People For the American Way

Falsehoods and Failures: Trump During COVID-19 (12/11 Update)

News and Analysis
Falsehoods and Failures: Trump During COVID-19 (12/11 Update)

This week, more Americans died on a single day from COVID-19 than died during the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Yet Donald Trump’s references to the pandemic were predictably insensitive.

As Trump continues to complain about the “stolen” election and attend indoor, maskless holiday parties, hospitals across the country are short-staffed and reaching maximum capacity. Front line health care workers are exhausted, overwhelmed, and frightened. And thousands of people are dying every day.

  • On December 8, the United States counted 222,211 new COVID-19 infections – a new daily record – and on December 9, the country surpassed its previous single-day death record with more than 3,055 COVID-19 deaths reported. This week’s catastrophic tallies provide additional context about the virus’s progression throughout the country: Each day since December 2, more than 100,000 coronavirus patients have been in hospitals, outpacing the previous highest averages in the spring and summer, and the country surpassed the marker of 15 million total cases since last January on December 8.
  • On December 10, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) advisory panel formally recommended approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, meaning that the agency is likely to give its official approval as early as this evening. Trump took to Twitter to complain about the FDA’s speed of approval, calling the agency “a big, old, slow turtle,” and to publicly berate the agency’s commissioner, Dr. Stephen M. Hahn.
  • Pfizer’s vaccine has been proven to be 95 percent successful during clinical trials, but news broke this week that months ago the Trump administration passed on the opportunity to purchase an additional 100 million doses above the initial 100 million already purchased from Pfizer. The Trump administration is now scrambling to purchase additional doses, but Pfizer has said that it won’t be able to supply the U.S. with any substantial additional vaccine doses until late June or July due to earlier commitments made with other countries. Thirty-one countries worldwide have reserved more COVID-19 vaccine doses (from various sources) than the U.S.
  • Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continue to refuse to make a genuine, good-faith effort to pass the coronavirus relief that Americans desperately need. On December 8, the Trump administration proposed yet another skimpy bill, which includes far lower unemployment benefits and state and local funding than lawmakers have previously proposed, and also calls for corporate liability exemptions, which would only worsen the economic inequities that the pandemic has exacerbated.
  • Pfizer and Moderna both declined invitations to Trump’s “vaccine summit,” which was held on December 8. Ironically, at the same event intended to celebrate the “miracle” of the vaccine, Trump claimed that the current surge in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths is actually a “terrific” development, because “you develop immunity over time, and … that is a very powerful vaccine in itself.” Politico aptly described the event as “the typical Trumpian mixture of political theatrics, brags, grievances, and accolades,” which included Trump’s grievances that no one had the “courage” to help him overturn the country’s election results.
  • Trump’s praise for the vaccine and plans for its distribution fail to account for many critical logistical details – details that must be resolved as distribution will soon be underway. His administration promised that 300 million vaccine doses would be delivered before the end of 2020, but the current system’s capacity would allow for a mere 40 million doses to be delivered, which would only cover 20 million Americans. There are at least 21 million health care workers who need to be vaccinated. Additionally, the Trump administration has only allotted $340 million to state and local agencies for vaccine distribution, while the estimated actual cost of these efforts will run somewhere between $6 billion to $13.3 billion.
  • Trump and his associates continued to hold in-person events that defy mask and social distancing guidelines and regulations, including a packed and maskless rally in Georgia for the January runoff races, a crowded Hanukkah party at the White House, a State Department holiday gathering of over 200 guests, and hundreds more guests at the White House’s indoor Congressional Ball.
  • Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s new requirement that states submit to federal entities the personal information of those who receive the vaccine has raised privacy alarms.
  • Further information continues to trickle out about the government’s failed response to the coronavirus, including that Trump’s promises to use the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile to provide much-needed personal protective equipment to hospitals, such as particle-filtering N95 respirator masks, fell far short. In May, the administration announced that it would deliver 300 million masks within 90 days – but it never met that goal, instead topping out at a vastly insufficient 142 million N95 masks.
  • The New York Times reported on December 7 that the Trump administration refused to tighten rules on particulate pollution, such as soot, despite the increasing volume of evidence that areas of the country with greater particulate pollution density are connected to a higher rate of deaths due to COVID-19.

Countries from Western Europe to Canada are providing their citizens with additional economic aid – but thanks to McConnell’s obstruction and Trump’s disinterest, that has not been the case in the U.S. The president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Maya MacGuineas, has warned of the “widespread hardship” that Americans will face if the expected 25 coronavirus aid programs all expire by or before the end of 2020. And hospitals that together serve more than 100 million people reported having fewer than fifteen percent of their intensive care beds still available last week.

Millions of Americans’ lives have been devastated by this pandemic, and neither Trump nor the rest of his Republican allies are doing anything to help them. If Senate Republicans refuse to override McConnell’s unconscionable blockade and pass comprehensive coronavirus relief immediately, the cost will be more American lives and further severe economic damage.