THE CORONAVIRUS pandemic has killed more people in the United States than anywhere else in the world. At the same time, the nation is reeling from an absence of leadership by President Trump and his administration. As the house burns, Mr. Trump is standing on the front lawn, boasting of success, denying responsibility, ordering others to grab the garden hose and promising that everything will be back to normal soon. His fecklessness is costing the country dearly.

After weeks of sacrifice, much of the nation has arrived at a very difficult crossroads. We need to maintain a stiff battle against spreading infection while also gradually and carefully attempting to restart the economy. Yet Mr. Trump, who decided not to conduct a broad federal effort to battle the novel coronavirus and instead passed responsibility to the governors, is now urging them to reopen too soon, risking more infections, more death and still more economic loss. “Will some people be affected? Yes,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday. “Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.”

The president is ignoring the strategy he embraced just weeks ago. In April, the White House announced a series of “guidelines” for governors to phase in reopening, with criteria such as achieving a “downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period” and putting robust testing in place. Without having met these criteria, more than a dozen states in the South and Midwest are relaxing social distancing measures. But Mr. Trump cannot be bothered to demand compliance with his own guidelines; he seems to have forgotten all about them in his cheerleading for reopening.

The consequences of this reversal may be tragic. The United States is already struggling with a stubbornly persistent 20,000 new infections a day, and more than 2,000 daily deaths. Many scientists and public health experts believe those numbers will spike thanks to the rushed restart.

There is a desperate need for adequate nationwide diagnostic testing and contact tracing so that offices and factories can cautiously begin to resume work without triggering more sickness. That, too, has been left to the scattered and uneven leadership of states and localities, which are unable to deliver at the scale needed. Their challenge is compounded by serial failures in the federal bureaucracy driven by Mr. Trump’s incompetent appointees. We now learn from the whistleblower complaint filed by a senior Health and Human Services official, Rick Bright, that when he warned a group of senior officials known as the Disaster Leadership Group on Feb. 7 about a shortfall of protective masks, other officials responded “there was no indication of a supply chain shortage or of issues with masks, and therefore there was no need to take immediate action.” Such missteps have been endemic.

The nation’s economic implosion demands action, but the correct response is to reopen in a way that is sustainable and does not cost thousands of additional lives. Mr. Trump not only does not know how to get there, but he also appears unwilling to seriously tackle the problem. We may soon see terrible consequences from his abdication.

Read more: