In the past week, Donald Trump has publicly acknowledged the coronavirus pandemic only once, despite the fact that the United States has entered one of the greatest periods of risk since COVID-19 began spreading through our country – including the spread of the virus to even more Trump advisors and White House staff. Since the start of November, the U.S. has recorded more than one million new confirmed cases. On November 12, the single-day report of cases passed an all-time high of 160,00, and 42 states are now considered to be in the “red zone” by public health officials for dangerous community spread of the coronavirus. Yet Trump has been virtually silent, instead stewing about his election loss, lying about the results, and ignoring the duties of the presidency that he holds until January 20, 2021.
The one occasion on which he deigned to mention the pandemic was when he tweeted about the stock market on November 9, implying that he had something to do with the vaccine news that bolstered the S&P 500’s high numbers. (Trump pointedly ignored the fact that Joe Biden’s election success likely also had a positive effect on the market that day.) He later lashed out in a series of tweets aimed at blaming Pfizer and his own Federal Drug Administration for the vaccine announcement being timed to arrive after the election.
Fortunately, there are clear signs that change is coming. President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris are already putting into action their plans to improve the federal response to the pandemic by forming a COVID-19 task force transition team, designed to better enable them to respond with science-based policies the day that they take office. High on their list are action items recommended by the nation’s public health experts, including increasing capacity for testing and contact tracing; investing in additional vaccine and treatment research and development; mandatory mask requirements and increased production capacity for personal protective equipment; and rejoining the World Health Organization to shore up our country’s defenses against future outbreaks.
The Biden/Harris administration’s list of COVID-19 to-do items was welcomed by both the scientific community and the public, but Trump and the Republicans’ fixation on his false claims of voter fraud are directly hampering the new administration’s ability to pave the way for an improved coronavirus response. On November 9, the White House instructed senior government leaders to block cooperation with the Biden/Harris transition team, and the General Services Administration’s Trump-appointed administrator has refused to formally recognize Biden and Harris’s victory. Both of these actions are denying the transition team access to crucial data that is required for the transition and the ramping-up of the coronavirus response. Even Trump’s own coronavirus task force members are concerned about the harm that will be caused by a delay in allowing proper coordination between the two administrations.
It is unacceptable for a lame-duck president and his allies to allow our country to be ravaged by a pandemic when there are leaders ready and willing to take the reins. The current case surge is on course to overwhelm our health systems and communities before Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021: Almost 1,100 people died on November 7 alone; the country’s total case count passed ten million on November 8; and nationwide hospitalizations reached a towering 67,096 on November 12. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington calculates that a total of 370,000 Americans will have died due to the coronavirus by the time we reach Inauguration Day 2021 – exactly one year to the day after the first U.S. instance of COVID-19 was reported.
The election may be over, but our advocacy is needed now more than ever. We need to press Senate Republicans to pass the comprehensive HEROES Act long since approved by House Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needs to start working on real negotiation for coronavirus relief, rather than fixating on his highly inadequate targeted “skinny” bill while he’s otherwise occupied with forcing through far-right judicial appointees in a lame-duck session. And Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy needs to reverse and permanently halt his harmful service cuts to the U.S. Postal Service, as our communities’ need for swift and safe mail delivery – from medications to paychecks – becomes even more vital during these coming weeks of the pandemic.
No matter what Trump and the Republicans wish were true, the pandemic is far from over. If they don’t start acting like it soon, then all our lives will continue to be at risk.