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Opinion Trump’s monstrous mistakes — past and future

President Trump, seen reflected in a television screen, speaks with members of the coronavirus task force at a briefing on April 27. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Let’s posit that the original sin of the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic was its failure to react promptly and decisively when the virus started in China. (Complaining that China didn’t tell us the truth suggests the Trump team is mindlessly naive, given China’s record of lying about all sorts of things.) Since that gross misjudgment, the administration has only compounded its errors.

First, while President Trump was focused on China (even though he allowed tens of thousands of exceptions in his travel restrictions against the nation), he ignored the threat from Europe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report notes that “examination of strains collected from northern California during early February to mid-March indicated multiple introductions resulting from international travel (from China and Europe) as well as from interstate travel.” In New York, the virus was coming from Europe. (“Sequencing of strains collected in the New York metropolitan area in March also suggested origins in Europe and other U.S. regions.”) Planes and cruise ships continued bringing thousands of new visitors, some carrying the virus.

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In short, Trump enacted his less-than-complete travel ban for China on Jan. 31 (effective Feb. 2) but did not enact one from Europe until March 11, almost six weeks later. As with China, he was quite late in issuing a ban on European travel. (Slate recounts: “The first European country swamped by the virus was Italy. On Feb. 24 and Feb. 25, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Netherlands issued advisories against travel to Italy. Then, on Feb. 27, Israel banned incoming travel from Italy. Over the next several days, Singapore, Indonesia, and other countries followed suit.”) When Trump finally did announce the ban, he did not bother to consult with European allies, raising their ire. (He also botched the roll-out in an error-filled Oval Office address.)

Very likely, the Trump administration’s obsession with blaming China for “misleading” us took attention away from an equally problematic source of the virus. New York state is paying the price in the form of more than 24,000 deaths.

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Trump’s unfailingly rotten decision-making may result in thousands more dying unnecessarily. The New York Times reports:

As President Trump presses for states to reopen their economies, his administration is privately projecting a steady rise in the number of cases and deaths from the coronavirus over the next several weeks, reaching about 3,000 daily deaths on June 1, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times, nearly double from the current level of about 1,750.
The projections, based on government modeling pulled together in chart form by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, forecast about 200,000 new cases each day by the end of the month, up from about 25,000 cases now.

Nevertheless, Trump cheers impulsive, swift actions to reopen the states, even cheering unmasked and distance-defying protesters with his “Liberate!” tweets. Does he not care how many people die so long as he can shift blame for the recession?

Contrast Trump’s approach (and that of his Mini-Me Republican governors such as Brian Kemp of Georgia) with the New York approach. New York will open region by region, but only when a host of metrics have been met — a 14-day decline in hospitalizations, or fewer than 15 hospitalizations per day; a 14-day decline in virus-related hospital deaths, or fewer than five deaths per day; a rate of new hospitalizations below 2 per 100,000 residents; at least a 30-percent vacancy rate in hospital beds; at least 30 percent of intensive care beds available; at least 30 virus tests per 1,000 residents per month, and at least 30 contract tracers per 100,000 residents. It will move in four stages so that at any point the infection rate goes about 1.1 (the level at which at pandemic breaks out) the governor can shut activities down again. This is a far cry from “Open the tattoo parlors! Open the beaches!

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At nearly every step in the crisis, Trump has ignored scientific warnings and medical evidence, or at the very least has prioritized his futile effort to prevent a deep recession. Ironically, had he followed the scientific advice and warning earlier, we may not have been forced to resort to an extreme shelter-in-place response and thereby ground the economy to a halt. Now we have the worst of all worlds: More than 67,000 deaths and a recession the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression.

By trying to reassign seats in the White House briefing room, the Trump administration is attempting to stifle real journalism, says media critic Erik Wemple. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford / WP/The Washington Post)

Read more:

Brian Klaas: Trump needs two electoral blocs to win. The pandemic is driving a wedge between them.

Ann Telnaes: It happened on Trump’s watch

Danielle Allen: The White House strategy for reopening is coming together

Max Boot: Trump can’t blame China for his own coronavirus failures