On November 18, the United States surpassed a quarter million deaths due to COVID-19. This stark reminder of the danger we continue to face stands in contrast to the near-silence on the pandemic from Donald Trump for the second straight week, in addition to his decision to eschew coronavirus task force meetings for the past five months. Instead, Trump has remained fixated on lying about the election’s results, spouting false claims of nonexistent voter fraud and firing the senior cybersecurity official who directly disputed Trump’s falsehoods about the election.
The number of new cases in the U.S. rose every day in the past month; we saw an increase of more than a million new cases between November 8-14; and case numbers are currently rising in all 50 states. This is the worst outbreak of the year, and we’re only just beginning the winter season in most of the country, which will lead to even greater community spread as cold weather forces people indoors and as families inevitably gather, against public health officials’ advice, for the holidays. Trump, however, made no attempt to support his administration’s health officials in their recommendations, even attempting to reinstate public holiday celebrations that had been canceled due to safety concerns amid the pandemic’s surge.
On November 13, after our blog post for the week had been published, Trump gave an “update” on Operation Warp Speed, the White House coronavirus task force’s name for their efforts to support the vaccine research and development process. His address was brief and filled with familiar falsehoods, although it did foreshadow the content of the only public statements he has made – exclusively via Twitter – in the following days about the pandemic. In those, he attempted to incorrectly take credit for the recent vaccine news announced by Pfizer and Moderna.
Trump did not hold any further public events or take any meaningful actions to help reduce Americans’ suffering this week, instead taking to his favorite social media platform for a variety of vaccine-focused posts. He implicitly credited himself for the stock market’s vaccine news bump; implied that New York state should not receive the vaccines because Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has insisted on a rigorous scientific review process; and urged Congress to pass new coronavirus legislation while falsely suggesting that Democrats haven’t already supported a “big and focused” bill. (It’s been over 180 days since House Democrats crafted and passed the HEROES Act.)
That’s all Trump has done regarding the coronavirus pandemic in the past week – and even his vaccine tweets make up only a small percentage of his social media posts, most of which focus on spewing vitriol at Democrats and elections officials. Trump and administration officials are continuing to actively block the Biden/Harris administration from accessing vital public health information that will allow their work to combat COVID-19 to begin on their first day in office. Leaders of medical and health organizations and national experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have pleaded with Trump to stop hampering the transition process, as the delay is resulting in a serious public health risk – in addition to eroding the foundations of our democratic process.
Meanwhile, Trump’s cronies are continuing their own bad behavior: Vice President Mike Pence blamed the current case surge on the media’s having “cr[ied] wolf” about the coronavirus for the past eight months. The Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex M. Azar, will not allow his department to work with the Biden/Harris administration until the General Services Administration officially announces that Biden won the election (which he has). And in a particularly dangerous comment, White House “science advisor” Scott Atlas urged people to “rise up” in response to Michigan’s new coronavirus restrictions.
As Fauci recently said, we need coordinated federal leadership, not a patchwork of state regulations and an overreliance on vaccines that are yet to begin production. Trump and Republicans need to face our dangerous reality and allow the Biden/Harris transition team access to vital federal public health resources and information – or we’re all going to have an even darker winter than we’ve been anticipating.
Late this week, hints of cracks in the Republicans’ wall of denial appeared in remarks by Sens. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse, who blasted Trump’s refusal to accept his election defeat. But it will take much more to regain the ground we are losing as Trump digs in. The U.S. already comprises about 18.5 percent of all COVID-19 deaths worldwide, even though it has just four percent of the global population. There are still more than two months before the Biden/Harris administration steps into the leadership roles that Trump’s administration long ago forfeited. In the meantime, we cannot afford Trump’s indifference and the Republicans’ complicity.