This post first appeared at on Mar. 27, 2020. Be sure to check out the animation accompanying it there.

Trump’s magical thinking and contradictory messages about the coronavirus have created public confusion. The consequences are becoming catastrophic.

Lying to the Public for Weeks

Jan. 3: The director of the CDC warns HHS Director Alex Azar that China has potentially discovered a new coronavirus. Azar tells his chief of staff to notify the National Security Council. This is a very big deal, Azar says.

Jan. 18: Azar notifies Trump about the virus.

Feb. 10: “I think the virus is going to be — it’s going to be fine,” Trump says.

Feb. 14: “We have a very small number of people in the country, right now, with it,” Trump says. “It’s like around 12. Many of them are getting better. Some are fully recovered already. So we’re in very good shape.”

Feb. 19: “I think it’s going to work out fine. I think when we get into April, in the warmer weather, that has a very negative effect on that and that type of a virus,” Trump says. “So let’s see what happens, but I think it’s going to work out fine.” 

Feb. 24: The pandemic is “very much under control in the US,” Trump tweets.

Feb. 25: “You may ask about the coronavirus, which is very well under control in our country. We have very few people with it, and the people that have it are … getting better. They’re all getting better. … As far as what we’re doing with the new virus, I think that we’re doing a great job.” He repeats this self-adulation in a tweet.

Feb. 26: “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.” 

Feb. 27: “Only a very small number in U.S. & China numbers look to be going down. All countries working well together!” Trump tweets.

Also on Feb. 27: “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear,” Trump tells attendees at an African American History Month reception in the White House Cabinet Room.

Feb. 28: At a campaign rally, Trump politicizes concerns about his handling of the growing crisis as a “Democratic hoax.”

March 4: “Some people will have this at a very light level and won’t even go to a doctor or hospital, and they’ll get better,” Trump says. “There are many people like that.”

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

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

The Truth Catches Up

Mar. 13: Trump declares a national emergency, but he does not invoke the Defense Production Act that would mobilize national resources to fight the pandemic.

Mar. 14: Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the world’s foremost authorities on infectious diseases, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, and an adviser to six presidents, publicly urges consideration of a nationwide shutdown similar to those in Europe: “I would prefer as much as we possibly could. I think we should really be overly aggressive and get criticized for overreacting.”

Mar. 14-15: The Imperial College researchers send Trump’s task force an early copy of their final written report. By then, some US states and cities have already imposed stay-at-home orders and business closings.

Mar. 16: Trump reverses his earlier rhetoric of denial. Now he recommends that for 15 days Americans avoid gathering in groups greater than 10, work from home, avoid unnecessary shopping trips, and refrain from eating in restaurants.

Mar. 20: Dr. Fauci predicts that Americans will most likely have to stay at home and practice social distancing for “at least several weeks.”

Lagging Indicators of Leadership Failure

Thanks to Trump’s failure to emphasize the seriousness of the pandemic, state governors who took the threat seriously are having difficulty persuading citizens to stay at home. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) enlisted New Yorkers to get his message across:

Like many governors throughout the country, Gov. Cuomo is fighting what economists would call lagging indicators of Trump’s false messaging and administrative incompetence. Trump’s leadership failure produced another lagging indicator: the testing crisis. Without a sufficient medical infrastructure to test, identify and isolate patients, America has been unable to follow South Korea’s successful containment strategy, even though that country and the US reported their first coronavirus cases on the same day — Jan. 20.

Other lagging indicators include the more rapid spread of the virus in the US due to lack of testing and hospitals with too few beds, insufficient ICU space, and an insufficient number of ventilators for those who will need them to survive.

The worst lagging indicator is, of course, hourly increases in American coronavirus deaths.

From Bad to Worse

Mar. 23: Only seven days into his “stay at home” guidance — Trump reverses himself again. Acknowledging that his own public health experts disagree, he says, “America will, again, and soon, be open for business. Very soon… We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”

Mar. 24: The World Health Organization warns that with more that 46,500 confirmed cases and nearly 600 deaths, the US has the potential to become the new epicenter of the global crisis. Only a week earlier, the US had a total of 6,300 cases in and 108 deaths.

Also on Mar. 24: Trump says he wants the country “back to work” by Easter. That’s Apr. 12. “Easter is a very special day for me,” he says. “Easter Sunday, and you’ll have packed churches all over our country.”

Mar. 25: The spokesperson for the World Health Organization who had warned that the US had the potential to become the next epicenter of the virus says that there is still time to “turn it around.” Sending all Americans back to work by Easter was not among her recommendations. Rather, the formula for success is testing people, finding each case, identifying people who have come into contact with those who have been infected, isolating those who are ill or who have been exposed, and quarantining, she says.

“Finally, getting the people who are ill to treatment — and when you do that, really, really protect your health workers,” she says.

Gov. Cuomo and other governors will make state-specific decisions about whether to “reopen the economy.” Unless Attorney General William Barr finds a way to upend federalism for his boss, there’s nothing Trump can do about it — except spout messages on which too many Americans will rely at their peril.

During a pandemic, incompetent leadership is deadly. Heed the advice of medical professionals who know what they’re talking about.


This post first appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Mar. 16, 2020.

How many ventilators does the US have on hand to fight the pandemic?

At Trump’s coronavirus task force press briefing on Sunday, Mar. 15, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar refused to answer, citing “national security.”

Less than 10 minutes on the internet yielded the answer: 172,700.

Earlier in the day, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that the US has about 12,700 ventilators stockpiled. On Feb. 14, 2020, the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reported that the US has approximately 160,000 ventilators in acute care hospitals. The number in use at any given time is unknown.

Why did Azar refuse to provide that number? Because it’s bad news. Stonewalling is a reflexive response and a defining characteristic of the Trump administration. This time, it’s endangering the health of all Americans.

Why Facts Really Matter Now

During an American Hospital Association webinar in February, Dr. James Lawler, a professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, projected that the coronavirus pandemic could infect 96 million people and hospitalize 4.8 million of them. In the entire country, the US has approximately 925,000 staffed beds (including all types).

Of those 4.8 million projected hospital patients, 1.9 million could require intensive care beds. We have about 98,000 (included in the above total).

Of those 4.8 million hospital patients, 960,000 could require ventilators. We have 172,700. Even more importantly, according to the Johns Hopkins study, the limiting factor for treatment during a pandemic will be respiratory therapists. Dr. Lawler also calculates that the number of US deaths from the virus could be 480,000 — 10 times worse than the mortality rate for the seasonal flu.

If we can spread out the number of infected victims so they show up at hospitals over a longer period of time, we can reduce peak demand for hospital admissions, ICU beds, ventilators, and necessary medical personnel. We would have a chance to avoid the situation facing Italy, where doctors are making life and death decisions about patients who get the treatment they need and those they send home to die. More available beds, ventilators, and therapists means more lives saved. And by we, I mean all of us.

That’s the urgency of “flattening the curve.”

If CNBC’s reporting is correct, the White House task force has it backwards. Under its so-called “optimistic scenario,” peak virus in the US would come one month from Saturday, Mar. 14. Under its “pessimistic scenario,” peak virus would occur two months later. But as the peak becomes earlier, the number of deaths from an overtaxed medical system increases. And that doesn’t take into account spillover deaths from patients requiring care they cannot get for other diseases and illnesses.

Azar and Trump’s entire task force could use these facts to drive home simple messages — wash your hands, no handshakes, social distancing, stay home if you can — every individual can make a difference. Instead, they’re playing to an audience of one, who is working in vain to save a stock market that is reacting to presidential incompetence. In the process, they’re killing Americans. Literally.


The absence of US presidential leadership in the face of a global pandemic has left people feeling:

a) Panic;

b) Unconcerned because they haven’t yet felt the impact personally and Trump has said everything will be ok; or

c) Concerned but helpless because they don’t think they can make a difference.

I can’t do anything about the individuals in category b). Among them are those whom Trump had in mind when he said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose their support. Because of his incompetence, he will have the blood many American coronavirus victims on his hands.

Unparalleled Presidential Malfeasance

In 2018, Trump dissolved President Obama’s pandemic response team, which had been created to deal with the crisis we now face. When pressed on the decision last week, Trump said, “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

As people were dying in China and the World Health Organization was sounding the alarm, Trump proclaimed that the coronavirus was a “Democrat hoax” —  just like Trump-Russia and impeachment. He was 0-for-3 on that assertion.

Trump preferred that infected Americans aboard a cruise ship be left at sea because he didn’t want them to add to the total number of coronavirus cases in the US. “I like the numbers where they are,” he said. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault. And it wasn’t the fault of the people on the ship either, okay? It wasn’t their fault either and they’re mostly Americans. So, I can live either way with it. I’d rather have them stay on, personally.”

Trump unilaterally announced a travel ban that has created chaos and long lines of citizens waiting hours to clear customs at airports, which have become petri dishes for the virus. His xenophobic actions will spread the virus, not slow it.

After declaring a national emergency on Friday, Mar. 13 — complete with lies about Google’s supposed work on a nationwide screening website — he could have set an example for hygiene and social interaction that every citizen should follow. Instead, he shook hands, patted backs, or touched the microphone at the White House lectern 31 times — the very behaviors that the CDC had advised against to stop the spread of the virus. As for social distancing, forget about it.

If the nation doesn’t succeed in “flattening the curve” of coronavirus cases, the US hospital system will become overwhelmed. People who need respirators to survive and recover won’t get them. For an example of medical triage separating those who will live from those who are turned away, look at what’s happening in Italy. The criteria for admission into intensive care units has moved from “first come, first served” to “who has the best chance for survival.” Using that standard, I would not fare well.

But according to every health expert, every individual can make a profound difference in slowing the spread of the virus. Here’s how:

First and foremost: Stay at home. Other than walks to remain healthy, don’t leave home unless you have an essential reason for doing so.

Wash your hands. Do it frequently and correctly. That means using soap and water for 20 seconds — a lot longer than most people typically do — “especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing,” according to the CDC.

Don’t shake hands. The virus spreads through contact. Handshakes are the opposite of social distancing. Here’s a vivid illustration of the difference that social distancing can make: 

True social distancing. Even people who show no symptoms of the coronavirus can spread it. Here are recommendations from the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

  • Avoid going to places where 25 or more people may gather (Update: Don’t go where 10 or more people may gather);
  • Go places where you can maintain at least six feet of distance from other people;
  • Keep in mind your personal risk: If you’re 60 years old and up or have a compromised immune system, you should stay home as much as possible.

No one can achieve 100% social distancing. But if everyone tries, the most vulnerable among us will have a better chance to survive.

By the way, here is a list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and Just Security. When the coronavirus crisis ends — as it eventually will — the Trump-Russia story will return.

AUG. 26, 2019: On Ukraine Aid, ‘Final Decision Rests with POTUS’

DEC. 5, 2019: Burr Warns Grassley and Graham About Biden Investigations

REVISED: FEB. 13-21, 2020: Aide to Acting DNI Maguire Gives Briefing to Congress on Election Security; Trump is Reportedly Furious, Replaces Maguire with Loyalist Grenell; Other High-Ranking ODNI Officials Depart

FEB. 26, 2020: Trump Sues NY Times

FEB. 28, 2020: Appeals Court Rules House Can’t Sue to Enforce McGahn’s Subpoena

MAR. 1, 2020: Republican Senators Subpoena Burisma Witness

MAR. 2, 2020: Former Nunes’ Aide Promoted to Top Intelligence Post at NSC

MAR. 2, 2020: Top Government Officials Issue Warning About Election Interference

MAR. 4, 2020: Senate Republicans Pursue Burisma

MAR. 5, 2020: Judge Says Barr’s ‘Lack of Candor’ and ‘Distortions’ of Mueller Report ‘Call Into Question’ the Credibility of the Justice Dept.’s Redactions

MAR. 6, 2020: Trump Sues CNN