The Coronavirus Government Watch Blog is a new US RESIST NEWS blog post written by Sean Gray. The Post provides information and analysis of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus. Wherever possible we seek to be supportive as the coronavirus threatens the health and economic welfare of our nation, and we need government leadership to deal with the virus crisis
The Trump administration’s adversarial stance toward science has hindered its coronavirus response. By prioritizing political self-image over substance, the federal government has impeded progress and sowed confusion through misinformation. From failing to heed credible warnings to a premature haste to reopen economies, science has been minimized in the decision-making process. That tendency has compounded the pandemic and will likely continue to do so.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has been the public face of the government’s coronavirus response. He’s corrected some of the president’s more egregious misstatements (albeit diplomatically) and managed to stay in his role. The same dissent has driven an unprecedented number of staffers through 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since January of 2017. Still it benefits no one for Trump and the Center For Disease Control’s foremost authority to deliver conflicting messages to a worried public. To undermine the individual entrusted with running point on the crisis is a foolish paradox. When Trump opines uninformed alongside Fauci, he does just that, given the public the choice between data driven science and his personal opinion.
Last week Trump turned Fauci into something of a political pawn. The CDC’s infectious disease team has had a policy of not testifying before Congress while combating the virus. Trump refused to allow Fauci to appear before the Democrat-led House because ‘’because the House is a bunch of Trump haters’’ but allowed him to appear before the GOP-held Senate, a body that has proven unwilling to hold him accountable for anything. The move was a naked attempt to keep the doctor from saying anything damaging before a House unfriendly to him. Politicizing Fauci’s involvement makes him seem less like a scientist and more as a partisan in the eyes of Trump’s supporters and allies. The end result is that science is marginalized in favor of what may be more palatable.
The Trump/Fauci relationship is emblematic of the administration’s problematic response to the pandemic. Ideally their relationship would be that of a respected scientist informing the decisions of the person elected to lead. But, Fauci’s guidance often clashes with Trump’s narrative. Ultimately his impact has been dulled by a cacophony of less-informed voices with other motivations. The result is a sloppy, patchwork reopening of the country based on whims rather than hard scientific data.
That ignorance was on full display last week. On Wednesday Trump actually said ‘’we have met the moment and prevailed’’. This is simply untrue. The US death toll has exceeded 90,000. There are more cases than there were in April or March, and reopening across the country promises to exacerbate an inevitable second wave of coronavirus. The statement is either a whopping lie intended to boost Trump’s public standing or indicative of how poor an understanding the president has of the pandemic. Neither can be ruled out. And neither would make the utterance any less irresponsible.
China and the World Health Organization have been reliable targets for Trump’s attempt to deflect blame from himself. The latter organization (whose US funding the president has cut off) has convened scientists the world over to speed up the development of a Covid-19 vaccine. The consensus of the medical community is that a vaccine is requisite for safely returning to normal. The United States will not be involved with the WHO initiative. Be it political posturing or lack of understanding, this decision is inexcusable. To cut funding and prevent input from US scientists on the most significant public health project in a century is to spit in the face of science for the sake of one ego.
Abundant testing for coronavirus is imperative. Grim as the global case numbers may be, they are incomplete. One needn’t have a Ph. .D. to know an accurate count of cases is necessary to adequately monitor and respond to the outbreak. Yet Trump said this week that testing may be ‘’overrated.’’ He acknowledged the US has more cases than any other country but seems to think it is because they’ve ran tests. ‘’If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.’’ Again, this astounding ignorance demonstrates that Trump fails to comprehend the purpose and significance of testing. While sticking his foot in his mouth, Trump announced the US had administered its 10 millionth test and that CVS would have 1,000 new testing sites up by the end of the month. He’d go on to say that the country has run more test than anyone else. This is highly misleading. The US lags behinds several countries in per capita testing; the number currently sits at 28,482 per million. That translates to .02% in a nation of 320 million. Even if the .02% figure were the best in the world, it would hardly be brag-worthy. Common sense dictates expansive, regular testing is key to beating back the virus. Yet to hear the president tell it, testing is something of a nuisance which may reflect poorly on him.
Donald Trump is a man of science the way Evil Kineval was a man of caution. Opinions not based in fact or peer-reviewed data are worse than useless in a pandemic. Due to Trump’s anti-intellectual proclivities, fact-less voices are given much more weight than they merit. Since March it is evident Trump is at least as concerned with his political survival as he is with managing this crisis. The sad irony is that had Trump been less concerned with poll numbers and more concerned with the spread of Covid-19, there would likely be fewer dead Americans and a higher Trump approval rating. Mitigating the damage of this pandemic should be the president’s singular focus at the moment. The prudent way to do that is by heeding the experts appointed to guide him. Unfortunately those experts often tell the president things he doesn’t want to hear. Similar dissenters haven’t gotten far in three years of a Trump White House.