for rally preparations (including two secret service agents) test positive for the virus.

June 20: Shortly before Trump’s rally begins, Trump staffers concerned about his desire for good campaign crowd optics remove social distancing stickers that the venue’s management had placed on every other seat to keep them open. More than 6,000 people attend the indoor event. Defying guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, most are not wearing masks or social distancing, despite ample space for the latter. Among the attendees is Trump surrogate Herman Cain, 74, who co-chairs Black Voices for Trump. Cain is not wearing a mask.

Aftermath: New COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Tulsa soar, which the Tulsa Health Department attributes to Trump’s rally. On July 2, Herman Cain is hospitalized with COVID-19. Less than a month later, he dies from the infection.

Phoenix, Arizona

June 23: As Arizona becomes a COVID-19 hotspot, Trump holds an indoor rally at a megachurch.

Number of attendees: 3,000. No social distancing. Few masks.

Aftermath: Hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 rise, peaking in mid-July, consistent with a rally-induced surge.

Freeland, Michigan

Sept. 10: After a three-month pause, Trump resumes campaign rallies in Michigan, which requires face masks in “crowded outdoor spaces” and whose governor urges social distancing. During his appearance, Trump calls on the governor to “open up” the state.

Number of attendees: Between 5,000 and 10,000. No social distancing. Few masks.

Aftermath: On September  24, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reports the first known COVID-19 case involving someone who attended Trump’s rally. The department’s spokesperson cautions that more cases could come: “Outbreaks are not necessarily determined within 14 days of when exposure occurred. It takes time for people to be tested and for local health department to complete case investigations.”

Shoes Waiting to Drop

As in Freeland, Michigan, public health officials in the following cities await the aftermath of recent Trump rallies where he failed to honor CDC, state and local guidelines aimed at limiting the spread of the virus.

Minden, Nevada

Sept. 12: Trump supporters pack the Minden-Tahoe airport tarmac for Trump’s rally, which violates the state’s months-long ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.

Number of attendees: More than 5,000. No social distancing. Few masks.

Henderson, Nevada

Sept. 13: Trump holds an indoor rally. Asked whether he is concerned about the health risks, Trump says, “I’m on a stage and it’s very far away. And so I’m not at all concerned.”

Number of attendees: Several thousand. No social distancing. Only those standing behind Trump are required to wear masks because their faces would appear on television as he spoke.

Phoenix, Arizona

Sept. 14: Defying a Maricopa County order requiring face masks, Trump holds an indoor rally.

Number of attendees: Several hundred. No social distancing. Few masks.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sept. 15: At a nationally televised town hall, an audience member confronts Trump on his disregard for the public’s health, saying, “The wearing of masks has proven to lessen the spread of Covid. Why don’t you support a national mask-wearing mandate? Why don’t you wear a mask more often?”

In response, Trump lies: “Well, I do wear them when I have to and when I’m in hospitals and other locations.” Then he says, “A lot of people don’t want to wear masks.” Pressed to name them, he responds, “Waiters.”

The next day, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield calls masks a more potent weapon against the virus than a vaccine. Trump immediately attacks him: “As far as the mask is concerned, he made a mistake.” 

Mosinee, Wisconsin

Sept. 17: In Marathon County, which is experiencing a record outbreak of COVID-19 cases, Trump holds a rally that violates the state’s social distancing and face mask guidance.

Number of attendees: 5,000. No social distancing. Few masks. 

Bemidji, Minnesota 

Sept. 18: COVID-19 cases are spiking and hospitalizations are trending upward. Nevertheless, Trump defies Minnesota’s 250-person limit for large gatherings in the state.

Number of attendees: Several thousand. No social distancing. Few masks.

Fayetteville, North Carolina

Sept. 19: With new COVID-19 infections averaging more than 1,000 per day and a statewide face mask requirement in effect, Trump holds a rally

Number of attendees: Several thousand. No social distancing. Few masks.

Swanton, Ohio

Sept. 21: As COVID-19 infections in Ohio remain stubbornly high and an outdoor face mask requirement remains in effect whenever six-foot social distancing is not possible, Trump holds a rally outside Toledo.

Number of attendees: Several thousand. No social distancing. Few masks.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Sept. 22: Violating state face mask requirements and restrictions on gatherings of more than 250 people, Trump holds a rally where he mocks former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing a face mask.

Number of attendees: Several thousand. No social distancing. Few masks.

Jacksonville, Florida 

Sept. 24: As Trump holds a rally there, Florida is averaging more than 2,500 new COVID-19 infections per day.

Number of attendees: Several thousand. No social distancing. Few masks.

Newport News, Virginia

Sept. 25: Hours before Trump’s rally, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and his wife test positive for COVID-19. Defying the governor’s executive order that bans gatherings of more than 250 people and the Virginia Department of Public Health’s admonition that the planned rally “poses a concerning health risk,” Trump presses ahead.

Number of attendees: More than 3,000. No social distancing. About half of the crowd wears masks.

Middletown, Pennsylvania

Sept. 26: Number of attendees:  Several thousand. No social distancing. Few masks.

It’s a Crime

  • Murder: The unlawful killing of another human being. Under the Model Penal Code, murder includes intentional killing, as well as conduct exhibiting extreme recklessness.
  • Manslaughter: The act of killing another human being in a way that is less culpable than murder. Manslaughter includes reckless homicide.
  • Reckless: Behavior that is so careless that it is considered an extreme departure from the care a reasonable person would exercise in similar circumstances.

Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump killed any particular individual may be difficult. But his conduct is akin to a person who fires a gun into a crowded room. That’s a crime.

The CDC urges social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. Throughout the world, face masks are saving lives. Trump still flouts both longstanding public health measures, even in states and localities that require them.

By January 1, total coronavirus fatalities in the US are projected to reach 371,000. Widespread use of face masks could save almost 100,000 of them. Social distancing could save even more. Trump could prevent thousands of American deaths, and he could begin by stopping his super-spreader rallies.

But he won’t.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

COVID on Campus and Coming to a Community Near You

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Sept. 15, 2020.

COVID-19 has infected more than 88,000 students, faculty and staff at colleges and universities in all 50 states. Since late August alone, more than 61,000 cases have been reported. And the fall semester has only begun.

Trump Lied, People Died

Beginning on January 22, 2020, and continuing to this day, Trump has downplayed the COVID-19 threat for personal political gain. Along with everyone else, campuses and their communities across the country are suffering the consequences.

  • What Trump knew on Feb. 7: In a taped conversation with journalist Bob Woodward, Trump says, “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.” (Emphasis supplied)
  • What Trump said on Mar. 9: Trump tweets that COVID-19 is no worse than the common flu. He repeats the false claim often.
  • What Trump knew on Mar. 19: In another taped conversation with Woodward, Trump says, “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic…Now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob. But just today, and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It’s not just old, older… young people, too, plenty of young people.” (Emphasis supplied)
  • What Trump said on June 23: Trump complains that COVID-19 testing is “showing young people that don’t have a problem.”
  • And said again on July 30: Trump says that young people are “almost immune” to the virus.

Alabama, College Football, and COVID-19

The University of Alabama is a case study in the challenges now facing schools, their communities and the country because Trump lied.

July 7: At the White House, Trump assembles a group to push the reopening of classrooms for in-person instruction this fall. The attendees include the chancellor of the University of Alabama System, Finis St. John IV. As St. John speaks, statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alabama are spiking to more than 1,000 — a new record. Nevertheless, he says, the university’s board of trustees has committed to reopening, adding, “We are planning to play the [football] season.” 

July 12: Alabama’s seven-day average for COVID-19 hospitalizations has risen to 1,160 and its seven-day average of new infections is 1,524. Meanwhile, CDC data for the entire country indicate that hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients aged 18 to 29 are increasing at a greater rate than for patients over 65.

July 24: The CDC’s website summarizes a study involving COVID-19-positive patients who developed symptoms, but were never sick enough to be hospitalized: “35% had not returned to their usual state of health when interviewed 2–3 weeks after testing. Among persons aged 18–34 years with no chronic medical conditions, one in five had not returned to their usual state of health.”

“COVID-19 can result in prolonged illness, even among young adults without underlying chronic medical conditions,” the CDC says. “Effective public health messaging targeting these groups is warranted.…Nonhospitalized COVID-19 illness can result in prolonged illness and persistent symptoms, even in young adults and persons with no or few chronic underlying medical conditions.”

July 27: A study published in JAMA Cardiology finds that out of 100 adult patients in Germany who had recovered from COVID-19, 60 percent had ongoing myocarditis — inflammation of the heart muscle that can lead to cardiac arrest, especially with exertion.

Aug. 3: The mother of a freshman football player at Indiana University posts on Facebook about her son’s battle against COVID-19: “My son was negative when he got tested at the beginning of volunteer workouts. Within three weeks he and multiple others tested positive.…Here was a kid in perfect health, great physical condition and due to the virus ended up going to the ER because of breathing issues. After 14 days of hell battling the horrible virus…Now we are dealing with possible heart issues!”

Aug. 8: The Mid-American athletic conference becomes the first NCAA Division I football conference to cancel its fall football season. Among the concerns are unknown long-term health effects of COVID-19, including myocarditis, on student athletes.

Aug. 10: Myocarditis has been found in at least five Big Ten Conference athletes, in addition to several cases spread across other conferences.

Aug. 11: Leaders of the Big Ten and Pac-12 — two of the “Power Five” football conferences — review a study by the director of sports cardiology at Ohio State University. He evaluated 26 competitive athletes referred to the school’s sports medicine clinic after testing positive for COVID-19. Although none of the athletes required hospitalization and almost all of them experienced mild or no symptoms, 15 percent were stricken with myocarditis. Because of potential medical risks to student athletes, the Big 10 and the Pac-12 postpone their fall seasons.

Roll Tide

The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa enrolls 38,000 students. Its football program generates almost $100 million in annual revenue. The university’s estimated economic impact on the city of Tuscaloosa is $2 billion, of which approximately $200 million is attributed to football.

Aug. 16: On the weekend before classes begin, large crowds gather at bars on “the strip” in Tuscaloosa. State guidelines require facemasks, but few are wearing them. The school’s athletic director posts a photo, noting that irresponsible behavior is putting fall sports are at risk:

Aug. 19-24: During the first five days after classes resume, 562 students at the university test positive for COVID-19.

Aug. 24: Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox orders bars to shut down and restaurants to suspend bar service for two weeks. He says that the spike in campus infections could threaten both the city’s health-care system and the local economy. The university places a moratorium on in-person student events and restricts access to fraternity houses.

Aug 28 – Sept. 3: The university is suffering one of the nation’s largest campus outbreaks. It reports 846 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number since August 19 to 1,899.Isolation bed space is at 40 percent of capacity, including three dorms and part of a hotel.

Sept. 1: Trump makes a phone call to the commissioner of the Big Ten, urging reversal of the conference’s earlier decision to postpone fall athletics.

Communities at Risk and Students with Nowhere to Go

Sept. 2: The university issues a press release titled “Leading medical experts caution universities that are considering closing.” An infectious disease expert and associate dean of Global Health in the UAB School of Medicine says, “There is a strong feeling among public health and infectious disease experts that it is safer to keep students on a college campus where there is COVID-19 spread rather than closing campus and sending students home en masse.”

Dr. Ricky Friend, dean of the University of Alabama College of Community Health Science,says, “From an epidemiologic standpoint, the 18- to 25-year old group is not going to suffer much disease burden. But they will spread the virus…”

Also on Sept. 2: On NBC’s Today show, Dr. Anthony Fauci discusses the problem of COVID-19 outbreaks on campuses: “When you send them home, particularly when you’re dealing with a university where people come from multiple different locations, you could be seeding the different places with infection.”

Sept. 4: Mayor Maddox allows Tuscaloosa bars to reopen at 50 percent capacity (up to 100 people) and allows restaurants to serve alcohol to seated customers.

Sept. 9: Harvard researchers review 3,222 COVID-19 cases of young adults (age 18-34) hospitalized nationwide between April 1 and June 30. Among that group, 88 died — about 2.7 percent, 21 percent required intensive care, and 10 percent needed a ventilator for breathing.

Sept. 10: Trump publicly urges colleges and universities to “stay open” and hopes that the Big Ten will reverse its earlier decision and play football.

Sept. 11: The University of Alabama reports that from September 4 to 10 (including Labor Day weekend) there were 294 new COVID-19 cases at its Tuscaloosa campus, a decline from the prior week. But Tuscaloosa County overall is experiencing a dangerous number of new daily cases based on criteria set by a “multidisciplinary team of technologists, epidemiologists, health experts, and public policy leaders.”

Sept. 16: The Big Ten announces that its football season will resume on the weekend of October 23-24.

Aboard the “Flying Dutchman”

Some schools with outbreaks have moved entirely to on-line instruction and sent their students home, creating new danger to others. At the University of Alabama, students can return home “if they are able to safely isolate and if they don’t have vulnerable family members at home,” according to Dr. Friend. Others schools are confining students to their rooms.

Those with no place to go now have time to read about the Flying Dutchman. According to legend, crew members of the ghost ship committed such a dreadful crime that they were stricken with a plague. Unable to find a port that would take them in, their eternal punishment was to sail the seas forever.

The students’ crime was believing the President of the United States, who is still lying to them.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

 

Dr. Hahn’s Betrayal: The FDA in Crisis

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Sept. 9, 2020.

The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for assuring the safety and efficacy of any new medical treatment. But Donald Trump and FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn have destroyed the agency’s credibility. In fact, drug manufacturers are now reassuring the public that they won’t even submit any COVID-19 vaccine for FDA approval unless they believe it is safe and effective.

That’s upside down.

For Dr. Hahn, a Washington outsider who worked his way up the ranks of academic medicine, the slide down has been swift.

#1: Dr. Hahn’s Hydroxychloroquine Debacle

Mar. 19, 2020: Trump tells the public that the FDA has approved hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat COVID-19 when, in fact, it has not.

Mar. 21: Trump tweets that the FDA should “MOVE FAST” to put hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin “in use IMMEDIATELY. PEOPLE ARE DYING.”

Mar. 25: The Mayo Clinic warns physicians that some patients taking hydroxychloroquine as an experimental COVID-19 treatment are at increased risk for sudden cardiac death.

Mar. 28: Despite growing concerns from physicians about the drugs’ safety and efficacy, the FDA authorizes their emergency use on a limited basis for COVID-19 patients.

Mar. 30: Appearing on Fox & Friends, Trump boasts that he pressured Dr. Hahn into approving the treatment: “[H]ydroxychloroquine is something that I have been pushing very hard. I got the very early approval from the FDA. It was going to take a long time, and Dr. Stephen Hahn, the head of the FDA, gave us an early approval, a very quick approval, a 24-hour approval.…And I got it done, because I said: ‘Look, some of these people are very sick and they’re not going to make it. Let’s do it. Let’s get it done.”

Apr. 24: The FDA cautions against using hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine due to potential heart problems, stating that the drugs “have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19.” (Emphasis supplied)

June 15: The FDA revokes the emergency use authorization for the drugs, stating that they are unlikely to be effective in treating COVID-19 and have potentially fatal side effects.

#2:  Dr. Hahn’s Reluctance to Expose Trump’s Lies

July 4: Trump makes the dangerously false claim that 99 percent of COVID-19 cases in the US are harmless.

July 5: Appearing on CNN, Dr. Hahn is asked about Trump’s bogus “99 percent harmless” claim. “I’m not gonna get into who’s right and who’s wrong,” he says.

#3: Dr. Hahn’s Convalescent Plasma Disaster 

July 30: Trump urges patients who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate blood for use in a Mayo Clinic study of convalescent plasma as a potential treatment for the virus. “It’s had tremendous response so far,” Trump says.

Aug. 12: Prior to peer-review of their plasma study, Mayo Clinic researchers post the results online. They suggest only potentially slight improvement in some patient outcomes — about five out of every 100, or five percent — and include critical caveats:

  • Many patients in the study were on other therapeutics, including steroids (50 percent) and remdesivir (30 percent), making it impossible to know which treatments were effective.
  • Patients received plasma containing different levels of COVID-19 antibodies at different times, so treatment protocols varied widely.
  • The study did not compare treated patients with untreated patients, so the net impact of plasma was still uncertain.

Even so, the White House presses the FDA for emergency approval, which remains on hold because Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), argue that the data are too weak to support treatment for COVID-19.

Aug. 19: Asked about reports that the FDA was on the brink of approving convalescent plasma until the NIH said the evidence was sufficient, Trump says that he is surprised:

“Well, I hear great things about it…And it could be a political decision, because you have a lot of people over there that don’t want to rush things because they want to — they want to do it after November 3rd…But I’ve heard fantastic things about convalescent plasma. And I’ve heard numbers way over 50 percent success. And people are dying, and we should have it approved if it’s good. And I’m hearing it’s good. I heard from people at the FDA that it’s good…I’m going to check that right after this conference.”

Aug. 23: Announcing the FDA’s emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma and referring specifically to the Mayo Clinic study, Trump says, “[I]t has proven to reduce mortality by 35 percent. It’s a tremendous number.”

Trump’s claim is false. The mortality reduction was five percent, not 35 percent. Nevertheless, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar repeats it: “I just want to emphasize this point because I don’t want you to gloss over this — this number. We dream, in drug development, of something like a 35 percent mortality reduction. This is a major advance in the treatment of patients. This is a major advance.”

Then Dr. Hahn joins the chorus: “What that means is — and if the data continue to pan out — 100 people who are sick with COVID-19, 35 would have been saved because of the administration of plasma.…if you’re one of those 35 out of 100 people who these data suggest or show survive as a result of it, this is pretty significant for that person and their family.”

The FDA promotes the lie on Twitter.

Aug. 23: Dr. Hahn receives withering criticism from the medical community for misleading the public about the Mayo Clinic’s findings. Trump’s false claim perplexes even the scientists who worked on the study.

Aug. 24: In an obscure tweet, Dr. Hahn tries to walk back the 35 percent claim: “I have been criticized for remarks I made Sunday night about the benefits of convalescent plasma. The criticism is entirely justified. What I should have said better is that the data show a relative risk reduction not an absolute risk reduction.”

Aug. 25: “I can assure the American people that this decision [to approve convalescent plasma for COVID-19] was made based upon sound science and data,” Dr. Hahn says.

Sept. 1: Based on the Mayo Clinic study, the NIH finds, “There are insufficient data to recommend either for or against the use of convalescent plasma for the treatment of COVID-19.…[It] should not be considered standard of care for the treatment of patients with COVID-19.”

Sept. 4: Undaunted by the NIH’s conclusion, Trump insists, “The convalescent plasma has had a tremendous impact already.”

And Now Comes a Potential Vaccine

Any new vaccine that doesn’t work and/or generates harmful side effects can undermine public confidence in all vaccines. That’s why the FDA approval requires a series of phased evaluations culminating in a Phase 3 clinical trial that enrolls thousands of individuals. Some are treated, others get a placebo, and all are monitored during a process that typically requires years. Ending a trial early is possible where the preliminary outcomes are overwhelmingly positive, but it can leave insufficient time to reveal all adverse effects that may not become apparent until millions have already received the vaccine.

July 27: Pfizer and Moderna begin Phase 2/3 trials of their potential COVID-19 vaccines. Each trial seeks up to 30,000 volunteers who will get two shots spaced 21 or 28 days apart.

July 30: Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows tells House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that the FDA would probably give emergency approval to a COVID-19 vaccine before the end of Phase 3 trials in the US, perhaps as early as late September, according to later reporting by The New York Times. Senior administration officials claim that Meadows was misunderstood or being misrepresented.   

Aug. 6: Trump asserts that it’s possible to have a vaccine before Election Day.

Aug. 22: In a tweet tagging Dr. Hahn, Trump attacks: “The deep state, or whoever, over at the FDA is making it very difficult for drug companies to get people in order to test the vaccines and therapeutics. Obviously, they are hoping to delay the answer until after November 3rd. Must focus on speed, and saving lives! @SteveFDA.”

Aug. 26: Moderna reports that it has enrolled 15,239 volunteers for its trial. Pfizer has also crossed the 50 percent enrollment threshold only recently.

Also on Aug. 26: The Infectious Disease Society of America warns Dr. Hahn that approving a vaccine before completing Phase 3 trials “could significantly undermine COVID-19 vaccination efforts and seriously erode confidence in all vaccines in the current atmosphere of vaccine hesitancy.” (Emphasis in original)

Aug. 30: Dr. Hahn tells the Financial Times that the FDA could consider emergency use authorization or approval for a COVID-19 vaccine before Phase 3 trials are completed.

Sept. 3: At a campaign rally in Pennsylvania, Trump says that a vaccine “will be delivered before the end of the year, in my opinion, before the end of the year, but it really might even be delivered before the end of October.”

Sept. 4: Trump says that he has spoken to the head of Pfizer and “it expects to have the results of its trial very, very shortly — next month — but very shortly. We remain on track to deliver a vaccine before the end of the year and maybe even before November 1st. We think we can probably have it sometime during the month of October.” Trump says that Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have potential vaccines that are all “doing very well. They’re all in final stages, and I think you’re going to see results that are shockingly good.” 

Also on Sept. 4: Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are preparing an unusual joint public statement pledging not even to seek FDA approval of any COVID-19 vaccine until it is proven to be safe and effective.

Sept. 8: Along with six other drug manufacturers, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson issue a joint pledge that they would “stand with science” and not seek approval of a vaccine until it had been thoroughly vetted for safety and efficacy. They do not rule out seeking emergency authorization, but promise that any potential COVID-19 vaccine would be based on “large, high quality clinical trials.”

Dr. Hahn’s Short Leash

The next step is October 22, when NIH’s Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) reviews the “development, authorization and/or licensure” of a coronavirus vaccine. Board members are not government employees. Typically, they are experts in vaccine science and biostatistics who teach at major medical schools. So Dr. Fauci says that he’s “not concerned about political pressure” in the process.

But he should be. DSMB guidance isn’t binding on Dr. Hahn or his boss, HHS Secretary Azar. Neither of them has committed to follow it.

And Trump’s heavy hand is everywhere. Dr. Hahn is not allowed to speak to the press unless Azar’s deputy, Michael Caputo, is on the line. Caputo has no background in health care, but he has known Trump since the 1980s, when he worked briefly for a lobbying and political consulting firm started by Paul Manafort, Charlie Black and Roger Stone — whom Caputo considered a mentor. During Trump’s impeachment, Caputo wrote a book and produced a documentary, both titled The Ukraine Hoax. As Trump began to distrust Azar, Caputo became HHS’s principal spokesperson on April 15.

Acknowledging the pressure to move quickly, Dr. Hahn was asked on September 1 whether he would resign if pushed to approve a vaccine based on politics rather than science.

“I think all options are on the table,” he said. “I hope we won’t be in that position.”

When Dr. Hahn has been in a similar position, he’s caved. Repeatedly. So now he has the biggest problem of his professional life. Even if medical science supports accelerated approval of a COVID-19 vaccine, many Americans still won’t trust the decision because he made it. That means they won’t get the vaccine.

Trump doesn’t care, but Dr. Hahn should.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

America Needs a CDC Whistleblower — Now

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Sept. 1, 2020.

As the Republican National Convention wrapped up its opening day and the pandemic continued to ravage the nation, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control quietly revised its website to call for less COVID-19 testing.

No press release.

No media briefing.

And no underlying scientific basis for the change.

That’s because the science of controlling the pandemic points in the opposite direction. Until August 24, so did the CDC. For Americans’ public health, the revision is a giant leap backward. An enraged medical community demands answers, and the country needs to know how it happened.

Why Does it Matter to Public Health?

A COVID-19 test reveals whether an individual is infected. That’s particularly important for those who have been exposed to the virus but don’t have symptoms. They could be pre-symptomatic and highly contagious. The CDC estimates that 50 percent of COVID-19’s spread occurs prior to the onset of symptoms for those who develop them. Or they could be among the estimated 40 percent of infected individuals who never develop any symptoms but nevertheless can infect others who get sick and even die.

A test is the only way to identify those pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic people, isolate them and trace their contacts with others. And that’s the only way to stop a pandemic.

Why Does it Matter to Trump?

As more testing increased the reported number of COVID-19 cases in the US, Trump didn’t like it. He said it made him look bad compared to other world leaders, almost all of whom did a better job controlling the pandemic and saving their citizens’ lives.

June 20-22: At his rally in Tulsa, Trump said, “[W]hen you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people; you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, slow the testing down please.” Immediately, critics flagged his remarks as absurd and medically and dangerous for any COVID-19 containment strategy. But when his advisers claimed that he was kidding, Trump responded, “I don’t kid, let me just tell you, let me make it clear.”

What Happened?

Week of July 3: The CDC updated its guidance to urge that anyone in recent contact with an infected person should get tested for COVID-19, specifically including those without symptoms. It emphasized “the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission” as an important factor in spreading the virus.

“Anyone who thinks they may be infected — independent of symptoms — should get a test,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told ABC News.

Aug. 3:  Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist with no expertise in infectious diseases or epidemiology, appeared on Fox News. He said that “people are kidding themselves” about the value of testing individuals who don’t have symptoms. For weeks, Dr. Atlas had been informally advising the White House after Trump saw him on Fox echoing Trump’s views on the need to reopen schools and railing against the “frenzy” of mass testing.

Aug. 10: Trump introduced Dr. Atlas as the newest member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. 

Aug. 24: The CDC quietly revised its online guidance to reduce COVID-19 testing. Where previously it had recommended testing for individuals with recent exposure to COVID-19 — even if they had no symptoms — the guidance now said the opposite:

“If you have been in close contact (within 6 feet) of a person with a COVID-19 infection for at least 15 minutes but do not have symptoms, you do not necessarily need a test unless you are a vulnerable individual or your health care provider or State or local public health officials recommend you take one.”

Who Did It?

Aug. 26: “The people in the trenches are horrified by this,” according to a person who works with the White House Task Force. “It gives the impression that asymptomatic people cannot transmit the disease, which is not true. Community spread is driven by asymptomatic people.”

  • People at the top levels of the Trump administration pushed for the change, according toa health official close to the process: “It’s coming from the top down.”
  • The New York Times reported that “the shift came as a directive to the Atlanta-based CDC from higher-ups in Washington at the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services.”

Later on Aug. 26: Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS) Dr. Brett Giroir, the Trump administration’s COVID-19 “testing czar,” tried to explain the CDC’s abrupt reversal.

“There is no direction from President Trump, the vice president or the secretary [of HHS], about what we need to do, when,” Dr. Giroir began defensively. Then he named the medical experts who “discussed extensively” the new guidance that received final approval at an August 20 White House Task Force meeting: Dr. Atlas, Dr. Redfield, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert. Notably omitted from Dr. Giroir’s list was the White House coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx.

Let’s call the roll:

  • Dr. Atlas’ hostility toward widespread testing was a matter of public record.
  • Dr. Redfield was muzzled. The CDC directed all questions about the change to HHS, which set off alarm bells, suggesting that HHS, not the CDC, initiated and ordered the change. But on July 23, Dr. Redfield had already compromised his personal reputation and his agency’s credibility: The CDC put its imprimatur on a public relations piece that HHS had written to help Trump push schools to reopen, even if they had not satisfied previously recommended CDC guidance.
  • Dr. Hahn didn’t speak publicly about the change. Neither did Dr. Birx.
  • Dr. Fauci didn’t even attend the August 20 meeting. When CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta asked him about it, he said, “I was under general anesthesia in the operating room and was not part of any discussion or deliberation regarding the new testing recommendations….I am concerned about the interpretation of these recommendations and worried it will give people the incorrect assumption that asymptomatic spread is not of great concern. In fact, it is.”

Also on Aug. 26: Across the country, doctors and epidemiologists blasted the CDC’s reversal:

  • The American Medical Association called the CDC change a “recipe for community spread.”
  • The Association of American Medical Colleges warned that the new guidelines were “irresponsible” and “will result in less testing at exactly the time when we need moretesting in order to control the pandemic.…These CDC guidelines go against the best interests of the American people and are a step backward in fighting the pandemic.” (Emphasis in original)
  • The Infectious Diseases Society of America called for the “immediate reversal of the abrupt revision.”

Aug. 26 at 10:00 pm: Amid growing criticism, the CDC released a statement under Dr. Redfield’s name purporting to “clarify” the new guidance. It added more confusion:

  • “Everyone who needs a COVID-19 test, can get a test. Everyone who wants a test does not necessarily need a test; the key is to engage the needed public health community in the decision with the appropriate follow-up action.” (Emphasis in original)

The statement also noted that the new guidelines were “coordinated in conjunction with the White House Coronavirus Task Force,” asserting that they “received appropriate attention, consultation and input from task force experts.” Importantly, the CDC website didn’t change a single word of its new guidance: A person exposed to someone with COVID-19 still did “not necessarily need a test.”

Aug. 27-28: Physician groups and public health organizations across the country continued to denounce the new guidance:

  • The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America “vehemently” disagreed with the new guidelines and urged the CDC to rescind them.
  • The American Public Health Association was “deeply concerned” with the “dramatic shift from previous federal guidelines” and worried that “this change was the result of political pressure.”
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics urged the CDC to reverse its “inexplicable decision” because it was a “dangerous step backward in our efforts to control this deadly virus.”

The National Association of County and City Health Officials and the Big Cities Health Coalition, representing the nation’s nearly 3,000 local health departments and 30 of the country’s largest, most urban departments, respectively, wrote directly to Drs. Redfield and Giroir. They were “incredibly concerned with both the impact and the process of the guidance change” and urged reversal because it is “inconsistent with the science and the data.” And they dispelled the Trump administration’s claim that the new guidance somehow empowered local public health officials:

  • “While it has been touted that this is to empower these leaders, in many ways, CDC’s guidance change will make their ability to respond to the pandemic even harder. Our members have stressed the vital importance of testing all close contacts and to do so with clear and consistent messaging. Without clear data backing up the rationale behind the revision, this change has put them in a position to say they will not be following the CDC guidelines.”

Who Will Tell Americans the Truth?

Trump wanted fewer tests. Now he’ll get fewer tests. The new guidance gives cover to colleges, schools and workplaces that don’t want to test, contact trace, or close when they get outbreaks. It creates confusion for medical and public health professionals and adds new doubts about insurance coverage for COVID-19 testing.

But superficially, and for a short time, any decline in newly confirmed infections could fuel the false hope that the pandemic is receding. Trump can use such illusory progress as another deceptive COVID-19 talking point, just as early voters begin to cast ballots in September.

Reducing the number of tests won’t reduce the number of COVID-19 illnesses, hospitalizations or body bags. It will do the opposite, just as insufficient testing in the US caused irreparable damage at the outset of the pandemic. Trump’s early denials of COVID-19’s seriousness, combined with his failure to implement a nationwide testing program, started America down the road to its current catastrophe: The US has only four percent of the world’s population but more than 20 percent of the world’s COVID-19 deaths.

According to the latest projection that the White House has often cited, by December 1, the country will have a total of 317,000 COVID-19 fatalities and the virus will become the leading cause of death in the United States.

The CDC’s new guidance repeats Trump’s earlier “see no evil” tragedy. Once again, individuals who are unaware of their infections will unwittingly infect others. Many more will get sick and some will die as the pandemic rages uncontrollably — but more surreptitiously — throughout the land.

Eventually, the truth behind the CDC’s reversal will come out. But given the staggering public health implications, sooner would be far better than later because the health of millions hangs in the balance. To rephrase Trump’s plea four years ago:

“Potential CDC whistleblowers, if you’re listening…”

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

PANDEMIC TIMELINE: 10 Things to Know About Trump’s Post Office Scandal

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Aug. 19, 2020.

Don’t be fooled by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s tactical retreat. The crisis isn’t over. Ten facts frame the story of how Trump is using the pandemic and the Postal Service to undermine the integrity of the presidential election.

#1: The Postal Service Isn’t a Business

The US Constitution empowered Congress “to establish post offices and post roads.” The Postal Service’s stated mission is to “serve the American people and, through the universal service obligation, bind our nation together” by providing “trusted, safe and secure communications and services between our Government and the American people, businesses and their customers, and the American people with each other.”

The Postal Service is meant to be self-sustaining, but congressionally imposed rules make that difficult. Those rules include delivering mail daily, keeping postage rates the same for all parts of the country, and pre-funding retiree health benefits. Trump complains that the Service “loses billions.” So does every other federal agency. Investments in US battleships and fighter jets have yet to show a financial profit.

#2: The Postal Service is the Most Respected Government Agency

On April 9, 2020, the Postal Service’s public approval rating was 91 percent — higher than any other federal agency. On Oct. 1, 2019, its rating was 90 percent.

#3: Interfering with the Mail is a Federal Crime

“Whoever knowingly and willfully obstructs or retards the passage of the mail, or any carrier or conveyance carrying the mail, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.” 18 U.S. Code Sec. 1701

Interfering with an election is also crime under federal and state laws.

#4: Trump Replaced the Entire Leadership of the Postal Service

The historically non-partisan US Postal Service Board of Governors now consists entirely of Trump appointees. The chairman of the board is Robert Duncan whose official biography on the Postal Service’s website boasts that from 2007 to 2009, he chaired the Republican National Committee where he “raised an unprecedented $428 million and grew the donor base to 1.8 million – more donors than at any time in RNC history.”

On May 6, 2020, the Board of Governors named Louis DeJoy postmaster general. He has contributed more than $1.2 million to the Trump Victory Fund and millions more to Republican Party organizations and candidates. Most recently, he chaired the finance committee for the 2020 Republican National Convention. DeJoy still holds a multi-million dollar investment in a Postal Service contractor, as well as options to buy stock in Amazon, which is both a competitor and a customer.

#5: Most Trump Voters Plan to Vote in Person, But Most Biden Voters Plan to Vote by Mail

On June 11, a Politico/Morning Consult poll revealed that only 28 percent of Democrats said that they would cast in-person ballots in November, compared to 63 percent of Republicans. At the same time, Florida Democrats already had a 300,000-person mail-in ballot registration advantage over Republicans. By August 18, the Democrats’ mail-in ballot advantage was more than 660,000 voters.

In 2016, Trump won Florida by 113,000 votes.

#6: DeJoy Interfered with the US Mail

On June 17, two days after DeJoy began work as postmaster general, the Postal Service notified the American Postal Workers Union of plans to remove 671 automated mail sorters (more than 10 percent of the total) from operation throughout the country “over the next several months.” Some machines have the capacity to sort up to 30,000 mail items — including letters and ballots — with only two postal workers running them, according machine technicians. It would take about 30 employees over their entire shifts to do the same work by hand. The map below shows the locations of the targeted machines. Note especially the swing states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and the newest swing state — Texas:

On July 13, DeJoy announced major operational changes leading to slower and less reliable mail delivery. The changes included prohibiting overtime and curtailing other measures that local postmasters have used to ameliorate staffing shortages.

In late July, the Postal Service sent letters to election officials in 46 states and the District of Columbia warning that, under the Service’s delivery standards, their deadlines relating to mail-in voting may result in ballots not being returned in time to be counted.

On August 7, DeJoy released a memo reorganizing the Postal Service, reassigning or displacing 23 executives, implementing a hiring freeze, and seeking early retirements. Analysts said that the structure centralized power around DeJoy and de-emphasizes decades of institutional postal knowledge.

On August 13, social media buzzed with photographs of government workers removing mail collection boxes throughout the country. On the same day, DeJoy issued an internal memo to his staff, acknowledging that his operational changes had produced “unintended consequences that impacted our overall service levels.”

#7: Trump Lied

Before Trump was caught lying about it, on August 4 and August 9 he said that he hadn’t spoken with DeJoy about the Post Office.

#8: Trump Confessed

As many states’ expanded use of mail-in voting during the pandemic, Trump has repeatedly asserted that the Postal Service cannot handle the increased volume of mail-in ballots expected for the November election. On August 13, he confessed to withholding the funds it needed to do the job:

“They want $25 billion, billion, for the post office,” Trump said on Fox Business. “Now they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots… But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.

“Now, if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”

#9: DeJoy Bowed to Pressure, But Trump is Still Undermining Faith in the Democratic Process

On August 18, DeJoy was facing public outrage, growing bipartisan pressure, imminent litigation from at least 20 states, and appearances before Senate and House committees when he issued a statement suspending his operational changes until after the November election. He didn’t say what would happen to automated sorting machines that have already been dismantled and removed, mail collection boxes that have disappeared from city streets, or his reorganization at the highest levels of the agency. Later that day, several states filed lawsuits against Trump and DeJoy seeking to reverse all of DeJoy’s changes.

With DeJoy as his cornerman, Trump’s persistent one-two punches against mail-in voting and the Postal Serve are working. According to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 51 percent of voters do not believe that mail-in ballots will be counted accurately. Likewise, voters are evenly split — 45/45 — on whether the overall election results will be counted accurately. A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll revealed that 62 percent of Biden voters plan to cast mail-in ballots, compared to only 24 percent of Trump voters. Conversely, only 36 percent of Biden voters plan to vote in person, compared to 72 percent of Trump voters.

Trump’s tactics are part of a broader strategy aimed at creating post-election chaos if he loses.

”The RNC and Trump campaign advisers are now mapping out their post-election strategy… as they anticipate weeks-long legal fights in an array of states,” according to The Washington Post. “The campaign plans to have lawyers ready to mobilize in every state and expects legal battles could play out after Election Day….” Trump has already planted litigation seeds in Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, including challenges to states’ expanded use of ballot drop boxes to bypass mail delivery altogether.

#10: Trump’s Victims Go Beyond Democracy and the Right to Vote

In his myopic focus on winning re-election, Trump declared war on the US Postal Service, democracy and the right to vote. But he also declared war on a paralyzed woman in Philadelphia who has received mail only twice in the past three weeks and has been waiting for an oxygen tube that she ordered three weeks ago.

He declared war on veterans who receive approximately 80 percent of their outpatient prescriptions from the Department of Veterans Affairs in the mail, including a diabetic in rural Michigan who went without medication for three days as he waited nearly two weeks for its arrival. Every work day, more than 330,000 veterans receive a prescription package by mail.

He declared war on the owners of the Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus in Wisconsin, who worry that their cheese will go bad because deliveries formerly taking two to three days now take twice as long.

He declared war on millions of Americans who rely on the post office for prescription drugs, Social Security checks, government assistance payments, tax refunds, and even coronavirus stimulus checks that bear Trump’s name.

He declared war on all citizens who tremble at the thought of having to choose between preserving their health and exercising their right to vote.

As with his botched response to COVID-19, Trump declared war on all of us. His postmaster general may have issued a statement that gave Trump and his defenders a new talking point, but make no mistake: The war continues and it may last well beyond Election Day.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

Pandemic Timeline: The Pandemic, The Post Office, and Another Trump Attack on Democracy

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Aug. 12, 2020.

As the pandemic rages throughout the country, voting by mail has become a particularly appealing option. But a big turnout is Donald Trump’s electoral enemy, so his administration has launched an attack on the US Postal Service — making it a central player in the preservation of American democracy.

Trump Installs Loyalists and Threatens Funding

Aug 20, 2019: With the confirmation of Ron Bloom, four of the seven members of the US Postal Service Board of Governors are now Trump appointees. The chairman is Robert Duncan, whose official biography on the USPS website boasts that from 2007 to 2009, he was chairman of the Republican National Committee, where he “raised an unprecedented $428 million and grew the donor base to 1.8 million – more donors than at any time in RNC history.”

Oct. 16, 2019: Postmaster General Megan Brennan, one of the remaining non-Trump board members, retires effective Jan. 31, 2020. She later agrees to remain until a replacement is found.

March 2020: The Postal Service projects that to maintain nationwide delivery of essential mail and parcels, including prescriptions, food and household necessities, its operations will lose $2 billion per month through the coronavirus recession.

Also in March: Trump threatens to veto the first bipartisan coronavirus relief package because it includes a $13 billion grant to keep the Postal Service on firm financial footing. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warns legislators that the USPS provision will blow up the entire bill. Over his objections, the final legislation includes on a $10 billion loan, without which the USPS will become “financially illiquid” by Sept. 30, 2020. But the terms of that loan are subject to Mnuchin’s approval and, in subsequent negotiations with the Postal Service, he seeks terms that will pull the agency into the White House’s sphere of influence.

April 30: Less than a week before the Board of Governors announces the appointment of a highly partisan postmaster general, former inspector general of the Postal Service, David C. Williams, resigns as vice-chairman of the board.

May 6: The Board of Governors announces that Louis DeJoy will become the new postmaster general, starting June 15. According to Federal Election Commission records, DeJoy has contributed more than $1.2 million to the Trump Victory Fund and millions more to Republican Party organizations and candidates. He also chairs the finance committee for the 2020 Republican National Convention.

May 15: Deputy Postmaster General Ron Stroman, the last of the non-Trump appointees on the Board of Governors, resigns effective June 1. According to later reporting by The Washington Post, both Williams and Stroman have resigned over Mnuchin’s involvement with the Postal Service, including efforts to influence the appointment of the new postmaster general.

July 13: DeJoy announces major operational changes that will lead to slower and less reliable mail delivery.

July 29: The Treasury Department and the Postal Service agree to terms whereby the Postal Service will receive the $10 billion loan that Congress had appropriated four months earlier.

Trump and His Loyalists Intensify the Attack

Aug. 4: Asserting that Florida’s mail-in voting system works but that Nevada’s newly enacted law requiring all voters to receive mail-in ballots will be fraught with problems, Trump says, “Florida has got a great Republican governor…” Then he adds, “I mean, in Nevada, where you have a governor — he said, ‘Let’s just send out millions of ballots,’ and the Post Office cannot be prepared; I haven’t spoken to the Post Office about it, but I don’t know how they could possibly be prepared.” (Emphasis supplied)

Florida’s population exceeds 21 million — seven times that of Nevada.

Also on Aug. 4: The Trump campaign and the RNC sue to block Nevada’s new mail-in voting law.

Aug. 5: “Nevada is a big state,” Trump says. “It’s an important state. It’s a very political state, and the governor happens to be a Democrat. And I don’t believe the Post Office can be set up. They were given no notice. I mean, you’re talking about millions of votes. No, it’ll be a — it’s a catastrophe waiting to happen.” (Emphasis supplied)

Aug. 7: In prepared remarks before an open meeting of the Postal Service’s Board of Governors, DeJoy says, “I serve at the pleasure of the Governors of the Postal Service, a group that is bipartisan by statute and that will evaluate my performance in a nonpartisan fashion.”

Every member of the Board of Governors is now a Trump appointee.

Noting that the Postal Service “has ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on-time in accordance with our delivery standards,” DeJoy also warns that he “cannot correct the errors of the Election Boards if they fail to deploy processes that take our normal processing and delivery standards into account.” (Emphasis supplied)

Also on Aug. 7: Top Senate Democrats urge the Postal Service’s inspector general to investigate DeJoy’s operational changes that have “led to slower and less reliable delivery” throughout the country.

Also on Aug. 7: DeJoy releases a memo reorganizing the Postal Service, reassigning or displacing 23 executives, implementing a hiring freeze, and seeking early retirements. Analysts say the structure centralizes power around DeJoy and de-emphasizes decades of institutional postal knowledge, according to The Washington Post.

Coronavirus Relief Stalemate Explained

Amid growing concerns about the reliability of the Postal Service, some states are expanding the use of drop boxes to bypass mail delivery of completed ballots. Trump is attacking on that front too. In the battleground state of Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign has sued Pennsylvania’s secretary of state and all 67 counties’ boards of elections to bar their use in November.

Another sinister factor may lurk behind Trump’s assaults, even though Trump, his family members, and senior administration officials have cast mail-in ballots repeatedly over the years. On Aug. 7, 2020, the director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center warned that Russia is once again actively trying to help Trump win an American election. And although Russian intelligence officers have penetrated some states’ electronic voting infrastructures, they can’t hack a paper ballot.

So now you know all of the reasons why Democratic leaders in Congress have been demanding that the new coronavirus relief bill include ample funds for the Postal Service. You know why they’re asking the USPS inspector general to investigate DeJoy’s operational changes that “threaten the well-being of millions of Americans that rely on the Postal Service for delivery of Social Security checks, prescriptions, and everyday mail of all kinds’ and “appear to pose a potential threat to mail-in ballots and the 2020 general election.”

You know why Trump is resisting Congress’ funding demands for the Postal Service. And you know why DeJoy’s responses to congressional concerns about his recent actions have been “seriously lacking.”

Faced with dismal pre-election polls, Trump is aiming at the heart of democracy: the right to vote. For November, almost 80 percent of voters have a mail-in option. Impairing the delivery of those ballots is the ultimate voter suppression tactic.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

The Pandemic Timeline Twentieth Chapter! The Trump Virus

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Aug. 5, 2020.

The Trump Virus

Try as he might, Trump cannot rebrand the virus. He blames China, but COVID-19 in America will always be the Trump Virus. He has distinguished the country in ways that are remarkable:

  • Although the United States comprises only four percent of the world’s population, it has almost 25 percent of worldwide COVID-19 infections and deaths.
  • As a result, Canada, the European Union, and most of the rest of the world have banned US travelers.
  • While the virus rages out of control in the US, other countries have contained it — reopening businesses and schools, recovering economically, and using testing and contact tracing to deal with relatively small outbreaks as they occur.

This Pandemic Timeline series began in March with a simple question: “How Many Will Die from Donald Trump’s Lies?” The twentieth installment now weaves together the earlier strands to provide the answer: more every day. Trump is the reason.

The Trump Virus Playbook

Trump seeks to dictate every news cycle, dominate every confrontation and deflect responsibility for his every mistake. In doing so, he has undermined the advice of medical professionals and rejected science-based guidelines that leaders throughout the world have implemented successfully to control COVID-19.

After disbanding President Obama’s pandemic response team, Trump refused to follow its Playbook for Early Response to High-Consequence Emerging Infectious Disease Threats and Biological Incidents. Instead, he:

  • Lied that President Obama had left America’s pandemic cupboards “bare”
  • Lied about the seriousness of the pandemic and the resulting deaths
  • Falsely compared COVID-19 to the seasonal flu
  • Lied about the extent of US testing and tracing
  • Lied about the timing and significance of his so-called travel bans
  • Attacked and blamed the World Health Organization and China for his failings
  • Refused to wear a facemask and made them new weapons in his culture wars
  • Violated CDC social distancing guidance in favor of television optics
  • Subverted social distancing and facemasks at campaign rallies in Oklahoma and Arizona
  • Promoted a bogus and dangerous miracle cure
  • Suggested ingesting or injecting poison as a possible remedy for the virus
  • Pressured governors to reopen states prior to compliance with CDC guidelines
  • Threatened to withhold funds from schools that didn’t reopen classrooms in the fall
  • Attacked the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci
  • Destroyed the integrity and independence of the CDC itself

And Trump isn’t finished. Recently, he doubled down on his dangerous pitch for hydroxychloroquine, promoting a dubious doctor who agrees with his false claims that masks aren’t necessary and that hydroxychloroquine cures COVID-19. She also claims that modern medicine uses alien DNA for research and that women’s gynecological problems come from their sex dreams involving witches and demons.

At every opportunity, Trump and loyal accomplices led by White House Coronavirus Task Force Chairman Vice President Mike Pence told lies that helped the virus explode and, to this day, remain uncontrolled.

The Trump Virus Loyalty Test

Trump’s motive is clear: win re-election at any price. Because polls show him losing by wide margins, he desperately needs a recovering economy. That means people must feel safe enough to send their children to school and go back to work. But forcing states to reopen businesses and schools too soon invites an endless cycle: reopen-outbreak-close-reopen-outbreak-close again…and so on and so on and so on.

And Trump’s lies — that COVID-19 isn’t that bad, that bogus miracle cures work, that masks infringe on individual freedom, that social distancing isn’t necessary, that businesses and schools can reopen safely without adhering to CDC guidelines — are actually prolonging the epidemic and hurting his re-election prospects. Only 30 percent of Americans now trust Trump on COVID-19 and the vast majority are Republicans.

On June 20, Trump surrogate Herman Cain attended the infamous campaign rally in Tulsa where Trump’s staffers hadremoved signs previously placed on auditorium seats to create social distance among mostly unmasked audience members. Cain posted a photo on Twitter:

Less than two weeks later, he was hospitalized with COVID-19. He died on July 30.

Herman Cain was among the most enthusiastic members of Trump’s political base. But the virus is shrinking that base. In counties where deaths from the virus are increasing, voters are moving away from him. It turns out that disastrous pandemic policy is not only bad economic policy, but also bad politics.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his core supporters would still vote for him. Those supporters now face his ultimate loyalty test: Trump is shooting directly at them. Will they still vote for him?

Herman Cain passed Trump’s test, but along with more than 150,000 Americans who have succumbed to the Trump Virus, and thousands more to come, he won’t be voting in November.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

Dr. Redfield’s Retreat: Compromising the CDC

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on July 29, 2020.

The director of the CDC has capitulated. Under the guise of “guidance,” Dr. Robert Redfield recently released a full-throated promotion of Trump’s latest pandemic talking points urging all schools to reopen in the fall. If he had based his action on the evolving medical evidence relating to COVID-19, it would have been appropriate. He didn’t. Instead, Dr. Redfield surrendered the independence and credibility of the CDC at a time when the country most needs scientific voices it can trust.

Dr. Redfield Plants His Flag

Mar. 29, 2018: A week after his appointment as CDC director, Dr. Redfield gives an emotional agency-wide address describing the honor of leading the best “science-based, data-driven agency in the world.” It is “science-based and data-driven, and that’s why the CDC has the credibility around the world that it has.”

May 19, 2020: The CDC issues guidance for ways “schools can help protect students, teachers, administrators, and staff and slow the spread of COVID-19.” Steps include personal hygiene, the use of cloth face coverings, staying home when appropriate, staggered scheduling, back-up staffing plans, modified seating layouts to allow social distancing, physical barriers, and closing communal spaces.

June 8: The American Association of School Superintendents estimates that compliance with the CDC’s recommendations will cost each school district in the country $1.8 million that they have not budgeted — a cost so prohibitive that some districts are scrapping plans for in-person classes entirely in the fall.

June 9: The American Federation of Teachers estimates that reopening schools safely and with the proper academic and emotional support in place will cost an additional $1.2 million per school, bringing the total necessary federal assistance to least $116.5 billion.

June 23: In response to a request from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-LA), the Council of Chief State School Officers estimates that the cost to reopen schools safely will require $158 billion to $245 billion in federal assistance over the next two years. The House has passed a relief package that includes $100 billion for K-12 education, but the GOP-controlled Senate has no plans to consider the legislation. Among Republicans, only Sen. Alexander is making a major push for additional federal aid.

Dr. Redfield Moves His Flag Backward

July 7: Surrounded by supporters and members of his administration, including Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Trump announces that he wants all students returning to classrooms in the fall.

July 8: An internal 69-page CDC document details how schools can reopen safely. It cautions that “full sized, in-person classes, activities, and events” where “students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities” present the “highest risk” of increasing the spread of COVID-19. The document is not released publicly.

Also on July 8: Trump tweets disapproval of the CDC’s May 19 guidance: “I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools. While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!”

Also around July 8: After Trump’s critical comments, the Department of Health and Human Services convenes a working group to develop a statement pushing Trump’s agenda for reopening schools. CDC experts are “cut off from direct communication with the working group” after their input is interpreted as being “too cautious,” according to later reporting by The New York Times. The group still communicates directly with Dr. Redfield’s office, but “the CDC was by no means in charge.”

July 9: Dr. Redfield says that the CDC will issue “additional reference documents” to aid communities trying to reopen grades K through 12. But, he suggests, “it’s not a revision of the guidelines.”

July 12: Appearing on CNN, DeVos refuses to say whether schools should follow CDC guidelines in reopening. “The CDC guidelines are just that, meant to be flexible and meant to be applied as appropriate for the situation,” she says. “Kids need to be in school. They need to be learning, they need to be moving ahead.” Pressed repeatedly on whether schools should implement remote learning if there’s a flare-up of COVID-19 cases in their districts, DeVos says, “I think the go-to needs to be kids in school, in person, in the classroom.”

July 16: A South Korean study of more than 5,700 COVID-19 cases involving individuals who had contacts with 59,000 people concludes that children from ages 10 to 19 can spread COVID-19 at least as easily as adults.

Dr. Redfield Surrenders His Flag

 July 23: Trump cancels the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, saying, “The timing for this event is not right. It’s just not right with what’s happening lately — the flare-up in Florida — to have a big convention. It’s not the right time.”

Elaborating on his reasons, Trump later says, “Well, there’s nothing more crowded than a convention. A convention — I mean, you’ve seen them. And even though you try and keep people away from each other, it’s just not that kind of a thing. They probably can’t do that. It just doesn’t work for them. So it’s a very hard — so I think we’re setting an example…”

But during the briefing, Trump also proclaims that “every district should be actively making plans to open” their schools in the fall and threatens to withhold federal money from those that don’t, saying, “If schools do not reopen, the funding should go to parents to send their child to public, private, charter, religious, or homeschool of their choice.”

According to later reporting by The New York Times, “[O]ne White House official raised the question of sending inconsistent messages, asking how the president could continue pushing for schools to reopen if he was backing down from holding his own convention. Other aides, however, said opening schools was essential, and a mass gathering of Trump supporters — the majority of whom would be over 50 — was not…”

Nearly one-third of the nation’s apparently expendable public school teachers are over 50.

That same evening (July 23): The CDC publishes new “guidance” that includes an opening statement written by the Department of Health and Human Services’ “working group” titled “The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools This Fall.” It repeatedly describes children as being at low risk for COVID-19 infection or transmission, ignoring the contrary conclusions of the South Korean study published on July 16.

The director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, Dr. Ashish Jha, describes the new guidance as thin on what parents and teachers need most — “clear information on the risks to children of all ages, as well [as] to school staff.” Noting that it doesn’t mention a testing strategy and dismisses the importance of screening children for symptoms, Dr. Jha sees little “in the way of a strategy to prevent infections. I think that’s hugely problematic.” More succinctly, the deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security calls the CDC’s new statement a “sales job.”

The new guidance recommends that even in communities with “substantial, uncontrolled transmission, schools should work closely with local health officials to make decisions on whether to maintain school operations.” But, Dr. Jha notes, the CDC separately recommends that residents of such communities “shelter in place.” “It’s nonsensical that you would ask a community to shelter in place but keep schools open,” he tells the Times.

Dr. Redfield Surrenders the CDC

By acceding to Trump’s demands that put the entire nation at risk, Dr. Redfield has now damaged not only his professional reputation, but also the independence and credibility of the CDC.

Only 30 percent of registered voters trust Trump to tell the truth about COVID-19, and not coincidentally, about the same number (31 percent) believe that it’s safe to send kids to school in the fall. Before Dr. Redfield sacrificed himself and his agency on Trump’s political altar, 61 percent trusted the CDC. But now that Trump has co-opted Dr. Redfield and the White House is writing politically-based guidance published with the CDC’s imprimatur, to whom do most Americans turn now?

Creating that quandary may have been Trump’s real objective.

“If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer,” German-American philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt, author of Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,explained in a 1974 interview. “And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.”

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

 

Anatomy of a Character Assassination: Trump Goes All-In Against Dr. Fauci

This post first appeared on at BillMoyers.com on July 22, 2020.

Donald Trump has targeted a new pandemic villain: Dr. Anthony Fauci. Among his transgressions, the nation’s leading infectious disease physician relied on facts and science to contradict Trump’s talking points and criticize his policies. Even worse, he has outperformed Trump in public opinion polls.

So rather than declare war on a coronavirus outbreak that he has mismanaged at every turn, Trump has attacked Dr. Fauci and the truth.

Round 1: Trump vs. Dr. Fauci on Hydroxychloroquine

Mar. 19: Despite the absence of scientific evidence proving its safety or effectiveness, Trump touts hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19.

Mar. 20: At a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, a reporter asks Dr. Fauci if hydroxychloroquine is effective in treating the virus. “The answer is no,” he says, “and the evidence that you’re talking about…is anecdotal evidence.” A month later, the FDA cautions against using the drug because of dangerous and potentially fatal side effects. On June 15, the FDA revokes its temporary emergency use authorization as a COVID-19 treatment.

Mar. 21-Apr. 1: Dr. Fauci becomes what Politico calls a “fringe MAGA target” and by April 1 is receiving federal security protection.

Apr. 5: At a press briefing, Trump again touts hydroxychloroquine, repeatedly saying, “What do you have to lose?” When a reporter asks Dr. Fauci about the dangers of using the drug, Trump interrupts and refuses to let him answer.

April 8 Poll

Dr. Fauci’s COVID-19 approval rating:

Overall: 78 percent overall

Republicans: 77 percent

Democrats: 81 percent

Independents: 79 percent

 

Trump’s COVID-19 approval rating: 46 percent

 

Round 2: Trump vs. Dr. Fauci on Reopening

Apr. 11-12: Trump spends much of Easter weekend on the phone asking informal advisers, “What do you think of Fauci?” Trump say that he has made Dr. Fauci a “star” by placing him at the center of the administration’s public response to COVID-19, including daily press briefings.

Apr. 12: Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, Dr. Fauci says that a stronger early response by the Trump administration could have saved lives. Later that evening, Trump shares a tweet that includes this hashtag: #FireFauci.

Apr. 16-17: After threatening to force states to reopen before they have satisfied CDC guidelines for doing so safely, Trump tells governors that it’s their decision. The next day, Trump tweets, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA” — all states planning not to reopen anytime soon.

Apr. 27: The White House Coronavirus Task Force holds its last public briefing for two months. When the next briefing occurs on June 26, Trump is not present.

Also at the end of April: Chief of staff Mark Meadows starts banning Dr. Fauci from most television appearances.

May 8: Trump repeats what he has been saying regularly since February — that the virus would just “go away.”

May 11: Trump declares victory over COVID-19 and again urges states to reopen.

May 12: Appearing before the Senate, Dr. Fauci testifies to “really serious” consequences if states reopen businesses and schools too early. He warns that COVID-19 will not simply “disappear” and a second wave is “entirely conceivable and possible.” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) attacks Dr. Fauci, saying, “I don’t think you’re the end-all. I don’t think you’re the one person that gets to make a decision.”

Also on May 12: Fox News’ Tucker Carlson blasts Dr. Fauci as “the chief buffoon of the professional class.”

Mid-May: Trump stops receiving personal briefings from Dr. Fauci.

May 20 Poll

Dr. Fauci’s COVID-19 approval rating:

Overall: 68 percent (down from 78 percent in April)

Republicans: 51 percent (down from 77 percent)

Democrats: 86 percent (up from 81 percent)

Independents: 66 percent (down from 79 percent)

 

Trump’s COVID-19 approval rating: 41 percent

 

Round 3: Trump vs. Dr. Fauci — and the Horse He Rode In On

From early June to July 15: Trump does not speak with Dr. Fauci at all.

June 23: At a House hearing, Rep. David McKinley (R-WVA) asks Dr. Fauci if he regrets not advising the public more forcefully to wear masks earlier. “I don’t regret that because let me explain to you what happened,” Dr. Fauci answers. “At that time, there was a paucity of equipment that our healthcare providers needed, who put themselves daily in harm’s way of taking care of people who are ill. We did not want to divert masks and PPE away from them to be used by the people.”

July 12: A White House official releases a statement to several news outlets saying that “several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things.” It includes a lengthy list of Dr. Fauci’s comments from early in the outbreak and is presented in the style of a campaign’s opposition research document.

July 14: During a Fox News interview, Trump says, “[T]he same people that say wear a mask are people that said, a long time ago, don’t wear a mask, masks are bad. They said they’re not good. So, you know, like Dr. Fauci, surgeon general, a lot of people — a lot of people…”

July 14-15: In a USA Today op-ed that Trump reportedly authorized and encouraged (though the administration denied it), White House trade adviser Peter Navarro writes that Dr. Fauci “has been wrong on everything I have interacted with him on.” The next day, USA Today adds a note to the online version of the op-ed, noting that several of his claims “were misleading or lacked context. As such, Navarro’s op-ed did not meet USA TODAY’s fact-checking standards.”

July 15: Asked about Navarro’s op-ed, Trump says, “He made a statement representing himself. He shouldn’t be doing that.”

Also on July 15: Stephen Moore, a member of Trump’s task force on reopening the economy, tells USA Today that Moore and his team are preparing a memo that highlights Dr. Fauci’s record, claiming that he has been wrong in predicting the course of pandemics. “It’s time for him to go away,” Moore says.

Also on July 15: In a series of interviews with The Atlantic, Dr. Fauci describes the intensifying effort to discredit him as “bizarre.” “I cannot figure out in my wildest dreams why they would want to do that.”

July 15 Poll

Voters who trust Dr. Fauci’s COVID-19 information

Overall: 65 percent (compared to 78 percent approval in April)

Republicans: 39 percent (compared to 77 percent approval in April)

Democrats: 86 percent (compared to 81 percent approval in April)

Independents: 67 percent (compared to 79 percent approval in April)

 

Voters who trust Trump’s COVID-19 information:

Overall: 30 percent

Republicans: 71 percent

Democrats: 4 percent

Independents: 27 percent

July 17: In a Fox News interview airing on July 19, Trump calls Dr. Fauci “a little bit of an alarmist.” Trump also repeats the misleading claim that Dr. Fauci had opposed the public’s use of face masks before recommending them on April 3, omitting Dr. Fauci’s reasons: Widespread public demand for face masks would have diverted the limited supply of medical-grade masks away from hospital workers and first responders treating infected patients.

No Split Decision: The Longer Trump Wins, the More America Loses

So far, Trump is still losing his credibility war against Dr. Fauci. But as with past targets, Trump’s politicization playbook is working with some people. On April 8, Dr. Fauci’s overall approval rating was 78 percent. Today, only 65 percent trust him. However, the shift has been almost entirely among Republicans (77 percent approval in April down to only 39 percent who trust Dr. Fauci now) and, to a lesser extent, Independents (79 percent approval in April down to 67 percent who trust him today).

The pandemic, on the other hand, doesn’t respond to Trump’s talking points. On April 8, there were “only” 430,000 COVID-19 infections in the US and 15,000 deaths. Today almost four million infections in the US have resulted in more than 140,000 deaths. Based on current projections, more than 224,000 Americans will have died from the virus by November 1.

Millions remain out of work and the economy is in shambles. Banned from traveling to Europe, Canada, and most of the world where leaders have controlled the virus by following the very recommendations that Dr. Fauci is still urging, Americans have become international pariahs.

As Trump’s rhetoric persuades too many Americans to push back against masks, social distancing and necessary closings, infections surge to new heights. Hospitals are once again running out of ICU beds and personal protective equipment. Testing backlogs are once again delaying results for so long that they become useless in contact tracing and containment efforts. And saddest of all, refrigerated vans are once again serving as temporary morgues in communities where sickness and death are overwhelming.

In his war against Dr. Fauci, time is not on Trump’s side. Back on April 8, only 29 percent of respondents to Quinnipiac University’s poll had been infected with COVID-19 or knew someone personally who had. By July 15, that number had soared to 53 percent. Harsh reality is en route to many of Dr. Fauci’s new skeptics. When it hits closer to home, maybe they will trust him again. Perhaps they will heed his new warnings, follow his recommendations and become part of the COVID-19 solution.

“[A] risk for you is not just isolated to you.…[Y]ou have an individual responsibility to yourself. But you have a societal responsibility.…[T]his is part of a process that we can be either part of the solution or part of the problem.”

– Dr. Anthony Fauci, June 26, 2020

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

 

LIAR, LIAR, PENCE ON FIRE

This post first appeared on BillMoyers.com on July 1, 2020.

On July 1, the European Union reopened its borders to 15 non-EU countries that have brought COVID-19 under control. The United States was not among them. This population-adjusted graph of new infections shows why:

The ban means that the EU’s 27 member countries remain off limits to Americans: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain.

But citizens of the following nations can enter because their leaders have successfully controlled the pandemic: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, and Uruguay. The list also includes China, provided it allows EU travelers. UK citizens and family members will be treated as EU nationals until the end of the Brexit transition period on Dec. 31, 2020.

The US isn’t close to making the cut. The benchmark is the EU’s average number of new infections per 100,000 people over the prior 14 days. In mid-June, the average among the 27 EU members was 16. In the US, it was 107.

Pence Blows Smoke

On June 23, The New York Times broke the story of the EU’s likely ban. Three days later, Vice President Mike Pence held the first White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing in almost two months. Throughout the session, Pence made wildly false claims about the administration’s supposed success in dealing with COVID-19.

Pence: “We have made truly remarkable progress in moving our nation forward.”

Fact: The US is far behind the rest of the world in COVID-19 mortality rates. With only about 4% of the world’s population, America accounts for more than 25% of worldwide COVID-19 infections and deaths.

Pence: “All 50 states and territories across this country are opening up safely and responsibly.”

Fact: At the time, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas had already paused or reversed reopening plans. Within days, the number of states pausing or rolling back plans had risen to 17.

Pence: “We slowed the spread. We flattened the curve. We saved lives.”

Fact: The COVID-19 infection curve is shooting upward:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In some states — Alabama, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas — the new infection curve is “tipping toward exponential growth,” according to Trump’s former FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb.

Pence: “Thirty-four states across the country are experiencing a measure of stability.”

Fact: Cases were rising in more than 29 states. The day after Pence spoke, that number increased to 36. Only two states were showing declines.

Pence: “More testing is generating more cases.…The volume of new cases coming in is a reflection of a great success in expanding testing across the country.”

Fact: Hospitalization and positivity rates (the percentage of tests confirming COVID-19 infections) are increasing in many states. Two days after Pence spoke, former CDC Director Tom Frieden told Fox News, “As a doctor, a scientist, an epidemiologist, I can tell you with 100% certainty that in most states where you’re seeing an increase, it is a real increase. It is not more tests; it is more spread of the virus.”

Pence: “We’re in a much better place” than we were two months ago.

Fact: The day before Pence spoke to the American people, the US hit a new single day record in new COVID-19 cases — almost 40,000 — surpassing the April 24 record of 36,291. The day after he spoke, the number of new cases exceeded 45,000.

Fact: Arizona’s ICU bed occupancy is near 90 percent. Some Texas communities are exploring overflow facilities because hospitals are filling so rapidly with COVID-19 patients.

Fact: CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said that because the US has not done sufficient testing, for every reported case there are at least 10 more infections out there.

Fact: As of this writing, the US ranks seventh in most global deaths per million of population. And we’re giving France — ranked sixth but with a dramatically declining death rate — a run for its money.

Trump’s Medical Experts Sound the Alarm

In stark contrast to Pence’s upbeat dishonesty, medical experts on the task force were somber. Dr. Redfield and Dr. Deborah Birx implored Americans to practice social distancing and wear facemasks — something that Pence refused to do even during the briefing, although everyone else did. Dr. Anthony Fauci wondered aloud when it had become socially acceptable to protect only yourself.

“A risk for you is not just isolated to you,” he urged. “[I]f you get infected, you will infect someone else who, clearly, will infect someone else….And then, ultimately, you will infect someone who is vulnerable. Now, that may be somebody’s grandmother, grandfather, the uncle who is on chemotherapy, aunt who is on radiation or chemotherapy, or a child who has leukemia…[Y]ou have an individual responsibility to yourself. But you have a societal responsibility.”

A reporter called out Pence on the administration’s failure to follow CDC recommendations.

“It really sounds, though, like you’re saying, ‘Do as we say, not as we do,’” she said. “You’re telling people to listen to local officials, but in Tulsa, you defied local officials to have an event…dozens of Secret Service agents, dozens of campaign staffers are now quarantined after positive tests. And then in Arizona, one of the hardest-hit states, you packed a church with young people who weren’t wearing masks. So how can you say the campaign is not part of the problem that Dr. Fauci laid out?”

Pence responded with doubletalk about the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Then he abruptly ended the briefing.

Two days later, Pence went to Dallas for a “Celebrate Freedom Rally” at an indoor megachurch where more than 2,000 people attended — many without facemasks and most without social distancing. A 100-person choir performed without masks. Then Pence met with Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), who days earlier had halted reopening the state because of its exploding COVID-19 crisis.

A Nine-Iron in the Fire

The propaganda coming from Trump and Pence might be working for core supporters. But even Trump doesn’t believe what he and Pence are selling. Shortly after Pence’s June 26 briefing, CNN reported that the White House has “scaled up dramatically” measures to protect Trump from COVID-19, including frequent testing of those in regular contact with him.

Later that evening, EU officials confirmed that US citizens would be banned from entering the European Union.

For the next two days, Trump played golf.

DONALD TRUMP: ASPIRING SUPER-SPREADER

“I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations.”

John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser

Trump Wants Big Rallies — No Matter What

June 10: Amid protests over the police killing of an unarmed Black man, Trump announces that he will resume campaign rallies on June 19. The date is also known as Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the US. He plans to hold the rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 — one of the worst events of racial violence in American history.

The racial overtones associated with Trump’s choice of date and city create immediate controversy that overshadows another fact: He chose an indoor venue with a capacity of 19,000 people at a time when Oklahoma, especially Tulsa, is experiencing a spike in confirmed COVID-19 infections.

In fact, Trump misleads his followers into a false sense of security: “They’ve done a great job with COVID, as you know, in the state of Oklahoma.”

Trump also says that he plans rallies in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and North Carolina — states where new COVID-19 infections are also increasing.

June 13: Facing widespread backlash for choosing Juneteenth for his rally, Trump moves it to June 20, but the location remains unchanged.

June 15-18: During the week leading up to the rally, reported new cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma rise by 140 percent — the second highest spike in the country. Concomitant increases in hospitalizations indicate that the jump is not due to increased testing.

COVID-19 in Oklahoma, Oklahoma State Department of Health

 

 

 

June 16: Asked if he would attend the rally, Trump’s top medical expert on COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci says, “Of course not.” During the week leading up to the rally, Dr. Fauci and another member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Dr. Deborah Birx, warn him not to hold it, NBC News later reports.

June 17-18: “It’s like, very few people [in Oklahoma],” Trump tells The Wall Street Journal in an interview published the following day. “And I think they’re in great shape. But I would even say the spike ends, has already ended.” Asked what happens if a supporter gets sick at one of his rallies, Trump responds, “Well, people have to know that, yes, you do. But it’s tiny. You know, it’s a very small percentage.” Trump expects almost one million attendees and predicts, “I think it’s gonna be a hell of a night.”

June 19: The Oklahoma Supreme Court denies a request by some Tulsa businesses and residents to order that the BOK Center — the venue for Trump’s rally — enforce CDC recommendations for preventing the spread of COVID-19 at the event.

Also on June 19: Trump’s press secretary says she won’t wear a mask at the rally.

June 20: Six members of the Trump campaign’s advance staff, including two Secret Service agents, have tested positive for COVID-19. At the time of their diagnoses, they are already in Tulsa for the rally.

Also on June 20: Only 6,200 people — less than one-third of the venue’s capacity — attend the rally. Following Trump’s political messaging and the example set by his staff, most are not wearing masks or social distancing, despite ample space for the latter.

Also on June 20: During his rally speech, Trump admits that he told administration officials to slow down COVID-19 testing in order to limit the rising number of confirmed cases in the US. “When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people; you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, slow the testing down please.”

June 22: Two more Trump staffers who attended the June 20 rally test positive for COVID-19.

Reality Catches Up to Trump

In the midst of a pandemic, Trump expected one million people to risk their lives by attending his rally. The campaign had even erected an outdoor stage to accommodate the anticipated overflow crowd from the main arena. Trump’s success in managing news cycles with distraction and disinformation led him to believe that he was invulnerable to fact, reality, and truth.

To some extent, he was right. A Trump supporter waiting in line to enter the rally told a reporter for NBC News, “If Trump felt comfortable having it here, then I’m comfortable.” Another supporter who had driven from his home in Arkansas to attend said he doubts that he’ll need his homemade mask, saying, “I don’t fear anything. If today is the day I die, today is the day I die.”

The truth is that Trump’s myopic focus on winning re-election at the expense of Americans’ health has turned the United States into a global pandemic loser. Comparing the COVID-19 experience of the European Union (population 446 million) with that of the US (population 329 million) demonstrates just how badly:

Every day, the US has 20,000 new COVID-19 cases and as many as 800 deaths. The US ranks seventh among all nations in deaths per million of population. Two weeks ago, it ranked eighth. Moving up on that list is another defining metric of Trump’s ongoing leadership failures.

It’s true that some of Trump’s core supporters are willing to die for him. But if the turnout in Tulsa is an indication, facts and reality are making serious inroads into his base. For Trump, that’s a problem. Truth has always been his mortal enemy.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

SOCIAL DISTANCING? TRUMP DOESN’T LIKE THE OPTICS

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on June 16, 2020.

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control recommends that all Americans practice social distancing to protect themselves and others from COVID-19. Trump has been systematically undermining that CDC guidance.

Ignoring Science at the Expense of Public Health

Mar. 9: The CDC has recommended social distancing and avoiding crowds to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and protect those at highest risk. But here’s a photo of the day’s White House Coronavirus Force briefing:

Mar. 13: At today’s White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing, Trump declares the pandemic a national emergency. But as with all previous briefings, he fails to follow the CDC’s social distancing guidelines, shaking hands with more than a dozen industry leaders appearing with him on stage:

From another angle:

Mar. 16: The White House Correspondents Association, which is responsible for assigning seats in the White House briefing room, adopts a rule to increase social distancing by reducing the number of reporters present and rearranging the seating.

May 29: Trump tells Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) that if the upcoming Republican National Convention planned for Charlotte on Aug. 24-27 does not permit the massive audiences that Trump loves, he will move it to another state. At the time, the seven-day average of confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in North Carolina is increasing.

“Since the day I came down the escalator, I’ve never had an empty seat and I find the biggest stadiums,” Trump tells the governor. “I don’t want to be sitting in a place that’s 50 percent empty.”

According to later reporting by The Washington Post, “Trump had a blunt response to Cooper’s reminders about the potential cost of crowding so many people into a closed arena. ‘We can’t do social distancing,’ the president said.…‘We can’t do scaled down.’” Trump casually dismisses any health concerns that might arise from squeezing thousands of supporters — wearing masks only if they choose — inside an arena to hear his acceptance speech.

That same day, Trump calls Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) to see whether Florida might host the convention on Trump’s terms. At the time, Florida is experiencing its largest single-day increase of COVID-19 infections in a month.

June 5: After the WHCA adopted its social distancing rule on Mar. 15, the White House set up reporters’ chairs accordingly. But on this day, after the seats are initially arranged in that way, the White House orders them moved closer together:

As the briefing begins, Trump says, “I noticed you’re starting to get much closer together. Looks much better, I must say.” Asked later about the abandonment of social distancing for reporters at the briefing, the White House press office echoes Trump, saying, “It looks better.”

June 10: Pence visits the Trump-Pence campaign staff and tweets a photo showing no one wearing a mask and no social distancing by the workers. Then he deletes it:

Also on June 10: Trump announces that he will resume campaign rallies on June 19 in Tulsa. “They’ve done a great job with COVID, as you know, in the state of Oklahoma,” he says. The truth is that new COVID-19 cases in that state have increased in recent days and the 14-day trend is upward.

Trump also says that he plans campaign stops in Florida, Texas, Arizona and North Carolina — states where new COVID-19 infections are also increasing.

June 11: The Trump campaign website posts an online registration form for individuals seeking tickets to Trump’s rally in Tulsa. It requires attendees to acknowledge the “inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present.“ By attending the rally, they “voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19” and agree not to hold the Trump campaign or the venue’s owners and managers liable for any illness of injury.

June 11: The RNC announces that Trump’s acceptance speech and other key convention events will move from Charlotte, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, where Trump will speak at a venue that accommodates up to 15,000 people.

The same day, Florida reports its biggest ever one-day jump in COVID-19 cases — 1,700.

June 12: During the CDC’s first full briefing with reporters in more than three months, it discusses newly released guidelines recommending that people continue to maintain a distance of six feet from others whenever possible, wear face coverings in public, and wash their hands. The guidelines specifically identify the “highest risk” category for COVID-19 transmission: “Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.”

Asked if the guidelines apply to campaign rallies, Dr. Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases, says the regulations speak for themselves: “They are not regulations. They are not commands”.

Public Health Enemy #1

Trump is undermining CDC guidance and public health so he can deliver a tragically misguided message: Mission accomplished! The pandemic is over! Return to business as usual! Go to work! Revive the economy! Come to a rally!

He hopes the country will ignore the fact that the virus — which has already claimed more than 115,000 American lives — is still causing as many as 800 deaths every day. On June 10, the head of Harvard’s Global Health Institute predicted that the US would surpass 200,000 COVID-19 deaths sometime in September. Only six countries in the world have more deaths per million of population. None comes close to America’s staggering absolute total.

For the sake of personal optics, Trump is evidently willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of even his most fervent supporters — the ones who show up at campaign rallies. There is no price too high for anything that might enhance his re-election prospects — provided someone else pays it.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

 

PANDEMIC TIMELINE: TRUMP UNMASKED

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on June 10, 2020.

Medical professionals agree unanimously that wearing a mask in public prevents the spread of COVID-19. In violation of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control guidelines, Trump refuses to wear one.

Trump says that it’s because he is tested for COVID-19 regularly and so are those around him. That doesn’t explain why he mocks former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing one. Even apart from the FDA’s warning that the tests may return false negative results, ordinary Americans don’t have the luxury of weekly tests with immediate results. And now Trump has stoked fires of protest that, according to his former FDA commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, have lit new “chains of transmission.”

Trump’s New Front in the Culture Wars: An Attack on Public Health

Apr. 3: At a press briefing, Trump announces new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending a face covering to protect against COVID-19. Trump says he doesn’t plan to wear one.

From Apr. 7 to Apr. 14: According to a Gallup poll, Americans’ use of facemasks outside the home surged from 38 percent to 62 percent. But the partisan divide is clear: 75 percent of Democrats say they have worn a mask outside the home in the past seven days, compared to only 48 percent of Republicans.

Apr. 21: De Kai, who is a computer scientist with joint appointments at the UC Berkeley International Computer Science Institute and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, publishes a study, “Universal Masking is Urgent in the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Using data based on countries’ masking practices, his model shows that when 80 percent of a population wears a mask, significant reductions in COVID-19 infections result. Discussing the implications for reopening the economy, he and his co-authors observe:

“Without masking, but even with continued social distancing in place once the lockdown is lifted, the infection rate will increase and almost half of the population will become affected.…Without masking, lifting lockdown after nine weeks while keeping social distancing measures will risk a major second wave of the epidemic in 4-5 months’ time.“

Apr. 28: Vice President Mike Pence tours the Mayo Clinic, which has a policy requiring everyone to wear a mask. Pence refuses, saying, “As vice president of the United States, I’m tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus.” The Mayo Clinic tweets and then deletes a message that, prior to Pence’s arrival, it had informed his office of the policy.

Apr. 30: Appearing on Fox & Friends, Pence’s wife says that he did not know about the Mayo Clinic’s mandatory mask policy.

May 3: At a Fox News town hall, Pence apologizes for not wearing a mask at the Mayo Clinic.

May 5: Trump refuses to wear a mask while touring a Honeywell mask-making facility in Arizona. In solidarity, a dozen or so supporters — also not wearing masks — gather outside the plant to cheer him on. As an Arizona Republic reporter approaches members of the crowd to interview them, they yell that by wearing masks, she and the other journalists are trying to incite fear, panic and paranoia. A member of the group tells the reporter, “It’s submission. It’s muzzling yourself. It looks weak, especially for men.”

May 7: One of Trump’s personal White House valets tests positive for COVID-19.

May 8: Pence’s spokesperson (Trump adviser Stephen Miller’s wife) tests positive for COVID-19.

Also on May 8: Japan has only seven COVID-19 deaths per million of population while the US has more than 300 deaths per million. In an interview with Vanity Fair, De Kai says that masking is one reason Japan has controlled the virus. Discussing his findings, he says the goal is “for 80 or 90% of the population to be wearing masks…If you get down to 30 or 40 percent, you get almost no [beneficial] effect at all.”

May 20-21: Michigan’s attorney general asks Trump to wear a mask during his upcoming visit to a Ford plant that has been retooled to make ventilators in response to the pandemic. “It is not just the policy of Ford, by virtue of the Governor’s Executive Orders. It is currently the law of this State,” she says. The next day, Trump refuses to wear a mask in public. “Not necessary. I’ve been tested,” he says. “I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”

May 25: Trump shares a tweet from Fox News’ Brit Hume that includes Biden wearing a mask at a Memorial Day commemoration and this caption: “This might help explain why Trump doesn’t like to wear a mask in public. Biden today.”

May 26: During a Rose Garden press conference at the White House, Trump accuses a reporter of wearing a mask to be “politically correct.” “Can you take it off, because I cannot hear you?” Trump says disingenuously.

May 27: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, implores Americans to wear a mask, just as he does. “I want to protect myself and protect others, and also because I want to make it be a symbol for people to see that that’s the kind of thing you should be doing,” he says. Dr. Fauci calls face masks a valuable safeguard, even though it’s not 100 percent effective. And, he adds, it shows “respect for another person.”

May 28: Trump shares a tweet arguing that the mandated use of face masks to control the spread of the COVID-19 represents a “culture of silence, slavery, and social death.” The accompanying article in The Federalist claims that mandating face masks is “anti-American,” signals “indefinite government expansion,” and is “a critical predicate conditioning us to accept abuses of our liberty.” Retweeting the message with the article, Trump adds, “So many different viewpoints!”

June 1: The medical journal Lancet publishes a study showing that using a face maskreduces the risk of human COVID-19 transmission from 17.4 percent to 3.1 percent.

More Bad Advice from Dr. Trump

After Trump touted hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure, an otherwise healthy Arizona man and his wife took it in a fish tank cleaning product and the husband died. Since then, numerous hospital studies have demonstrated repeatedly that the drug has no medical value, and the FDA has warned that it can produce fatal side effects. But Trump doubled-down and announced that he was taking the drug to prevent COVID-19. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on June 3 confirmed that it is not an effective preventative.

Then Trump suggested that “injection inside” a human body with a disinfectant might knock out COVID-19 “in a minute.” Calls to poison control centers spiked and the manufacturers of Clorox and Lysol issued urgent pleas: Don’t ingest or inject their products.

And now comes: Maskgate. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking poll found, “Democrats are almost twice as likely as Republicans (70% v. 37%) to say they wear a mask ‘every time’ they leave their house [and might be in contact with other people]…The partisan difference in opinion and behavior regarding masks is largely driven by Republican men.”

For those Republican men who think wearing a mask in public threatens their liberty, undermines their masculinity, or subjects them to ridicule, the Trump campaign has a middle ground: “MAGA” facemasks.

Try them. You’ll save lives.

But remember the real message of Trump’s refusal to wear a mask: He doesn’t care if Americans die in his culture wars. If rearranging reporters’ chairs at his June 5 news conference is an indication of things to come, Trump’s next public health target is social distancing:

 

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

 

It’s Not MY Fault: China Edition

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on June 1, 2020.

Despite early and repeated warnings from China and the World Health Organization, Trump downplayed the coronavirus threat for months while lulling Americans into a false sense of security. In fact, he praised China repeatedly for its transparency in dealing with COVID-19.

Then the pandemic decimated the US stock market and put millions of Americans out of work. When Trump could no longer deny the impact of the virus, he reversed course and blamed China for everything.

Stage 1: Deny and Distract

Dec. 31, 2019: China informs the WHO of an outbreak in Wuhan. At the time, 15 Trump Administration officials already embedded at WHO headquarters in Geneva begin working full time on the virus. At least six other US officials at WHO and two more working remotely dedicate most of their time to COVID-19.

Jan. 3, 2020: Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warns Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that China may have discovered a new coronavirus. Azar notifies Trump’s National Security Council.

Jan. 8: The CDC issues its first emergency alert relating to the outbreak in Wuhan.

Early January through Feb. 28: In more than a dozen classified briefings through February, the President’s Daily Brief of Intelligence Matters warns Trump directly about the serious health and economic dangers that the virus poses. During this period, Trump holds nine campaign rallies throughout the country and downplays the dangers of COVID-19.

Jan. 18: After trying for weeks, Azar finally reaches Trump by phone to tell him that COVID-19 is a serious threat. Nevertheless, for the following six weeks, Trump reassures the public that the virus is under control and will just “go away.”

Jan. 23: The WHO warns that the outbreak in China has already spread to Japan, Thailand, South Korea, and possibly Singapore. It urges all countries to prepare containment measures, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation, case management and contact tracing.

Jan. 24: Trump tweets praise for China’s “effort and transparency. It will all work out well.”

Jan. 29: In a memo circulating inside the West Wing, Trump’s top trade adviser, Peter Navarro, warns that COVID-19 could evolve “into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.”

Jan. 30: On Fox News, Trump says, “China is not in great shape right now, unfortunately. But they’re working very hard. We’ll see what happens. But we’re working very closely with China and other countries.”

Also on Jan. 30: Azar again warns Trump about the virus. Trump calls him an “alarmist.”

Feb. 7: In a tweet, Trump praises China: “Just had a long and very good conversation by phone with President Xi of China. He is strong, sharp and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the Coronavirus.…Great discipline is taking place in China, as President Xi strongly leads what will be a very successful operation. We are working closely with China to help!”

Also on Feb. 7: The Trump administration ships almost 18 tons of medical equipment to China, including masks, gowns, gauze, respirators and other vital materials.

Feb. 10: “China is very professionally run in the sense that they have everything under control,” Trump says.

Feb. 23: Navarro circulates another memo to top Trump advisers. He warns of the “increasing probability of a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1-2 million souls.”

Feb. 25: Nancy Messonnier, a senior CDC official, tells reporters that COVID-19 is likely to spread within US communities and disruptions to daily life could be “severe.” Returning from India, Trump calls Azar to complain that Messonnier is scaring the stock markets and he threatens to oust her.

Feb. 27: “Only a very small number [of COVID-19 cases] in U.S., & China numbers look to be going down. All countries working well together!” Trump tweets.

Feb. 29: I think our relationship with China is very good,” Trump says. “We just did a big trade deal. We’re starting on another trade deal with China — a very big one. And we’ve been working very closely. They’ve been talking to our people, we’ve been talking to their people, having to do with the virus. No, our relationship with China is very good. Maybe it’s closer because of what’s happened…”

Mar. 2: Trump holds a campaign rally in Charlotte, NC. Asked if he has any qualms about attending a large stadium rally in light of the COVID-19 threat, he says, “I think it’s very safe.”

Stage 2: Deflect and Denigrate

Around Mar. 9The White House task force receives results from a new study by the Imperial College of London projecting that the US government’s failure to act swiftly and aggressively to limit COVID-19 could result in 2 million American deaths.

Mar. 9: The S&P 500 suffers its worst single-day drop since Black Monday 1987, leaving the market index down 26 percent from its all-time high two weeks earlier.

Mar. 10: Trump retweets a post calling COVID-19 the “China virus.”

Also on Mar. 10: Testifying before the House, CDC Director Dr. Redfield says that it is “absolutely wrong and inappropriate” to call COVID-19 the Chinese coronavirus.

Mar. 12: The Dow Jones Industrial Average closes more than 28 percent below its all-time high a month earlier.

Mar. 16: In a tweet, Trump himself refers to COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus.”

Mar. 17: Asked if he’s concerned about criticism over his use of the phrase “Chinese virus,” Trump says, “[I]t did come from China. So I think it’s a very accurate term.”

Mar. 18: Trump says that calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” is “not racist at all, not at all.”

Mar. 19: Trump again calls COVID-19 the “Chinese virus.” “The world is paying a very big price for what they did,” he says in a press briefing. Trump’s typed script shows the word “Corona” in coronavirus crossed out by hand and replaced with the word “Chinese.”

Mar. 24: Trump says he won’t call COVID-19 the “China virus” anymore. He’s lying.

Mar. 27: The FBI warns of an increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans as the COVID-19 crisis continues.

Apr. 14: Trump announces a halt to federal funding of the WHO, calling it “China-centric.” He says the organization took China’s assurances at face value, “even praising China for its so-called transparency.”

A reporter asks Trump, “You were just criticizing the WHO for praising China as transparent, but you were saying many of the same things about China just a couple of months ago. So, I mean, how do you square your decision to revoke funding?”

Trump doesn’t answer the question. “Well,” he says, “I did a trade deal with China, where China is supposed to be spending $250 billion in our country.”

Stage 3: Vilify

Apr. 30: Without any evidence, Trump asserts a “high degree of confidence” that the virus originated in a Wuhan, China laboratory. The same day, The New York Times reports that senior Trump Administration officials “have pushed American spy agencies to hunt for evidence to support an unsubstantiated theory” that the outbreak originated in a government lab in Wuhan.

May 6: Talking to reporters about the pandemic, Trump says, “This is worse than Pearl Harbor. This is worse than the World Trade Center. There’s never been an attack like this. And it should have never happened. It could have been stopped at the source. It could have been stopped in China. It should have been stopped right at the source, and it wasn’t.”

May 18: At the World Health Assembly, HHS Secretary Azar refers to China without naming the country, saying, “In an apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak, at least one member state made a mockery of their transparency obligations, with tremendous costs for the entire world.”

May 24: Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation and NBC’s Meet the Press, Trump’s national security adviser claims that China knew of the coronavirus crisis in November but chose to keep it quiet. He says that the scandal is comparable to the Soviet Union’s cover-up of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine.

May 25: Trump tweets, “Great reviews on our handling of Covid 19, sometimes referred to as the China Virus.”

May 29: Speaking from the Rose Garden, Trump alleges, China’s cover-up of the Wuhan virus allowed the disease to spread all over the world, instigating a global pandemic that has cost more than 100,000 American lives and over a million lives worldwide.” (The global COVID-19 death total is actually 363,000.) Trump also terminates the United States’ relationship with the World Health Organization, saying that China controls it.

Defining Metrics Linger

Investigations will reveal whether China handled the pandemic appropriately in late 2019. But however damning the conclusions may be, they will not change the metrics of failure haunting Trump’s presidency. With only four percent of the world’s population, the US accounts for more than 28 percent of COVID-19 deaths, ranking America in the top ten for most deaths per million of population.

More than 130 other countries have managed to do better. Trump can’t pin that rap on China.

 

 

 

 

 

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

It’s Not MY Fault — The Governors Did It

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on May 18, 2020.

Trump is counting on an economic recovery to salvage his re-election prospects. So when the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control drafted detailed guidelines for reopening businesses in ways that prioritized public health, he rejected them. Instead, Trump issued broad suggestions for loosening state restrictions safely.

Trump then incited mobs to protest against stay-at-home orders, pushed governors to reopen for business immediately, and encouraged leaders to ignore even the vague suggestions he had issued. That is how Trump has set up governors to take the blame for his cascading failures — both in addressing the spread of COVID-19 and in managing the economic fallout from the uncontrolled pandemic.

The Setup

Mar. 24: Trump says he wants the country “back to work” by Easter, Apr. 12. His medical experts later persuade him to extend White House social distancing guidelines through Apr. 30.

Apr. 10: CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, sends the White House step-by-step instructions for use by community leaders in reopening child care programs, schools, day camps, churches, workplaces, restaurants, bars, and mass transit systems. The guidance includes decision trees and flow charts advising states when to shut facilities during expected COVID-19 flare-ups. Dr. Redfield receives no response from the White House.

Apr. 14: The International Monetary Fund warns that the world faces the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Amid intensifying criticism of Trump’s testing failures, COVID-19 infections in the US surpass 600,000, with more than 25,000 deaths. According to public health experts, testing remains woefully short of the level necessary to reopen the country safely.

After weeks of claiming responsibility for America’s supposedly successful COVID-19 testing,Trump tries to shift the blame for his now widely recognized failure to implement a nationwide testing program. “[T]he governors will use whatever testing is necessary. And if they’re not satisfied with their testing, they shouldn’t open,” he says. “The governors are supposed to do testing. It’s up to the governors… The governors are doing the testing.”

Apr 16: Even as governors and health officials report continuing shortages of swabs, reagents, and other materials necessary for COVID-19 testing, Trump releases his plan for the country’s phased reopening. Compared to the CDC’s proposed guidance, Trump’s plan is both vague and less restrictive. But even under his relaxed standards, no state meets the requirements — which include rigorous testing, extensive contact tracing and surveillance, and downward infection trends.

The Sting

Apr 17: The day after issuing his guidelines, Trump tweets: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” The governors of those states are Democrats. In response, armed “LIBERATE” protests erupt throughout the country.

Apr 21: Dr. Redfield tells The Washington Post, “There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through.” When asked about public protests against stay-at-home orders and Trump’s call for states to be “liberated” from restrictions, Redfield says, “It’s not helpful.”

Apr. 22: Trump opens a COVID-19 press briefing with his response to Dr. Redfield’s Washington Post interview, saying, “He was totally misquoted in the media on a statement about the fall season and the virus. Totally misquoted.”

Trump then says, “You could have some embers of corona…  It may not come back at all… Now, if we have pockets — a little pocket here or there — we’re going to have to put out. It goes out and it’s going to go out fast… It’s also possible it doesn’t come back at all.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says, “So, what Dr. Redfield was saying, first of all, is that we will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that…”

Apr 24: Dr. Redfield again asks senior White House officials to approve the CDC’s 63-page detailed guidance. The CDC hopes to publish its recommendations before May 1 — the day Trump targets for reopening many businesses.

Apr 26: Again Dr. Redfield receives no response.

Apr. 28: As some states lift restrictions, none has come close to Trump’s recommended guideline of a decline in COVID-19 cases over a 14-day period.

Apr 30: A Trump Administration official informs the CDC that its previously submitted detailed guidance “will never see the light of day.”

May 7: The Associated Press breaks the story that the Trump Administration has buried the CDC’s detailed guidance.

The Real Victims

May 7: As states continue to reopen, most still fail to meet even Trump’s vague guidelines. “In more than half of states easing restrictions, case counts are trending upward, positive test results are rising, or both,” according to The New York Times.

Also on May 7: Trump discusses the possibility of more COVID-19 infections as the economy reopens. A reporter notes that 20 states have partially or completely reopened without meeting Trump’s Phase 1 guidelines: “What do you say to those states that haven’t met the guidelines and are already starting that process now?”

Trump responds, “We’ve looked at all of them, and we’ve spoken to many of the governors — most of the governors. As you know, we give leeway to the governors….”

Asked if he could envision a scenario where spikes in COVID-19 infections require renewed stay-at-home restrictions, Trump says, “I hope not. I don’t think so. I think you’re going to have embers, as I say. I think you’re going to have some fires, some — maybe some fairly big fires, by comparison to what people would even think.”

May 11: The White House scrambles to deal with its own COVID-19 outbreak, which includes Trump’s personal valet and Vice President Mike Pence’s spokesperson.

Also on May 11: Like every other state, Pennsylvania has not fully met White House guidelines to reopen. But Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) has begun reopening his state in phases. Nevertheless, Trump tweets, “The great people of Pennsylvania want their freedom now, and they are fully aware of what that entails. The Democrats are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes… Don’t play politics. Be safe, move quickly!”

Also on May 11: Dr. Fauci says that the country risks “needless suffering and death” and a setback “on our quest to return to normal” if the economy reopens too quickly.

May 12: Testifying before the Senate, Dr. Fauci warns that if states disregard guidelines for safely reopening, “There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control.”

Similarly, Dr. Redfield testifies, ”Rapid, extensive and widely available, timely testing is essential to reopening America.” Asked when the CDC will publish the detailed guidelines that the White House buried, Dr. Redfield says, “Soon.”

May 13: Trump says that schools should open in the fall, adding, “It’s up to the governors. It’s the governors’ choice.” He also asserts that Dr. Fauci’s warning about the danger of reopening too early is “not acceptable.”

May 14: Trump visits Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he tells his audience of factory workers that Gov. Wolf is moving too slowly, “We have to get your governor of Pennsylvania to start opening up a little bit. You have areas of Pennsylvania that are barely affected, and they want to keep them closed. Can’t do that.”

Disaster Lurks

Another wave of COVID-19 infections is on the horizon and Trump is hastening its arrival. He views human lives as “embers” in what may develop into “fairly big fires.” With his inflammatory rhetoric, Trump is stoking those fires.

Lose a loved one in the inferno? Blame the governors — they’re the ones who decided to reopen.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

UPDATED — WHERE ARE THE TESTS?

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on May 13, 2020 and was updated on May 17, 2020.

Pandemic Timeline: Where Are the Tests?

By June 1, more than 100,000 Americans will have died from COVID-19. Compare that to South Korea’s 262 and Australia’s 98 current fatalities, where unlike Trump, leaders quickly implemented widespread testing and tracing programs. Public health officials isolated infected individuals, traced their contacts with others, followed the potential spread of the virus, and targeted the response.

As Trump failed to implement an effective nationwide testing program, he lied about it. Now he’s shifting the burden to individual states while urging governors to “reopen” in violation of his own testing and tracing standards. Even Trump’s medical experts agree that such a blind push to resume social and economic activity is a fool’s errand.

Lies, False Promises, and Obfuscation

Mar. 6: “Anyone that wants a test gets a test,” Trump says. Politifact labels it a “Pants-on-Fire” lie.

Also on Mar. 6: Vice President Mike Pence says, “[I]n a matter of weeks, the coronavirus tests will be broadly available to the public and available to any American that is symptomatic and has a concern about — about the possibility of having contracted the coronavirus.” Not true.

When a reporter asks FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn how many people have been tested so far, he suggests checking with the CDC. The answer that Hahn didn’t want to give is that the US has completed 2,983 US tests to date — less than two percent of the 165,000 tests conducted in South Korea, which is isolating, tracing and containing the virus.

Mar. 13: Asked if he takes responsibility for the delay in testing, Trump says, “I don’t take responsibility at all….”

Mar. 18: “If federal officials have shipped millions of tests, as you and your colleagues have said, why, as the federal government says, have only 59,000 tests been processed to this point?” a reporter asks Trump. “We just heard from the Atlanta Public Health director saying that they have fewer than 50 test kits for more than 900,000 citizens. Where are the tests?”

Trump defers to Pence, who defers to Dr. Deborah Birx. “[T]here was backlog,” she says. “There were individuals who had been tested who hadn’t had their specimen run because of the slow throughput. It’s now in a high-speed platform.” She doesn’t mention shortages of swabs and reagents required to administer the tests.

Mar. 19: A reporter asks Trump to “explain the gap” between his claim that plenty of tests are available and reports that people with symptoms can’t get tested. “Well, I can’t — I cannot explain the gap,” Trump answers. “I’m hearing very good things on the ground….”

Mar. 20: “What do you say to the Americans who are scared that they have symptoms and can’t get a test?’ a reporter asks Trump. “Yeah. Well, okay. I’m not — I’m not hearing it,” Trump says.

Mar. 21: Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services Brett Giroir says that the government has put more than 10 million tests into the US commercial market and that by Mar. 28 more than 27 million will be available. He doesn’t reveal that shortages of swabs and reagents render the tests alone useless.

Mar. 23: A reporter tells Trump that some states report shortages of swabs and reagents: “So what is the administration doing to get all the states the materials that they need?” Trump deflects, saying that the Army Corps of Engineers is building field hospitals.

Late March: Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) requests 60,000 plastic tips to store reagents and 10,000 testing swabs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which tells him that it doesn’t have enough supplies.

Shifting Blame and Pivoting to the Economy

Apr. 13-14: Worried about state governors’ stay-at-home orders hurting his re-election prospects that depend on a strong economy, Trump claims falsely that he has “total” authority to overrule the governors and reopen the country. But 24 hours later, he reverses himself. Knowing that governors lack the supplies they need, Trump shifts the burden of testing and tracing onto them:

“[T]he governors will use whatever testing is necessary. And if they’re not satisfied with their testing, they shouldn’t open… [T]he governors are supposed to do testing. It’s up to the governors… The governors are doing the testing. It’s now not up — and it hasn’t been up — to the federal government.”

Apr. 15: Governors and health officials report continuing shortages of swabs, reagents, and other materials necessary for COVID-19 tests.

Apr. 16: Trump announces his plan for the country’s phased reopening, which requires states to have rigorous testing and tracing in place before loosening restrictions.

Apr. 17: Trump tweets: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” “LIBERATE” protests begin throughout the country.

Also on Apr. 17: “The governors are responsible for testing,” Trump reiterates. “Swabs can be done easily by the governors themselves. Mostly, it’s cotton. It’s not a big deal. You can get cotton easily.”

Apr. 20: The US is conducting only about 150,000 tests per day. But a Harvard panel of health experts concludes that reopening the country safely requires at least five million tests per day by early June, increasing to 20 million tests daily by mid-summer.

Also on Apr. 20: A reporter reminds Trump that on Mar. 21, Giroir promised 27 million tests by the end of March, but so far only four million people have been tested: “So where are the other 23 million or so tests?”

Giroir answers that more than 40 million tests are “in the marketplace,” but there has been a shortage of swabs. “And as simple as a swab is: A swab is not a swab is not a swab,” he says. “And we need to be very careful that when we put something in a person and tell them a test result, that it’s really correct.”

Apr. 21: Pence visits Wisconsin to tout Trump’s response to the pandemic. Of the 60,000 plastic tips that the state had requested from FEMA in late March for COVID-19 testing, it has received only 2,800. Of the 10,000 testing swabs the state requested, it has received only 3,500.

Truth Revealed

Apr. 27: The US is conducting about 200,000 tests per day. A reporter reminds Pence of his promise that the US would have completed four million total tests by mid-March and we “just now got there in the last few days.” What went wrong?

“I appreciate the question,” Pence says, “but it represents a misunderstanding on your part and the — and frankly, the — a lot of people in the public’s part about the difference between having a test versus the ability to actually process the test.” [Emphasis supplied]

The reporter presses, “So when you said four million tests, seven weeks ago, you were just talking about tests being sent out, not actually being — being completed?”

“[P]recisely correct,” Pence answers without missing a beat.

Apr. 28: Responding to the Harvard panel’s recommendation that the US needs five million tests per day to reopen safely in June and 20 million daily by September, Giroir tells Time, there is “absolutely no way on Earth, on this planet or any other planet, that we can do 20 million tests a day, or even five million tests a day.”

At a press briefing later that day, a reporter asks Trump about the five million-per-day testing benchmark: “[C]an you get to that benchmark?” Without explanation, Trump contradicts Giroir, saying, “Well, it will increase it and it’ll increase it by much more than that [five million] in the very near future. 

Apr. 30: Congress’ attending physician tells senior Republican officials that he has insufficient capacity to test all 100 senators for COVID-19 when they return to work on May 4. Tests will be available only for staffers and senators who are ill, even though asymptomatic individuals can infect others.

Apr. 30: Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of Trump’s COVID-19 task force, warns that states reopening without adequate testing and tracing will suffer outbreaks. Meanwhile, Trump pressures governors to reopen states and encourages protesters to push in that direction.

May 4: An epidemiological model cited frequently by the White House updates its projections. Incorporating rising mobility in most states, as well as the easing of social distancing measures expected in 31 states by May 11, it doubles the number of expected US COVID-19 deaths to nearly 135,000 by early August.

May 6: The US is conducting about 250,000 tests per day. Asked if reopening the country will increase COVID-19 deaths, Trump says, “It could very well be the case.” With respect to testing, he says, “If we did very little testing, we wouldn’t have the most cases. So, in a way, by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad.”

May 7: The White House acknowledges that one of Trump’s personal valets has tested positive for COVID-19. Hours later, it announces that Trump and everyone who comes into contact with him will be tested daily. Shortly thereafter, Trump says that testing for the virus is “somewhat overrated.”

May 11: During a Rose Garden briefing, Trump says, “We’ve prevailed on testing.” Two large posters behind him proclaim falsely, “AMERICA LEADS THE WORLD IN TESTING.” Although the US has the performed highest raw number of COVID-19 tests, more than 30 other nations are ahead in per capita testing.

May 14: Speaking at an event in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Trump says, “We have more cases than anybody in the world. But why? Because we do more testing. When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.”

May 15: Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, says that forecasting models now predict that total US deaths from COVID-19 will surpass 100,000 by June 1.

As Trump lies and dissembles, remember this fact: The US has only 4 percent of the world’s population. Yet it has one-third of worldwide COVID-19 infections and more than 25 percentof resulting deaths — so far. The US ranks among the top ten nations in most deaths per million of population.

Trump can’t make us look any worse than he already has.

 

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

WHERE ARE THE TESTS?

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on May 13, 2020.

By June 1. more than 100,000 Americans will have died from COVID-19. Compare that to South Korea’s 260 and Australia’s 98 current fatalities, where unlike Trump, leaders quickly implemented widespread testing and tracing programs. Public health officials isolated infected individuals, traced their contacts with others, followed the potential spread of the virus, and targeted the response.

As Trump failed to implement an effective nationwide testing program, he lied about it. Now he’s shifting the burden to individual states while urging governors to “reopen” in violation of his own testing and tracing standards. Even Trump’s medical experts agree that such a blind push to resume social and economic activity is a fool’s errand.

Lies, False Promises, and Obfuscation

Mar. 6: “Anyone that wants a test gets a test,” Trump says. Politifact labels it a “Pants-on-Fire” lie.

Also on Mar. 6: Vice President Mike Pence says, “[I]n a matter of weeks, the coronavirus tests will be broadly available to the public and available to any American that is symptomatic and has a concern about — about the possibility of having contracted the coronavirus.” Not true.

When a reporter asks FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn how many people have been tested so far, he suggests checking with the CDC. The answer that Hahn didn’t want to give is that the US has completed 2,983 US tests to date — less than two percent of the 165,000 tests conducted in South Korea, which is isolating, tracing and containing the virus.

Mar. 13: Asked if he takes responsibility for the delay in testing, Trump says, “I don’t take responsibility at all….”

Mar. 18: “If federal officials have shipped millions of tests, as you and your colleagues have said, why, as the federal government says, have only 59,000 tests been processed to this point?” a reporter asks Trump. “We just heard from the Atlanta Public Health director saying that they have fewer than 50 test kits for more than 900,000 citizens. Where are the tests?”

Trump defers to Pence, who defers to Dr. Deborah Birx. “[T]here was backlog,” she says. “There were individuals who had been tested who hadn’t had their specimen run because of the slow throughput. It’s now in a high-speed platform.” She doesn’t mention shortages of swabs and reagents required to administer the tests.

Mar. 19: A reporter asks Trump to “explain the gap” between his claim that plenty of tests are available and reports that people with symptoms can’t get tested. “Well, I can’t — I cannot explain the gap,” Trump answers. “I’m hearing very good things on the ground….”

Mar. 20: “What do you say to the Americans who are scared that they have symptoms and can’t get a test?” a reporter asks Trump. “Yeah. Well, okay. I’m not — I’m not hearing it,” Trump says.

Mar. 21: Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services Brett Giroir says that the government has put more than 10 million tests into the US commercial market and that by Mar. 28 more than 27 million will be available. He doesn’t reveal that shortages of swabs and reagents render the tests alone useless.

Mar. 23: A reporter tells Trump that some states report shortages of swabs and reagents: “So what is the administration doing to get all the states the materials that they need?” Trump deflects, saying that the Army Corps of Engineers is building field hospitals.

Late March: Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) requests 60,000 plastic tips to store reagents and 10,000 testing swabs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which tells him that it doesn’t have enough supplies.

Shifting Blame and Pivoting to the Economy

Apr. 13-14: Worried about state governors’ stay-at-home orders hurting his re-election prospects that depend on a strong economy, Trump claims falsely that he has “total” authority to overrule the governors and reopen the country. But 24 hours later, he reverses himself. Knowing that governors lack the supplies they need, Trump shifts the burden of testing and tracing onto them:

“[T]he governors will use whatever testing is necessary. And if they’re not satisfied with their testing, they shouldn’t open… [T]he governors are supposed to do testing. It’s up to the governors… The governors are doing the testing. It’s now not up — and it hasn’t been up — to the federal government.”

Apr. 15: Governors and health officials report continuing shortages of swabs, reagents, and other materials necessary for COVID-19 tests.

Apr. 16: Trump announces his plan for the country’s phased reopening, which requires states to have rigorous testing and tracing in place before loosening restrictions.

Apr. 17: Trump tweets: “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” “LIBERATE VIRGINIA and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” “LIBERATE” protests begin throughout the country.

Also on Apr. 17: “The governors are responsible for testing,” Trump reiterates. “Swabs can be done easily by the governors themselves. Mostly, it’s cotton. It’s not a big deal. You can get cotton easily.”

Apr. 20: The US is conducting only about 150,000 tests per day. But a Harvard panel of health experts concludes that reopening the country safely requires at least five million tests per day by early June, increasing to 20 million tests daily by mid-summer.

Also on Apr. 20: A reporter reminds Trump that on Mar. 21, Giroir promised 27 million tests by the end of March, but so far only four million people have been tested: “So where are the other 23 million or so tests?”

Giroir answers that more than 40 million tests are “in the marketplace,” but there has been a shortage of swabs. “And as simple as a swab is: A swab is not a swab is not a swab,” he says. “And we need to be very careful that when we put something in a person and tell them a test result, that it’s really correct.”

Apr. 21: Pence visits Wisconsin to tout Trump’s response to the pandemic. Of the 60,000 plastic tips that the state had requested from FEMA in late March for COVID-19 testing, it has received only 2,800. Of the 10,000 testing swabs the state requested, it has received only 3,500.

Truth Revealed

Apr. 27: The US is conducting about 200,000 tests per day. A reporter reminds Pence of his promise that the US would have completed four million total tests by mid-March and we “just now got there in the last few days.” What went wrong?

“I appreciate the question,” Pence says, “but it represents a misunderstanding on your part and the — and frankly, the — a lot of people in the public’s part about the difference between having a test versus the ability to actually process the test.” [Emphasis supplied]

The reporter presses, “So when you said four million tests, seven weeks ago, you were just talking about tests being sent out, not actually being — being completed?”

“[P]recisely correct,” Pence answers without missing a beat.

Apr. 28: Responding to the Harvard panel’s recommendation that the US needs five million tests per day to reopen safely in June and 20 million daily by September, Giroir tells Time, there is “absolutely no way on Earth, on this planet or any other planet, that we can do 20 million tests a day, or even five million tests a day.”

At a press briefing later that day, a reporter asks Trump about the five million-per-day testing benchmark: “[C]an you get to that benchmark?” Without explanation, Trump contradicts Giroir, saying, “Well, it will increase it and it’ll increase it by much more than that [five million] in the very near future. 

Apr. 30: Congress’ attending physician tells senior Republican officials that he has insufficient capacity to test all 100 senators for COVID-19 when they return to work on May 4. Tests will be available only for staffers and senators who are ill, even though asymptomatic individuals can infect others.

Apr. 30: Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of Trump’s COVID-19 task force, warns that states reopening without adequate testing and tracing will suffer outbreaks. Meanwhile, Trump pressures governors to reopen states and encourages protesters to push in that direction.

May 4: An epidemiological model cited frequently by the White House updates its projections. Incorporating rising mobility in most states, as well as the easing of social distancing measures expected in 31 states by May 11, it doubles the number of expected US COVID-19 deaths to nearly 135,000 by early August.

May 6: The US is conducting about 250,000 tests per day. Asked if reopening the country will increase COVID-19 deaths, Trump says, “It could very well be the case.” With respect to testing, he says, “If we did very little testing, we wouldn’t have the most cases. So, in a way, by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad.”

As Trump lies and dissembles, remember this fact: The US has only 4 percent of the world’s population. Yet it has one-third of worldwide COVID-19 infections and more than 25 percent of resulting deaths — so far. The US ranks among the top ten nations in most deaths per million of population.

Trump can’t make us look any worse than he already has.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

TRUMP AND HIS TRAVEL BANS

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on May 5, 2020.

With only 4 percent of the world’s population, the US has almost one-third of all reported COVID-19 cases and more than 25 percent of resulting deaths. In just two months, more than 60,000 Americans have lost their lives to the virus, surpassing the total number of military fatalities during the nearly two decades-long Vietnam War.

Those are unambiguous metrics of failure. Whenever pressed on why he didn’t do more to protect the country sooner, Trump reverts to a false talking point — that he was “the first one” to “close off China,” thereby saving “hundreds of thousands” of lives. Trump tells similar lies about later restrictions on travelers from Europe.

The pandemic is not Trump’s fault. Responsibility for America’s failure to respond quickly to the crisis falls squarely on his shoulders. Here are the facts.

January: Trump Ignores Warnings

Jan. 3, 2020: The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar about a novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. Azar tells his chief of staff to notify Trump’s National Security Council that it’s a very big deal.

Early January: In the first of more than a dozen classified briefings through February, the President’s Daily Brief of Intelligence Matters warns Trump about the dire health and economic dangers that the virus poses.

Jan. 9: Trump holds a campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio

Jan. 14: Trump holds a campaign rally in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Jan. 18: Trump plays golf at his club in West Palm Beach. Azar has spent weeks trying to warn Trump personally about the virus and finally gets a call through to him there. Trump interrupts the conversation to criticize Azar’s handling of an aborted federal ban on vaping products.

Jan. 21: The CDC confirms America’s first case of COVID-19 in Washington State. On Jan. 24, it confirms a second case in Illinois.

Jan. 22: “We have it totally under control,” Trump says of the virus. “It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

Jan. 24: The Marshall Islands becomes the first country to issue restrictions on travelers from China, requiring them spend at least 14 days in a country not affected by the virus before entering.

Jan. 27: Hong Kong bans Hubei residents, as well those who have visited that province (which includes Wuhan) within the past 14 days.

Jan. 28: Trump holds a campaign rally in Wildwood, New Jersey.

Jan. 29: Papau New Guinea bans travelers from Wuhan, as well as anyone who has been to China in the past 14 days who doesn’t undergo a medical check. Singapore bans foreign nationals who have traveled to China within the past 14 days and suspends visas for passport holders from China.

Jan. 30: Trump holds a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa.

The WHO declares COVID-19 a global health emergency, noting that there are now 98 cases in 18 countries outside of China, including cases of human-to-human transmission in Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the US. It urges all countries to “review preparedness plans, identify gaps and evaluate the resources needed to identify, isolate and care for cases, and prevent transmission.”

Other nations implement China travel restrictions, including: Afghanistan, the Bahamas, Maldives, North Korea, Rwanda, Tajikistan, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Jan. 31: Trump announces China travel restrictions, which he calls a “ban.” But 11 exceptions allow travel to continue between the US from China. Also, since Jan. 1, almost 400,000 passengers have already arrived in the US on unrestricted direct flights from China. 

Trump later claims repeatedly and falsely that he “was the first” to ban travelers from China. But by the time his restrictions become effective on Feb. 2, more than 20 other countries have implemented limitations that are at least as stringent as Trump’s, including the following nations on Jan. 31: Antigua and Barbuda, Brunei, Cook Islands, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Iran, Italy, Jamaica, Kiribati, Micronesia, Morocco, Philippines, Solomon Islands.

February: Too Little, Too Late 

Feb. 1: As Trump plays golf at his club in West Palm Beach, more countries implement China travel restrictions effective Feb. 1: Armenia, Australia, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Palau, St. Kitts and Nevis, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam.

Feb. 2: Trump’s China travel restrictions become effective at 5:00 pm EST. Trump declares falsely, “Well, we pretty much shut it [COVID-19] down coming in from China.”

Feb. 2 to Apr. 4: Nearly 40,000 additional passengers arrive in the US on direct flights from China.

Feb 10: Trump holds a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he says, “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, [the coronavirus] miraculously goes away.”

Feb. 15: Trump plays golf at his club in West Palm Beach.

Feb. 19: Trump holds campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona.

Feb. 20: Trump holds a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Feb. 21: Trump holds a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Feb. 25: Nancy Messonnier, a senior CDC official, tells reporters that COVID-19 is likely to spread within US communities and that disruptions to daily life could be “severe.” Returning from a trip to India, Trump calls Azar to complain that Messonnier is scaring the stock markets and threatens to oust her.

Feb. 27: “It’s going to disappear,” Trump says. “One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”

Feb. 28: Trump holds a campaign rally in Charleston, SC, where he says that concerns about his handling of the growing COVID-19 crisis is the Democrats’ “new hoax.”

March: Trump Creates Chaos at International Airports

If Trump had taken the pandemic seriously and instituted a comprehensive testing and contact-tracing program, he would have learned that the first COVID-19 cases in New York City — the worst global epicenter of the pandemic — originated in Europe, not China. Because Trump rejected the advice of senior advisers pushing him to close air travel from Europe, the virus reached NYC in February.

Mar. 2: Trump holds a campaign rally in Charlotte, NC. Asked if he has any qualms about attending a large stadium rally in light of the COVID-19 threat, he says, “I think it’s very safe.” 

Mar. 7-8: Trump plays golf at his club in West Palm Beach.

Mar. 10: Trump says, “It will go away, just stay calm. It will go away.”

Mar. 11: Trump announces restrictions on travelers from Europe, but they’re riddled with exceptions and don’t become effective until Mar. 14.

Mar. 13: “Europe was just designated as the hotspot right now, and we closed that border a while ago,” Trump says, although the border remains open and the restrictions he issued two days earlier are not yet in effect. 

Mar. 14: Trump’s latest restrictions go into effect. But his surprise announcement blindsides European allies, as well as the US Department of Homeland Security, both of which are unprepared for the resulting chaos. Passengers returning to America are funneled through 13 US airports, including JFK, O’Hare, and Dallas/Ft. Worth, where they stand for hours in overcrowded lines, awaiting inconsistent, superficial, and sometimes non-existent health screenings from untrained US customs officers.

Here’s the scene at O’Hare:

https://twitter.com/BrookeGMcDonald/status/1238986272137502720

At JFK:

https://twitter.com/vjake20/status/1239001781243457542

And at DFW:

https://twitter.com/holajefe/status/1238974763503996928

Arriving passengers proceed from customs to their final destinations, often via public transportation or connecting flights. They take with them whatever COVID-19 virus they acquired while waiting in line with thousands of fellow passengers.

Trump Rewrites History

Mar. 31: “[W]e stopped China… But we also stopped Europe very shortly thereafter,” Trump says falsely. “[W]e stopped China really early, and we stopped Europe really early.”

Apr. 20: Trump lies again about the travel restrictions: “[I]n January… we put on a ban of [sic] China, where China can’t come in. And before March, we put on a ban on Europe, where Europe can’t come in. So how could you say I wasn’t taking it seriously?”

When a reporter presses Trump about his campaign rallies in February and March, he doubles down:

“But — no, no,” Trump answers, “Wait. But you can’t say this. Look, I put on a ban. In other words, I stopped China from coming to the United States. I stopped Europe from coming into the United States, long before the March date that you’re talking about. So people should say I acted very early.”

It’s a lie.

Then on Apr. 29, Jared Kushner appears on Fox & Friends and says, “The federal government rose to the challenge, and this is a great success story.”

The more than 65,000 US COVID-19 fatalities, their survivors, and their friends know that’s the biggest lie of all. Sadly, their ranks are growing.

Read all installments of Steven Harper’s Pandemic Timeline.

 

PANDEMIC TIMELINE: PAGING DR. TRUMP?

The Pandemic Timeline page at BillMoyers.com collects all installments in this series here.

When Trump Plays Doctor, People Die

For years, Trump failed to prepare America for a pandemic. For months after COVID-19 emerged, he downplayed its danger. Now he’s touting a dubious miracle cure.

Facing relentless criticism amid mounting deaths, Trump has been telling first responders, doctors, nurses and the public that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine will keep them from contracting COVID-19 — something that no infectious disease expert has ever suggested.

“What do you have to lose?” he asks repeatedly.

Trump’s COVID-19 Briefings: A Public Health Menace

Mar. 19, 2020: At a press briefing, Trump says that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine — drugs that successfully treat malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis — have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat COVID-19. That’s false. He adds, “The nice part is, it’s been around for a long time, so we know that if it — if things don’t go as planned, it’s not going to kill anybody.” Also false.

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn corrects Trump, saying that clinical trials are required to determine whether the drugs are safe and effective in treating COVID-19. Otherwise, it’s impossible to know whether they are better, the same, or worse than doing nothing at all.

Mar. 19-20: In response to Trump’s misinformation, demand for the drugs surges, creating shortages for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis patients who need it.

Mar. 20: A controversial French expert in infectious diseases, Dr. Didier Raoult, publishes his study on the use of hydroxychloroquine combined with azithromycin to treat 26 infected COVID-19 patients. Four (15%) actually got worse: three were transferred to the ICU and one died on the third day of treatment. The study notes the limitations of his work: “a small sample size, limited long-term outcome follow-up, and a dropout of six patients from the study.”

Mar. 20: At a press briefing, Trump continues to promote hydroxychloroquine. Asked whether it is effective for treating COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, responds bluntly: “The answer is no, and the evidence that you’re talking about … is anecdotal evidence.”

Mar. 21: Citing Dr. Raoult’s publication, Trump tweets: “HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine…. Hopefully they will BOTH (H works better with A, International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents) be put in use IMMEDIATELY. PEOPLE ARE DYING, MOVE FAST.”

Mar. 23: An otherwise healthy Arizona man dies and his wife is hospitalized in critical condition after drinking a small amount of veterinary chloroquine phosphate. Concerned about catching COVID-19, they recognized the name “chloroquine” from Trump’s press briefings and took it based solely on his recommendation.

Mar. 24: Nationwide shortages of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine worsen as doctors hoard the drugs by prescribing them to themselves and family members, ProPublica reports.

Mar. 25: The head of the Mayo Clinic’s Sudden Death Genomics Lab issues public guidance to physicians warning that some patients taking hydroxychloroquine as an experimental COVID-19 treatment are at increased risk for sudden cardiac death.

Mar. 28: Trying to replicate Dr. Raoult’s study, French infectious disease experts apply his protocol to 11 patients: one dies, two are transferred to the ICU and a fourth patient suffers adverse cardiac effects requiring discontinuation of the drugs. The study finds no evidence of a clinical benefit in using hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to treat patients with severe COVID-19.

Mar. 28: The FDA authorizes emergency use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, allowing doctors to prescribe them on a limited basis to certain COVID-19 patients. But the FDA emphasizes that the untested drugs have not been approved for general use to treat the virus.

Mar. 30: At a press briefing, Trump again touts hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as COVID-19 treatments.

Mar. 31: “[D]ue to a significant surge in demand,” the FDA adds hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to its drug shortages list.

Apr. 3: The International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy — publisher of the medical journal where Dr. Raoult’s study appeared — issues an unusual statement expressing “concerns” that the study “does not meet the Society’s expected standard, especially relating to the lack of better explanations of the inclusion criteria and the triage of patients to ensure patient safety.”

Apr. 4: During a meeting in the White House Situation Room, Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro says that studies of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine show “clear therapeutic efficacy.” Dr. Fauci disagrees, saying that the evidence is only anecdotal. Navarro raises his voice, and Jared Kushner turns to him saying, “Peter, take yes for an answer.”

At a later press briefing, Trump says he is placing millions of doses of hydroxychloroquine in the federal stockpile of emergency supplies. Asserting that he might take the drug himself, he adds, “What do you have to lose? Take it. I really think they should take it. But it’s their choice. And it’s their doctor’s choice or the doctors in the hospital. But hydroxychloroquine. Try it, if you’d like.”

Apr. 5: No medical evidence supports using hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19. Nevertheless, Trump suggests that doctors, nurses, first responders, and medical personnel going into hospitals should take the drug prophylactically. Again he says, “What do you have to lose?”

Although the FDA has not approved the drug for general use in treating COVID-19, Trump also repeats his earlier lie that “[the FDA] gave it rapid approval.” When a reporter asks Dr. Fauci about the drug’s effectiveness, Trump interrupts and physically interposes himself between the doctor and the microphone before he can answer.

Also on Apr. 5: Responding to Trump’s question —“What do you have to lose?” — the president of the American Medical Association tells CNN, “You could lose your life.”

Apr. 6: Following reports that the drug is causing severe adverse side effects, including seizures and vision loss, several hospitals in Sweden stop administering chloroquine to COVID-19 patients.

Also on Apr. 6: At a press briefing, a reporter asks Trump if there is a system in place to track the side effects of hydroxychloroquine. Trump answers, again falsely, “The side effects are the least of it. You have people dying all over the place. And generally, the side effects are really with the Z-Pak having to do with the heart. The Z-Pak — that’s the antibiotic. Not with the hydroxychloroquine… And I say, ‘Try it.’”

Apr. 7: The head of cardiology at Nice University Hospital in France says he restricted treating patients with hydroxychloroquine combined with azithromycin because of side efffects including heart issues.

Apr. 8: At a press briefing, Trump continues pushing hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as COVID-19 treatments saying, “[Z]inc — they say zinc — they say you should add zinc.”

Apr. 12: A study in Brazil is halted early for safety reasons after COVID-19 patients taking higher doses of chloroquine develop irregular heart rates that increased their risk of a potentially fatal heart arrhythmia. Of 81 patients in the study, 11 (14%) died by the sixth day of treatment.

Apr. 14: Medical researchers in China publish a study of 150 patients, concluding that hydroxychloroquine does not help outcomes and produces adverse side effects in some patients.

Also on Apr. 14: Medical researchers publish a study involving 181 COVID-19 patients in four French hospitals, 84 of whom received hydroxychloroquine within 48 hours of admission. The drug did not significantly reduce transfers to the ICU or death.

Apr. 21: A study of 368 patients in VA hospitals “finds no evidence that use of hydroxychloroquine, either with or without azithromycin, reduced the risk of mechanical ventilation in patients hospitalized with COVID-19. An association of increased overall mortality was identified in patients treated with hydroxycholoroquine alone.”

Also on Apr. 21: A panel of experts convened by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH) that Dr. Anthony Fauci directs recommends against using a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to treat COVID-19 patients because of potential adverse heart effects. The panel says that there is “insufficient clinical data to recommend either for or against.”

Apr. 23:  Undeterred by the growing body of medical evidence against hydroxychloroquine as a viable treatment for COVID-19, the president seeks another miracle cure. In a coronavirus task force briefing President Trump suggests that powerful light brought inside the body could combat the virus.The president goes on to say that ingesting disinfectant could be a possible magic bullet: “[D]isinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that.”

Apr. 24: The FDA “cautions against the use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for COVID-19 outside of the hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems.” It notes the increased use of the drugs through outpatient prescriptions and reminds health care professionals and patients of the known risks associated with the drugs, which “have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19.”

Industry members. including Lysol, issue warnings and doctors around the world are quick to contradict the president’s suggestions.

What Do You Have to Lose?

Your health, your eyesight, your life, and the wellbeing of chronically ill fellow citizens who need hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to survive. That’s what you have to lose.

Here are links to: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV of this series on Trump’s Lies and Deceptions. An earlier background piece is here.

PANDEMIC TIMELINE: FUDGING THE NUMBERS

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Apr. 16, 2020.

Here are links to Part I, Part II, and Part III of this series. An earlier background piece is here.

Trump’s Lies and Deceptions: Pandemic Timeline Part IV

The lack of early widespread testing for COVID-19 not only crippled America’s response to the virus, but also contributed to a vast undercounting of the resulting infections and deaths. That’s fine with Trump.

Understating the actual US numbers helps Trump in two ways: It masks the magnitude of his failures, and it aids his current effort to convince Americans that he can “reopen the economy” without a comprehensive testing program that would reveal the virus’ continuing danger to public health.

Fewer Tests Given = Fewer Cases Confirmed = Fewer Deaths Counted

Jan. 20, 2020: On the same day, the US and South Korea confirm their first cases of COVID-19. Immediately, South Korea ramps up an aggressive testing and contact-tracing program.

For the next six weeks, the US does virtually no testing as Trump ignores repeated warnings from his advisers and tells the public that the virus is under control.

Mar. 6: The Grand Princess cruise ship remains in limbo off the San Francisco coast. Trump says he doesn’t want infected passengers taken off the ship because it will raise the total case count in the US:

“I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”

Total US tests to date: 1,982 [Note: Data was updated after original submission]

Total South Korea tests to date: 164,740

Mar. 24: As expected, the number of confirmed cases in the US increases as testing increases:

Total US tests to date: 353,809 [Updated data]

Total US confirmed cases: 57, 224 (16% positive)

Data show that South Korea’s widespread early testing and contact-tracing efforts are working:

Total S. Korea tests to date: 348, 582 (more than six times the US per capita rate)

Total S. Korea confirmed cases: 9,037 (3% positive)

Apr. 3: As the number of US deaths surpasses 7,000, the CDC issues new guidance that a laboratory test should be used to confirm COVID-19 as the cause of death. If the deceased wasn’t tested prior to death, “it is acceptable to report COVID–19 on a death certificate without this confirmation if the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty.” Despite this high standard, the death toll continues to rise.

Apr. 5: Even as the total number of reported US deaths from COVID-19 more than doubles in one week to exceed 9,500, a CDC spokesperson admits, “We know that it is an underestimation.” 

The undercounting of US COVID-19 deaths results directly from early and ongoing testing and case-tracing failures:

  • Prior to late March, many deaths were reported incorrectly as influenza, pneumonia, or respiratory illness because tests weren’t available.
  • Although the CDC recommends the use of a positive COVID-19 test to confirm cause of death, the tests have been in short supply so they’re not wasted on the deceased.
  • From its first COVID-19 death on Mar. 14 and continuing through Apr. 13, New York City’s official total included only victims who had a tested positively while they were still alive.

On Apr. 14, NYC added 3,778 victims to its death toll who were presumed to have died from the virus but had never been tested — raising the city’s total COVID-19 deaths from 6,589 to 10,367.

  • In NYC alone, the outbreak may have contributed to another 3,000 “excess deaths” (compared to the same period in prior years), including individuals who died because COVID-19 cases overwhelmed the city’s health care system and crowded out treatment for other serious conditions.
  • Many untested individuals are dying in long-term senior care facilities and some states don’t track those deaths at all.
  • Hospital data drive the official COVID-19 death counts. But at-home deaths have also spiked dramatically in many places. Experts believe that the virus is a contributor, as many people who later died of the disease were “presumed positive” patients sent home to shelter in place.
  • Researchers estimate that the COVID-19 test has a false negative rate of 15 to 30 percent. Those infected patients (and their doctors) mistakenly believe they don’t have the virus. When such individuals later die from the disease, often they don’t count as COVID-19 deaths.

Apr. 7: Asked about recent media reports on the undercounting of COVID-19 deaths, Trump says, “[T[he death counts, I think they’re very, very accurate,” adding, “I do say this: I think if you look at China and if you look at some of these very large countries, when you talk about cases — number of cases — I would be willing to bet they have more cases than we do, but they don’t do the testing like we do.”

Apr. 9: Asked whether the US needs an expanded nationwide COVID-19 testing program before the economy can restart, Trump says, “We want to have it and we’re going to see if we have it. Do you need it? No. Is it a nice thing to do? Yes.”

Apr. 10: On a per capita basis, US testing still lags far behind other countries, including South Korea and Italy. But at a press briefing, Trump says, “We’re leading the world now in testing, by far, and we’re going to keep it that way.”

A reporter asks Trump how Americans will know that the virus has been defeated without a comprehensive nationwide testing and contact-tracing program. “We’ll know because people aren’t going to go to the hospital, people aren’t going to get sick,” he says. “[Y]ou’re going to see nobody’s getting sick anymore. It will be gone, and it won’t be that much longer.”

Apr. 15: Asked why the US has 20 percent of the world’s COVID-19 deaths but only four percent of the world’s population, Trump suggests that other countries aren’t reporting all deaths, saying, “We report everything. We’re reporting the cases, and our reporting is good. We’re reporting every death… We have more cases because we do more reporting.”

Public Health: Numbers Matter Only When They Drive Policy

Trump’s former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and a team of experts have estimated that the US must perform a minimum of 750,000 tests per day and create the medical infrastructure necessary to provide same-day results. Only then can the country trace infected individuals and move safely away from community-wide interventions (i.e. stay-at-home orders) to a case-based approach. Currently, the US averages fewer than 150,000 tests per day and obtaining results can take a week or more.

The US also requires 100,000 contact tracers to follow up on confirmed cases. In early April, Massachusetts became the first state to launch such a program, which will employ 1,000 tracers. San Francisco announced its pilot program on Apr. 15.

Trump: “We have to get our country open.”

Question: “Will you say, sir, what metrics you will use to make that decision?”

Trump: “The metric’s right here.” [Points to head] “The metric’s right here. That’s my metric.”

Trump is lying about his testing failure. He’s lying about the tragic consequences of that failure as measured in infections and deaths. And he’s lying that he can “reopen the economy” safely without an adequate testing and contact-tracing regime in place.

Americans will keep paying for his lies with their lives.

Here are links to: Part I, Part II, and Part III of this series on Trump’s Lies and Deceptions. An earlier background piece is here.

PANDEMIC: THE OBAMA BLAME GAME

This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Apr. 16, 2020.

Pandemic Timeline III

Trump claims that no one could have expected the COVID-19 outbreak and that President Obama is responsible for the “obsolete, broken system” of pandemic response — “the empty shelf” — that Trump inherited.

Here are the facts that refute both lies simultaneously.

Were There Warnings About the Threat of a Global Pandemic?

Jan. 13, 2017: A week before the inauguration, at least 30 members of Trump’s transition team attend a briefing where top Obama administration officials describe an exercise simulating what could be the worst global flu pandemic since 1918. Obama’s homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco and her incoming counterpart, Tom Bossert, lead the discussion.

In the simulation, the virus quickly overwhelms medical systems across parts of Asia. Experts anticipate that its arrival in the US will produce global shortages of key medical resources, including personal protective equipment for medical workers and ventilators.

Among the key lessons:

  • Bringing decision-makers to the table early is paramount — collective understanding of the science and the disease must drive response decisions
  • Transportation and containment issues are a key concern
  • A coordinated, unified national response and message is paramount
  • In a pandemic response scenario, days — and even hours — can matter

Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2017: Trump inherits the National Security Council’s global health security office — the pandemic response team — that Obama had created after the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak.

July 20, 2017: Trump’s homeland security adviser at the time, Bossert, initiates the development of a comprehensive biodefense strategy to protect Americans in the event of a pandemic or biological attack. Former Navy Adm. Tim Ziemer becomes the senior director for the NSC’s pandemic response team.

Feb. 13, 2018: The US intelligence community’s annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” warns, “A novel strain of a virulent microbe that is easily transmissible between humans continues to be a major threat….” (Emphasis in original, p. 17)

How Did Trump Protect Americans From the Predicted Threat?

Apr. 10, 2018: Trump fires Bossert, who resigns at the request of incoming National Security Advisor John Bolton.

May 10, 2018: Trump dissolves the NSC’s pandemic response team and its director, Ziemer, leaves the administration. “The abrupt departure of Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer from the National Security Council means no senior administration official is now focused solely on global health security,” according to The Washington Post.

Jan. 29, 2019: The US Intelligence community annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” again warns that the US and the world are vulnerable to the next flu pandemic, which could lead to massive death rates. (p. 21)

July 2019: Trump administration eliminates the position held by an American epidemiologist embedded in China’s disease control agency. Her job is to train “Chinese field epidemiologists who [are] deployed to the epicenters of outbreaks to help track, investigate, and contain diseases.”

Jan. 3, 2020: By the time the CDC hears from its Chinese counterpart agency about the COVID-19 outbreak, two-thirds of Trump’s representatives at the January 2017 pandemic briefing, including Bossert, are no longer in the administration.

Who is Responsible for America’s Tardy and Mismanaged Response to the Pandemic?

Jan. 10, 2020: Recognizing the national security issues at stake, Bossert tweets: “[W]e face a global health threat. Wuhan disease now identified as a *new* kind of coronavirus… Coordinate!”

Jan. 18, 2020: After trying numerous times to speak with Trump about the virus, Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar finally reaches him by phone. Trump interjects questions about vaping, wondering when flavored vaping products would be back on the market.

Late January and early February: US intelligence agencies and health officials warn Trump that COVID-19 poses a global danger. Through mid-March, he dismisses these concerns and repeatedly lies to the public about the seriousness of the threat.

Feb. 7, 2020: The Trump administration ships almost 18 tons of medical equipment to China, including masks, gowns, gauze, respirators and other vital materials.

Feb. 25, 2020: Nancy Messonnier, a senior CDC official, tells reporters that COVID-19 is likely to spread within US communities and that disruptions to daily life could be “severe.” Returning from a trip to India, Trump calls Azar to complain that Messonnier is scaring the stock markets.

Feb. 26, 2020: Trump announces that Vice President Mike Pence, who is avowedly anti-science, is leading the COVID-19 task force. “Because of all we’ve done, the risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump says. “When you have 15 people and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.”

Mar 12, 2020: Jared Kushner joins Trump’s coronavirus effort to focus on two areas of intense public criticism: insufficient testing and inadequate supplies of medical equipment.

Mar. 13, 2020: Trump calls a reporter’s question about the disbanding of the pandemic response team “nasty” and claims to know nothing about it.

Mar. 19. 2020: Trump says, “Nobody knew there’d be a pandemic or an epidemic of this proportion… [W]e had to break a system — like breaking an egg — because the system we had was obsolete and didn’t work, and that was a system we inherited.”

Mar. 25, 2020: “We’ve come a long way from an obsolete, broken system that I inherited,” Trump says again.

Mar. 29, 2020.  Trump says “think of the number: 2.2 — potentially 2.2 million people if we did nothing. If we didn’t do the distancing, if we didn’t do all of the things that we’re doing.” Trump goes on to say that if the US death toll remains at or below 100,000 lives — more Americans than died in the Vietnam and Korean Wars combined — it would mean that his administration will have done “a very good job.”

Mar. 31, 2020: Trump says that even with aggressive mitigation efforts, the US could suffer 240,000 deaths — a number that puzzles health experts. As The Washington Post reports, “Among epidemiologists, the estimate raised more questions than it answered — not just about methodology and accuracy but, perhaps more importantly, about purpose. The primary goal of such models amid an outbreak is to allow authorities to game out scenarios, foresee challenges and create a coherent, long-term strategy — something some experts worry doesn’t exist within the White House.”

Apr. 3, 2020: A reporter asks Trump, “Who dropped the ball?” After asserting falsely that no one anticipated the pandemic, Trump blames Obama: “The previous administration. The shelves were empty. The shelves were empty… the shelves were empty.”

How Many People Can Trump Kill on Fifth Avenue?

Obama’s team briefed Trump’s transition team on a simulation that anticipated the very type of outbreak now blanketing the earth, but Trump ignored its lessons. Trump inherited a White House pandemic response team, but he disbanded it. For three years, the leaders of the US intelligence community sounded pandemic alarm bells, but Trump paid no attention to them.

When the specific COVID-19 virus emerged in January 2020, Trump wasted precious weeks ignoring the warnings from the international health community while simultaneously lying to the public about its likely impact. To avoid responsibility for his failures, he now lies again in an attempt to shift the blame. Meanwhile, he keeps moving the goalposts for no reason other than to manage public expectations of what will qualify as his personal “win.”

Trump once said that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would still love him. He’s now testing that hypothesis. But he hasn’t limited his victims to New York City.

Trump’s lies are like zombies. Fact-checkers keep killing them, but he keeps bringing them back to life — and repeating them over and over again. The only antidote is the truth — repeated over and over again. Here are links to: Part I and Part II of this series. An earlier background piece is here.

PANDEMIC: THE SOUTH KOREAN CASE

As Trump repeats lies, others must repeat truth. This post first appeared at BillMoyers.com on Mar. 31, 2020. Because Trump keeps lying about America’s COVID-19 testing failure, I’m re-running the post in its entirety here.

Every American needs to understand the chilling implications of the graph below. Click on a country to see the different rates at which COVID-19 infections are increasing:

https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/covid-confirmed-cases-since-100th-case

Look at line on the graph for the US. It’s steeper than that of any other nation at this point in its pandemic experience — worse than China, worse than Spain, worse than Italy.

Hospitals in New York City are already overwhelmed and the worst is yet to come. New Orleans is probably next, unless Florida wins that dubious prize. As the US infection trend line shoots upward toward an unknown peak, some hospitals are considering universal “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) policies for all COVID-19 patients because there’s an insufficient supply of required medical gear to protect healthcare workers from infected patients.

Now look at the line on the graph for South Korea. So far, that country is an international success story reflecting President Moon’s efforts to flatten the curve and control COVID-19. America, on the other hand, is a case study in Trump’s catastrophic failure to do so. Now he’s suggesting that the US is somehow doing better than South Korea at managing the pandemic. The facts prove otherwise.

The Truth and the Timeline

Jan. 20: On the same day, South Korea and the US confirm their first COVID-19 cases.

Jan. 27: South Korean officials meet with medical company representatives, urging them to develop COVID-19 test kits immediately for mass production and promising emergency approval.

Jan. 31: Trump announces what he touts as a “travel ban” that is actually just a policy prohibiting non-US citizens who have traveled to China within the last two weeks from entering the US. There is no process to screen, test, or quarantine US citizens, permanent residents, or their relatives still arriving legally from China in order to determine if they are carrying the virus. For the next six weeks, Trump downplays the seriousness of the growing pandemic.

Feb. 5: Although the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Korea remains low, thousands of test kits ship daily throughout that country. In America, the CDC is also shipping thousands of test kits to state, city, and county public health laboratories.

Feb. 8: The CDC receives reports that its test kits are flawed and, therefore, useless. As a result, testing in the US comes to a virtual halt and the CDC must provide and process the relatively few tests that are administered. Confirming the infection in any individual patient can take days.

Feb. 23: A surge of 169 new confirmed cases, the majority of which are traced to a religious sect, brings South Korea’s total to 763. Previously, the government had already shut down day care centers, banned outdoor rallies, and postponed opening schools. Even so, South Korean President Moon raises the virus threat to its highest alert level, thereby allowing the government to allocate more money for fighting it, permitting health officials to acquire the personal data of individuals suspected of infection, outlawing religious and other mass gatherings, and controlling air, train and other public traffic around the country.

Feb. 28: The CDC announces a new fix to its COVID-19 test kits and testing resumes in the US, but only on a slightly larger scale. Trump’s response to the virus: “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” At a campaign rally, he dismisses concerns about his handling of the pandemic as a Democratic “hoax.”

Mar. 4: By now, South Korea — a country of 51.8 million people — has performed more than 136,000 tests. The US, with a population of 329 million, has performed fewer than 1,000.

Mar. 5: South Korea has drive-through testing clinics that can detect COVID-19 cases in just 10 minutes. Overall, the country has performed 146,000 tests and confirmed the infection in 6,000 patients, 35 of whom have died — a mortality rate of 0.6 percent. The US has performed about 1,300 tests and doctors are contending with severe shortages of test kits.

Mar. 6: In response, Trump says, “Anybody right now and yesterday, anybody that needs a test gets a test. They’re there. They have the tests and the tests are beautiful.” Politifact labels it a “pants on fire” lie.

Mar. 10: Discussing COVID-19, Trump says, “It will go away, just stay calm. It will go away.”

By Mar. 17: This video clip tells the comparative story of COVID-19 testing in the US and South Korea up to this date:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkDYkYpY8H0

Mar. 19: The US finally reaches the 100,000 mark in total tests to date. South Korea’s total exceeds 300,000. 

Eight Weeks versus Eight Days

Mar. 23: With another week to go in his 15-day “stop the spread” promotion, Trump says that he hopes to get everyone back to work by Easter Sunday, Apr. 12.

Also on Mar. 23: The New York Times publishes a comprehensive article explaining how South Korea succeeded where America failed — flattening the curve so that COVID-19 cases don’t overwhelm the nation’s hospital system. The secrets to South Korea’s success were immediate government intervention to produce test kits on a massive scale, engaging early in widespread testing, isolating affected groups, and conducting extensive messaging to keep the public educated and informed. Trump did none of those things.

Mar. 24: At a Fox News virtual town hall meeting, Trump responds. “In the last eight days, we’ve done more testing than South Korea has done in eight weeks,” he says. At a press briefing that evening, he repeats the claim. It becomes a standard Trump talking point.

Fact check: According to the COVID tracking project, during the eight-day period to which Trump refers (Mar. 15 – 24), the US conducted about 338,000 tests. During the eight weeks prior to Mar. 24, South Korea had run 348,000. In raw numbers alone, that’s 10,000 more tests for South Korea. But the US has approximately 329 million people, compared to 51.8 million for South Korea. On a per capita basis, South Korea has tested at a rate nearly seven times greater than the US. And critically, South Korea began aggressive testing weeks earlier than the US.

Consequences

Early testing enabled South Korea to pinpoint specific sources of the outbreak and target them for treatment, quarantine, and emergency alerts to affected communities. Trump’s early indifference, coupled with his desire to keep the number of US COVID-19 cases down to protect the stock market, prevented rapid identification and containment of the virus.

When Trump says he has proceeded in an unprecedented way on COVID-19 testing, he’s right — but not in a good way. His self-congratulatory lies fill Americans with a false sense of security that now makes it more difficult to promote social distancing, which is the only way to flatten the US infection curve.

South Korean President Moon told his citizens the truth, followed the advice of scientific experts, and used his executive power to protect people’s health rather than financial markets. He treated the crisis with the urgency it deserves, rather than as a public relations problem. Trump did none of that and his continuing lies, reckless disregard of experts’ advice, and obsession with economic indicators are taking a very bad situation and making it worse.

This is part of a continuing series on Trump and the Pandemic. You can read Part I here.