Former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, in an interview this week, said his former boss’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic is a national security concern. “I think he’s failed,” Bolton told Public Radio International. “I think he, in the early days, did not want to hear anything critical of China, even though [National Security Council] staffers and the Centers for Disease Control staffers in early January were sounding the alarm, because he didn’t want to concede that the pandemic, as it turned out to be, could have a dramatically negative impact on the U.S. economy and therefore his ticket to reelection. I think we’ve all suffered the consequences as a result.”
Our suffering for Trump’s failures is just beginning. We have sacrificed half a year, $3 trillion of our treasure and 157,000 lives — and it has been squandered by one man’s incompetence. Not just incompetence, but incompetence in the misguided pursuit of his personal interests over the needs of the nation he leads.
He denied the threat, as Bolton noted, but he and his administration also botched the nation’s testing rollout, played down the disease, offered false assurances and bogus remedies, discouraged mask wearing, pushed the economy to reopen prematurely, concealed data, and disparaged testing. Now, he’s trying to force schools, and more industry, to reopen without adequate precautions.
The consequence is a virus rebounding in what the White House pandemic task force coordinator acknowledged is an “extraordinarily widespread” outbreak (Trump admonished her for this). Because of the unchecked spread, it’s no longer safe for schools to reopen, meaning more trauma for our children and making it difficult for 27 million parents who rely on school for child care to return to work.
The resurgent virus has slowed the jobs recovery and left 30 million on unemployment. The testing regime remains slow (many wait a week or more for results) and unreliable (Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, tested positive before testing negative hours later). Contact tracing can’t keep up. And after three successful rounds of negotiations for pandemic relief, Trump put his bomb-throwing new chief of staff at the table for the latest round — and talks inevitably blew up.
We’re on target for the covid-19 death toll to reach nearly 300,000 by Dec. 1, a well-regarded model from the University of Washington now projects. Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious-disease specialist, confirmed that the United States is the worst-affected country in the world: “The numbers don’t lie.” With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, we have more than 25 percent of infections and more than 20 percent of deaths.
An extensive new study of pandemic responses by British and Malaysian researchers rates 184 countries on a “Recovery Index” comparing active cases, tests, detection, reporting, mitigation and infrastructure. The United States is 127 of 184.
If the national failure has an image, it is the photo of the crowded hallway of a high school in Paulding County, Ga., this week, where schools rushed to reopen with a mask-optional policy even though an outbreak was underway. As schools reopen without safeguards, the virus is already hitting students and staff in Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi and Kansas.
It didn’t have to be this way. Cornell researchers report that other countries have found ways to reopen schools — with self-administered tests with overnight results (Germany), daily temperature checks (China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan), staggered arrival times (Japan, Israel), measures to let vulnerable staff work remotely (Britain, Israel, Denmark), and policies prioritizing elementary schools for reopening (Denmark, Norway). They’ve expanded transportation, limited class size, spaced desks, installed partitions, closed public spaces and moved classes outside.
The successful countries also had a crucial precondition: a low infection rate. A new article in the Lancet calculates that in order for British schools to reopen full-time in September, 75 percent of people with symptoms would need to be tested, positive cases isolated and 68 percent of contacts traced. Otherwise, a resulting new wave could be twice as bad as the first.
Here in the United States, testing, isolation and tracing capability lag badly, while Trump falsely claims children are “almost immune” from the virus and his education secretary claims children are “stoppers of the disease.”
How was the most powerful and advanced nation on earth brought so low? Of the various causes, one rises above all: the incompetence and selfishness of just one man.
Elections have consequences.
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